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There’s Anti-Semitic Graffiti All Over the East Village. Help Us Turn Hate Into Love.

Let’s make swastikas look like sassafras

Marjorie Ingall
May 26, 2017

A stencil featuring a Neo-Nazi slogan, “14 words,” a white supremacist slogan, has been appearing all over my neighborhood in New York City. I asked our local blogger EVGrieve to share this news with his readers (he did), hoping they’d be able to report other incidences besides the ones I’d seen (they did), and hoping he’d pass along my request for volunteer artists to cover up the hateful words (he didn’t). So I’m going to share both the full story, and my request, here.

First off: What’s with “14 words”? Well, they add up to a sentence referring to securing the future for white children. The phrase may have its origins in an 88-word sentence in Mein Kampf (which is, incidentally, why white supremacists love the number 88 almost as much as they do 14; 88 does double duty as the 8th letter of the alphabet—H—repeated twice, as in “heil Hitler”). Mass murderer Dylann Roof posted photos of “1488” scrawled in the sand. The white supremacists who plotted to assassinate Barack Obama in 2008 intended to kill 88 black men and behead 14.

Yes, it’s graffiti relating to these “14 words” that’s popping up in the East Village.

At first, I hadn’t even noticed the stencil on the sidewalk near my building, across the street from the Hells Angels clubhouse. We get a lot of graffiti here. But a community affairs officer from the local precinct rang our bell to tell us about it and to ask if the building had a camera aimed at the sidewalk. (Alas, we do not.) He took our superintendent’s number to call and have him try to power-wash the words away, but it’s been a few weeks and they’re still there. I called the city’s hate crimes line to ask about filing a report, but the man who answered said that graffiti constituted freedom of speech and was therefore not a crime. (But then, why did the cops come by to tell us about it? Odd.) I also emailed the Southern Poverty Law Center and my local city council member, but didn’t hear back from either of them.

It seemed this was up to us. Inspired by art activists turning swastikas into owls and Windows 96 logos, my kids and I took to the sidewalk with chalk. (After all, we have a longstanding fondness for chalk.) We colored over the hateful words, mocked the spelling error in the slogan, made a rainbow-colored Black Lives Matter hashtag. We’ll go out with our chalk again after the rainy weekend we’re expecting.

But if I may be frank, we suck as artists. Do you? Perhaps you live in New York City or are visiting our once-fair metropolis, and wish to show off your art skills? Please, do a mitzvah and turn hate into something beautiful!

Here are places locals have seen the stencil:

— East 1st Street, between Second Avenue and Bowery
— East 2nd Street, between Second Avenue and the Bowery
— East 3rd Street, between First and Second Avenues
— East 4th Street, between First and Second Avenues

On East 2nd Street, in addition to the 14 words, there was a swastika drawn on a wall. Someone with a good heart and about as much artistic skill as I have turned it into a flower (I can’t quite tell, but I think they may have also tried to draw a Star of David in the middle) and wrote “FUCK YOU NAZI SCUM” in bright green next to it. Not quite as clever as some of the #paintback contributions, which have turned swastikas into bunnies, owls, a walk-like-an-Egyptian dude, fireflies, Rubik’s cubes, harp seals, and Sudoku grids…but it’ll do.

And how about you? Got any art skills to show off?

Marjorie Ingall is a former columnist for Tablet, the author of Mamaleh Knows Best, and a frequent contributor to the New York Times Book Review.