Editor’s note: A teenaged boy and a friend tore down the Nazi flag a protestor unfurled at Thursday’s Bernie Sanders rally in Phoenix. This is the teenager’s account of the event, lightly edited for clarity. He spoke on the condition of anonymity out of concerns for his personal safety.
I decided to go to the rally because Bernie is a politician who interests me. His family’s background is similar to my family’s background. My dad’s side of the family, they moved to America because of anti-Semitism in Europe. They came here from Romania and moved here just like Bernie’s dad. They didn’t have much English, and they worked hard. I wouldn’t say I’m Jewish, but a large part of my identity is Jewish.
Bernie came on, and we’re all cheering, and then two or three minutes after he started speaking, we heard shouting. I heard someone yell “Fuck you, Bernie!” I turned around, and I saw him trying to unravel this flag, and even though I’m not very religious, it kind of hurt, seeing that. And the moment I saw it I just felt sick to my stomach. He said, “Fuck you Bernie, you stupid Jew,” and then he kept yelling.
I turn and look at my friend. He’s in college and he looks mad. He’s from a Persian background. He sympathizes. He cares about this stuff. He thinks it’s just as wrong as I do. He turns and looks at me, and he climbs up on a chair and grabs the flag from the dude and starts pulling. So I turn, and I’m like, “Yeah.” I walk over and grab the other corner of the flag and we pull it down. And I have to step on it. The Nazi protestor gets taken away by security and then 30 seconds later the sheriff’s department comes by and takes the flag.
After, I got a little shaky, but when it happened I was just angry; I was just disgusted; I felt sick. My dad told me, “Your great-grandparents would be so proud. Your grandmother would be so proud.”
My dad’s side of the family is Jewish, but my family isn’t too religious. We had a lot of family friends who were Jewish, though, so we celebrated Passover and Hanukkah with them. We’ve gone to many Bat and Bar Mitzvahs. It’s a community that’s always made me feel welcome.
I like Bernie because he’s consistent. I do like his policies, but one of the things in terms of his character that stood out is his consistency, and how much he’s fought for what he’s believed in, and fought for the values he grew up with. And that means a lot to me in terms of looking at a candidate. I’ve worked with politicians [as a volunteer.] I’ve worked with them and understood them. But Bernie seems like a genuine person.
It opens my eyes. I knew people like this existed. But seeing it firsthand with my own eyes in my own city, it makes me mad. It makes me want to work harder for change.
But for now I just want to like, breathe. Live. I’m on spring break after this.
Helen Chernikoff is The Forward’s senior news editor. Contact her at email@example.com or follower her on Twitter @thesimplechild