A small group of neo-Nazis gathered outside an Arlington, Va., shopping center Friday to commemorate the 50th anniversary of an American Nazi leader’s assassination.
As one man held a large red flag emblazoned with a swastika, half a dozen others raised their right arms in a Nazi salute. Their ceremony came two weeks after neo-Nazis and white supremacists rallied in Charlottesville, where clashes with counterprotesters left one woman dead and many others injured.
The neo-Nazis who appeared in Arlington are members of New Order, a successor to the American Nazi Party, whose founder, George Lincoln Rockwell, was shot to death at the Dominion Hills Centre on Aug. 25, 1967.
Martin Kerr, New Order’s chief of staff, said most of those who attended the commemoration live in the Washington area, although one came from Wisconsin to pay tribute to Rockwell.
“We laid a wreath, I said a few words and then we gave a nationalist socialist salute for 88 seconds,” said Kerr, explaining that the 88 seconds symbolized “Heil Hitler.” Because “H” is the eighth letter of the alphabet, the numbers “88” are code for the first letters of the words “Heil” and “Hitler.”
Dozens of Arlington residents appalled by the display gathered outside the shopping center a few hours later, carrying signs that read “Love Trumps Nazis” and “No Hate Zone.”
Kerr described Rockwell, who called for shipping blacks to Africa and sending millions of “Communist Jews” to the gas chambers, as “an authentic American patriot.”
Matt Garcia was getting a haircut when he saw the neo-Nazis gathering outside Tom’s Barber shop.
“I stood up in the chair to see what was going on,” he said. “It was startling, obviously, to see right there.”
Garcia, who is Mexican American, lives in New York City but grew up around the corner from Dominion Hills. He was home visiting his parents and had gone to the barbershop with his mother and 5-year-old son.
“I always thought of Arlington as a diverse and welcoming place,” he said. “Seeing a Nazi flag go up in your neighborhood is shocking and disturbing, especially after what happened in Charlottesville.”
Kerr, who attended the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, said his group did not hesitate to pay tribute to Rockwell at such a fraught time and scoffed at any suggestion that it was inappropriate.
“There are lots of things in society that offend and disgust me. That’s part of living in a diverse society. You have to put up with it,” he said.
His group’s antics were a “test,” he said.
“It shows whether or not they can tolerate us,” he said. “It shows their commitment to diversity.”
Kerr said that Rockwell’s racist legacy is more alive now than ever.
“We’re very encouraged generally about the mood of the country,” he said. “We think things are moving towards radicalization and polarization. I know a lot of people think polarization is a bad thing, but we don’t. The more racial polarization, the better.”
Garcia, who had never heard of Rockwell before Friday, said he and his son stayed inside the barbershop until the neo-Nazis’ short ceremony was over.
His mother was “disgusted” by the event, he said, but his son seemed unfazed.
“I don’t think he registered exactly what was going on,” Garcia said. “Maybe down the road he might understand.”
His wife, Jamila, who did not witness the neo-Nazi gathering, said they have tried to explain what happened without going into too much detail.
“It’s not something we want to explain to him yet,” she said. “He’s so young, and it’s a very tangled web if you go into why people hate other people.”
Read more Retropolis: