Gathered around a table covered in dozens of red plastic cups, a group of young people grins widely, posing for a photo. Their arms are extended out in what appears to be a Nazi salute. In front of them, the cups have been arranged into the shape of a swastika.
School officials in Newport Beach, Calif., announced Sunday that they are working with law enforcement to investigate several photos that were reportedly taken at a party over the weekend attended by high school students from the area, according to the Los Angeles Times. The images surfaced early Sunday and have since sparked widespread condemnation from school administrators, elected officials and community organizations over the display of anti-Semitic symbolism — just the latest in a series of similar incidents at schools and colleges around the country this year.
“We have a concern both for the physical health of students who are underage drinking as well as the mental health of our students or their friends that thought this was an okay thing to do,” Newport-Mesa Unified School District President Charlene Metoyer told CBS Los Angeles. The Southern California school district covers more than 58 square miles and includes the cities of Newport Beach and Costa Mesa.
In other pictures that were circulated on social media, people could be seen toasting over the makeshift swastika as text superimposed over the image read, “ultimate rage.” Another caption on a picture of the cups described the scene as a “German rage cage.”
“More should’ve been done to make sure the students recognize the severity of the symbols they were using,” Metoyer said. “It is not something funny. It’s a very, very serious situation.”
How anti-Semitism persists in the United States
Post-Holocaust prejudice against the Jews still remains — and it's just one aspect of religious and racial tensions in modern America. (Allie Caren/The Washington Post)
In an emailed statement to The Washington Post on Monday, the school district said it was continuing to “gather information regarding the conduct of these students and work with law enforcement.” The Times and the Orange County Register reported that some of the teens were believed to be affiliated with Newport Harbor High School, a public school in the district that serves 2,400 students.
Administrators from the high school said in a statement shared to Instagram on Sunday that although the event did not happen on campus or at any school-related function, “we condemn all acts of anti-semitism and hate in all forms.”
“We remain focused on educating students on all aspects of life’s challenges and are committed to holding students accountable, educating them on the consequences of their choices, and the impact these actions have on our schools and community at large,” the statement said.
The Newport Harbor High School Associated Student Body also denounced the behavior captured in the photos.
“Any negativity due to any type of persecution is utterly wrong, unacceptable, and will not be tolerated,” read a statement posted to Instagram on Sunday. “To all those negatively affected, you have our deepest apologies.”
It is unclear whether the people in the photos may be disciplined, but Metoyer told the Register that district officials and school administrators met with a crisis team Sunday to discuss a course of action.
“I’d like to see genuine remorse from the perpetrators here,” she said, once again emphasizing the importance of increased education and awareness. “They need to learn about what those symbols mean and how devastating it is to see it occurring in 2019.”
Criticism of the students’ actions went beyond the school district Sunday as scathing statements came from elected officials, including Newport Beach leaders, Costa Mesa Mayor Katrina Foley (D) and Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.). Additionally, the photos earned rebukes from local branches of organizations such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon (R) and Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill told The Post in a joint statement sent Monday that they were “appalled and saddened by the deeply disturbing photo of Newport-Mesa students.”
“That behavior is not acceptable and not reflective of our community’s collective character,” Dixon and O’Neill said. “We can and we must expect better.”
In a lengthy statement shared on Facebook, Foley said “there is no place for hateful symbols of swastikas and Nazi salutes in our community.”
“This abhorrent anti-Semitic activity is divisive, unbecoming of our community and leads ultimately to hate and discrimination,” she said.
Porter echoed Foley, tweeting that “this display of a hateful, anti-semitic symbol” has “no place in Orange County.” She added that parents and community leaders should “redouble” efforts to “educate young people about the history of violence against Jewish people worldwide."
In a tweet sharing the photo of the people raising their arms in a Nazi salute, the ADL’s Orange County and Long Beach branch said it was taking the images “very seriously.”
“Swastikas & Nazi salutes are never funny,” the ADL wrote. “When such actions are considered jokes, hate and bigotry become normalized.”
According to a recent report from the ADL, incidents of anti-Semitism in the United States went up 57 percent between 2016 and 2017 — and the dramatic rise is largely attributed to a “significant increase” in cases in schools or on college campuses.
Last November, a Wisconsin school district launched an investigation after a group of boys was photographed at prom doing what appeared to be the Nazi salute, The Post’s Laura Meckler and Deanna Paul reported.
In January alone, there were at least two instances of high school students displaying the Nazi salute. On Jan. 18, two students from Minnesota were condemned for a Nazi-themed school dance invitation, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported. One day later, school officials from an Indianapolis suburb announced they were investigating a photo of a soccer team in which players appeared to be showing the problematic salute, The Post’s Jacob Bogage reported.
“These kids aren’t just ignorant — this is dangerous,” one Twitter user wrote.
Foley, however, stressed that vilifying the teens was not the answer.
“Instead, we need to seriously address why teens in our community might think these types of hateful symbols are acceptable or funny and worthy of selfies,” she said, calling for the implementation of “better anti-bias and anti-hate content” in school curriculums and in extracurricular activities. “... we must develop comprehensive programming so that students can empathize with people different than themselves.”