LOS ANGELES — School officials in Orange County are reopening an investigation into a group of high school students caught on video with their arms raised in a Sieg Heil salute while singing a Nazi marching song as additional racist images continue to surface.
The initial video, which surfaced Monday and was taken during an off-campus event last year, shows about 10 boys from Pacifica High School in Garden Grove standing in what appears to be a banquet room giving the stiff-armed salute used in Nazi Germany. The song “Erika,” written by German composer Herms Niel during Hitler’s ascent to power, plays in the background.
The video, taken before the start of an athletics banquet in November 2018, was originally shared among a small group of students on Snapchat. High-school administrators learned of the video four months later and addressed the situation with students from the video and their families, Garden Grove Unified School District spokeswoman Abby Broyles said.
School officials said the students involved were disciplined but declined to discuss the consequences they faced.
Since Monday, several other videos showing students engaged in hate speech have surfaced. Those videos, Broyles said, will be examined as part of the district’s reopened investigation. It was not immediately clear whether the new videos included students from Pacifica High.
“This new information, which continues to unfold minute by minute, demands a schoolwide call to action to address the severity of these claims to ensure hate speech never happens again,” Pacifica High School Principal Steve Osborne said. “Hate speech will not be tolerated. This is not who we are. Rest assured that any students engaging in hate speech or activities will face disciplinary action in accordance with the California education code.”
Osborne apologized during a school board meeting Tuesday for failing to address the original video with the entire school immediately after it was brought to administrators’ attention. He added that the school had been in communication with the Anti-Defamation League and the Museum of Tolerance in an effort to expand anti-bias education for students.
“We did a disservice to the entire school community by limiting our actions to the small group of students involved,” he said. “We are sorry that our investigation and our transparency with the Pacifica community fell drastically short. In retrospect, our judgment was wrong, and we take full responsibility for that.”
The situation has roiled the campus, sparking anger among teachers, parents and community members.
Flo Martin, 77, who taught German at Pacifica High School for more than 20 years, said she always made sure her students had an in-depth understanding of the brutality of the Holocaust. She said anti-Semitic behavior among students had been an ongoing issue at the school.
“It’s an undercurrent,” Martin said, “and now because of social media, everything like that is coming to the surface.”
In March — the same month Pacifica High officials learned about the video — a group of high school students from Newport Beach and Costa Mesa were photographed at a party with their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. The photos were circulated on social media, and district officials quickly condemned the student’s actions amid widespread outrage.
The incidents have occurred as hate crimes are increasing nationwide. The Anti-Defamation League noted a 58% jump in documented acts of anti-Semitism from 2016 to 2017. The sharp rise was caused in part by a significant increase in incidents at schools and on college campuses, the organization said.
Orange County has long tried to move away from racist incidents that have haunted its history. In the 1980s and ’90s, Huntington Beach and Anaheim gained a reputation for drawing both local and out-of-town white supremacists, said Pete Simi, a Chapman University sociology professor who focuses on extremist groups.
The pier and downtown area in Huntington Beach became a regular hangout for young people with shaved heads, swastika tattoos and steel-toed boots. Sometimes violence broke out. Two hate crimes committed by white supremacists in the 1990s prompted city officials to form a task force to address the issue.
“It’s a problem all over the country, but there’s some spots of the country with a larger history of it being entrenched there. Orange County is one of those places,” Simi said. “People say that was back in the ’90s, but it’s still happening.
“What’s clear is, we have a problem and we’ve had a problem for a long time,” he said. “When something like this comes to our attention, the last thing we should do is try to move on from it. It needs to be part of a larger conversation about what’s driving young people in this direction.”
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