Sept. 22, 2022 — On Thursday, Sept. 22, news organizations and police were called after a flag bearing a Nazi symbol was briefly displayed in front of a business in Florence. While the flag was only up for less than 30 minutes, people in the community took notice.
Florence resident Patrick Meade was driving down 12th Street that morning when he saw a man with an American flag draped over his shoulder while at the same time raising a Nazi flag up a pole in front of Florence Business Center.
Meade stopped his car and confronted the man.
"Excuse me, what are you doing?” Meade asked him.
"Putting up my Nazi flag. Why, do you have a problem with Nazis?" asked the unidentified man.
Meade informed him he did in fact have a problem and temporarily left the scene.
Siuslaw News was alerted to the incident at 11:45 a.m. By the time reporters arrived minutes later, the flag was down and the man was in the midst of a confrontation with Dylien Jack, an employee of a local tow company.
The man yelled the “N-word” at Jack, and made the “Nazi salute” with his right hand.
An employee of the business center attempted, unsuccessfully, to move the man inside. She told those on hand that the man was “mentally ill” and the “son of the manager.” They also requested that Siuslaw News and others not take pictures. Around five people observed the interaction.
The man refused to go inside and continued yelling racial slurs towards Jack.
When Meade returned, he observed more Nazi salutes from the man and heard the man yell, “Seig Heil!”
By that time, Eugene television station KEZI was told of the incident via a social media post and contacted Florence Police Department, with Chief John Pitcher dispatched to the scene.
“We went by a few seconds later, and we did make contact with the person who put it up,” Pitcher said. “When I talked to him, he said, ‘I like the flag, so I put it up.’”
According to Pitcher, the man was associated with the business center, but had no authorization to put up the flag.
“As soon as they found out, they let him know, ‘You don’t do that, you don’t put that up,’” Pitcher said. “The business center made him take it down. Apparently it was just up for a little bit.”
There were no physical altercations at the scene that Pitcher or Siuslaw News observed.
Pitcher also pointed out that no laws were broken, and that if it were his own property, he would have the right to fly the flag in Oregon.
Other states, such as New York, consider the flag a hate symbol and displaying it to be a criminal offense.
As the incident was unfolding, Meade posted photos of the flag on his Facebook account, writing, “I am so mad right now.” The post was shared, and within an hour dozens of people responded condemning the incident.
“It upset some people, without a doubt — and rightfully so,” Pitcher said.
But he saw no evidence that those ideals were prevalent in the community.
“There’s always some people on the fringe, on different sides, who are involved with that,” Pitcher said. “I see it from time to time, but I personally don’t think it’s a big issue in our community. But we do see it.”
Although the police chief said, “I don’t think I’ve seen a Nazi flag waving,” he did bring up past incidences of graffiti.
Siuslaw News has occasionally covered these incidents in the past, going all the way back to 2017 when someone put up a sign with multiple slurs. The newspaper included an editorial about it, “Sign On Hwy 101 Shows That No Place Is Immune To Hate,” on Aug. 19 that year.
Additionally, during the 2020 elections, there was a small spate of vandalism with anti-fascist (Antifa) and anarchy imagery. Few of the incidents were reported to the police, and it is unknown who the vandals were. However, the graffiti Siuslaw News found generally appeared during times of national crisis or elections.
“I think that’s more of a hot button issue that people want to do, because it creates strong opinions in people. That’s what I think the graffiti is for,” Pitcher said. “I honestly don’t know, they have their reasons, but that’s what I think they do.”
Thursday’s online conversation surrounding the Nazi flag also brought up discussions about extremism in the community, such as the far-left extreme ideology of Antifa, or the far-right group Proud Boys, which was dubbed an extremist organization by the Federal Beaurau of Investigation.
“We have people that are left and right, and there’s always a few people who are far left and far right,” Pitcher said. “With that comes extremism, and that’s where I get concerned.”
The police chief stated that the Florence Police Department had not heard of any issues with far-left groups, “And I have not seen any Antifa groups here.”
As for Proud Boys, Pitcher said he was not overly familiar with the group, though he was able to identify some at the corner of Highway 101 and 126 two weeks ago in Florence.
“There were a few members wearing their shirts that were down there, with people waving the American flag,” Pitcher said. “There was nothing illegal, or that we were told was intimidating, or anything that was involved with the Proud Boys for that gathering. They didn’t cause any issues.”
While there were no legal issues, Pitcher stated, “I’m wary of any group that’s not inclusive of everybody and has extreme views, no matter their views. I’m always worried about those groups.”
As for the flag incident, Pitcher stated that it appears isolated, and a group wasn’t involved.
“It was one person. He received a lot of peer pressure, and learned real quick how that’s taken in our community. It’s not welcomed by our citizens. And he found that out pretty quick.”