Sticker shock: Neo-Nazis spread signs of hate

by Tom Beck
Posted 4/5/23

Police are investigating incidents of neo-Nazi stickers placed along telephone poles up and down Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill.

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Sticker shock: Neo-Nazis spread signs of hate


The Philadelphia Police Department told the Local Monday afternoon that the department’s Northwest Detectives Division is investigating incidents of neo-Nazi stickers placed along telephone poles up and down Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill. 

A Mt. Airy resident, whom the Local granted anonymity for fear of retaliation from hate groups, told the paper that he first noticed one of the Neo-Nazi stickers on a pole near the CVS on Germantown Avenue, near Mermaid Lane. He continued to walk north on the west side of Germantown Avenue and noticed stickers on every single pole for “about five or six blocks.”

“The first one I noticed didn’t have any direct neo-Nazi statements,” the source said in a phone call. “I saw ‘88 Crew’ on the sticker. It had the skull and crossbones, and eventually I realized what it was.”

As the source walked on, he started removing the posters from the poles, he said.

“I don’t want to see this and have people think it’s cool in any kind of way,” he added. “This does not need to be amplified. It’s not welcome here, especially not in Philadelphia.”

Andrea Heymann, associate regional director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Philadelphia chapter, said in a phone call that tearing down the stickers actually isn’t recommended. If residents encounter hateful messaging in public like the stickers found in Chestnut Hill, she said, residents should take a photo and document the geographic location of the sticker or flyer - but don’t remove it.

“It could be part of an active investigation,” Heymann said. “We don’t want law enforcement to not have anything to work with.”

Public works, Heymann added, are “actually pretty good” at removing the materials later on. Residents, she said, should also report the incident to law enforcement and organizations like the Anti-Defamation League. 

If the materials are placed not in public but on one’s personal property, residents should feel free to remove it after documenting and reporting it.

The Local asked Heymann if there was any significance to the stickers appearing just a few days before the Jewish holiday of Passover, which started on Wednesday evening. Heymann thought it was merely a coincidence, since her organization, which tracks antisemitic hate crimes, doesn’t typically see increases around Jewish holidays, although Hanukkah can sometimes be an exception to the rule.

“What we have seen over the past few years is that we’ll see antisemitic materials distributed more frequently when there are things going on overseas in Israel or if there’s conflicts in neighboring countries,” she explained. “Usually we don’t see spikes around Jewish holidays like Passover.”

Unfortunately, Heymann said, the distribution of materials such as the stickers found on Germantown Avenue has become increasingly common across the country, but especially in nearby neighborhoods. Since 2021, the Delaware Valley has been the site of a 25% increase in antisemitic incidents, the Anti-Defamation League’s statistics show. Those incidents are divided into three categories: physical assaults, vandalism and harassment. There hasn’t been an increase in physical assaults in our region, although there has been an uptick in incidents nationally. There has, however, been an increase in antisemitic vandalism and harassment in the Delaware Valley.

Just two weeks ago, residents of Port Richmond saw a smattering of white supremacist stickers around their neighborhood. The incident came on the heels of antisemitic comments tweeted late last year by Ye, the rapper formerly known as Kanye West. As a result, Heymann said, much of the antisemitic language seen recently has referenced the rapper, although this wasn’t the case in Chestnut Hill. Though he has not disavowed his remarks, Ye has insisted “I have no association to any hate group… I walk in love.”

“We have seen a new evolution in some of this language especially after the artist formerly known as Kanye West made statements last fall about Jewish people and antisemitic tropes,” she said. “We’ve seen messaging that says ‘Kanye was right about the Jews.’ We saw it in the white supremacist flyering that happened in Port Richmond about two weeks ago.”

And there are lots of things to look for, Heymann explained. The number 88, for example, is a common theme. It’s meant to convey the phrase “Heil Hitler,” since H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. Double lightning bolts stylized into S’s are another common theme. 

“That is representative and is a throwback to SS uniforms worn during the Third Reich era,” she said, referencing Adolf Hitler’s personal bodyguard unit, the Schutzstaffel, during World War II. 

Eagles and vague phrases like “Active Club” - a newer trend - can also be examples.

“Flyers will say ‘PA Active Club’ with lightning bolts,” Heymann said. “You’d walk past it and think it’s somebody’s gym or something. Constituents are getting involved in these groups because they didn’t realize they were hate groups. It sounded totally normal to them.”

Chestnut Hill Community Association executive director Anne McNiff reported the stickers to the police, especially, she said, since there have been reports of antisemitic incidents elsewhere in the city.

“This kind of public display of hate is unacceptable not only in the Chestnut Hill neighborhood but throughout Philadelphia,” she said. “We are going to call it out for what it is every time.”