If he wins the Democratic nomination and the general election, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders would be the United States' first Jewish president — and he's already facing anti-Semitism on the campaign trail. On Thursday, March 5, a man was kicked out of Sanders' rally in Phoenix, Arizona, after unfurling a flag featuring a swastika. These images of a Nazi flag at a Bernie Sanders rally are not only troubling, but also raise security concerns about Sanders' safety.
In video footage posted by Twitter user @hayxteci, an unidentified man in a white T-shirt unfurled a large swastika flag behind Sanders as the Vermont senator was onstage at Phoenix's Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Sanders' supporters quickly noticed the flag and started booing the man, at which point those closest to him grabbed the flag away from him. Security officials then removed the man from the building. A separate video clip, posted to Twitter by ABC 15 Arizona reporter Nicole Griff, showed a man in a white T-shirt yelling a racial slur at a Sanders supporter outside the coliseum.
According to The Washington Post, it was unclear whether Sanders saw the Nazi flag, but he was evidently aware that a protester had been standing behind him. As the man was escorted out of the building, Sanders turned back to the crowd. "Whoever it was, I think they're a little outnumbered tonight," he said. "And more importantly, they're going to be outnumbered in November."
Sanders' communications director, Mike Casca, told BuzzFeed News reporter Ruby Cramer afterward, “The senator is aware of the flag with the swastika on it and is disturbed by it," Cramer wrote in a tweet. The next day, on March 6, Sanders told reporters ahead of his rally in Detroit, "It is horrific, it is beyond disgusting to see that in the United States of America, there are people who would show the emblem of Hitler and Nazism." He acknowledged he has seen protesters — some of them Trump supporters — at his other events, "but this was something different."
"Somebody bringing forth the most detestable symbol in modern history, a symbol of which over 400,000 brave Americans died trying to defeat, is unspeakable," Sanders said.
The unfurling of a swastika flag at a rally hosted by a democratic socialist who could become the country's first Jewish president prompted widespread outrage on social media.
Some Twitter users also suggested that Sanders and Biden — whose Super Tuesday rally in Los Angeles was disrupted by animal rights protesters who rushed the stage, nearly making physical contact with Biden before being tackled by campaign aide, Symone Sanders — should have more security protection on the campaign trail.
According to USA Today, neither Biden nor Sanders has requested a Secret Service detail yet, but the Department of Homeland Security said it was "ready to execute" if they do receive such requests. On Thursday, Biden appeared to imply he was considering making a request when he told NBC's TODAY that Secret Service protection for the remaining candidates is "something that has to be considered." As a former vice president, Biden was entitled to several months of Secret Service protection after he left office, but that has since expired. Presidential candidates usually receive Secret Service protection if the size of their following requires it. On March 5, CNN reported the Secret Service was considering moving up its protection timetable for the 2020 election.
Sanders has been open about his Jewish identity over the course of his campaign, talking about how his father's family was murdered by Nazis during the Holocaust. During a February town hall with CNN, Sanders explained how being Jewish shaped his political identity.
"I remember, as a kid, looking at these big picture books of World War II and tears would roll down my cheeks when I saw what happened to the Jewish people. Six million people were killed by Hitler," Sanders said. "I think at a very early age, before my political thoughts were developed, I was aware of the horrible things that human beings can do to other people in the name of racism or white nationalism, in this case Nazism."
On March 5, one day before the swastika flag was unfurled at his Phoenix rally, Sanders also posted a video to social media thanking his supporter group Jews for Bernie, noting he would be "very proud to be the first Jewish president."