WASHINGTON – Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign responded to protesters who displayed a flag donning a swastika during his rally Thursday night in Phoenix.
Images of the flag in the crowd circulated on social media posts, which showed the flag unfurling as the crowd cheered for the Vermont senator after he quipped about how loud they were. The cheers quickly turned to boos as they saw the flag.
Sanders’ supporters appeared to rip the flag from the protester’s hands, and police escorted him out.
If elected, Sanders would be the first Jewish president. Many of his relatives were killed in the Holocaust.
At the time, Sanders did not appear to notice the man, though he later quipped, “Whoever it was, I think they’re a little outnumbered tonight. And more importantly they’re going to be outnumbered in November.”
Later, Sanders’ communications director Mike Casa told Ruby Cramer of BuzzFeed News that Sanders “is aware of the flag with the swastika on it and is disturbed by it.”
Sara Pearl, supervising producer for Sanders’ campaign, tweeted Friday morning that “Last night at Bernie’s rally in Arizona, someone horrifically unfurled a Nazi flag with a swastika on it. Earlier we had just released this video of what it means for Jews like me to elect our first Jewish President who will stand up to white nationalism and hate.”
Steven Slugocki, chairman of the Maricopa County Democratic Party, of which the county seat is Phoenix, tweeted that, “We can argue about which candidate should get the Dem nomination, but antisemitic acts have no place in this world. This is absolutely abhorrent.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Min., condemned the protester via Twitter. Omar endorsed Sanders and has been campaigning for him. She wrote, “This is an appalling display of anti-Semitism against a man whose family perished in the Holocaust.”
The incidonce again raised the issue of security for presidential candidates.
Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf was urged Wednesday to consider Secret Service protection for Sanders and former Vice President Joe Biden, the two top contenders for the Democratic nomination. Both campaigns have been operating without government protection, but the Secret Service’s involvement appears more likely as the presidential campaign heats up.
The request from House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson, D-Miss., came a day after protesters rushed a stage in Los Angeles where Biden was celebrating a string of Super Tuesday primary wins. Biden was not harmed by the sign-waving protesters, who were repelled by his wife, Jill Biden, and a campaign aide.
In a statement yesterday addressing the calls for support, the Secret Service said, “At this time, no candidates have requested protection.”
Sanders’ Thursday night protest was also interrupted by multiple supporters of President Donald Trump.
USA TODAY has reached out to the Sanders’ campaign for additional comment.
Amy Spitalnick, executive director of Integrity First For America, called the display “sickening.”
“These are not isolated incidents – they are part of a wave of anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism, and white supremacy and we cannot let this become normalized.”
Contributing: Kevin Johnson
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