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Neo-Nazis in Wrigleyville?

An Imperial German flag alarms a Brown Line rider.

Photograph: Andrew Nawrocki

I was on a Loop-bound Brown Line the other day, between the Southport and Belmont stops, and spotted a strange flag hanging in a window facing the tracks. When I went home and googled it, I found out it’s a flag sometimes used by white supremacists. Neo-Nazis in Wrigleyville? Really?!—Jose, Logan Square

Anti-Semitism watchdog the Anti-Defamation League lists the Imperial German Flag in its “database of extremist symbols, logos and tattoos.” But when we meet the flag’s owner, a young man in sweatpants by the name of Eric, he is hardly a goose-stepping, “sieg heil”–ing fascist. In lieu of a curtain on the window of his rear Clark Street apartment, Eric says he hung the flag, a gift from a great-uncle, in honor of his great-grandfather who served for Germany in World War I. The Indiana University alum, who majored in German and Russian history, is surprised to hear the ADL defines the flag as a hate symbol. “My family hid three Jews on their farm during World War II!” he says. Jenna Benn, assistant director of the Chicago ADL office, isn’t surprised by Eric’s ignorance of the flag’s more sinister symbolism. “It really depends on context,” she says. “That flag is more of an issue in Germany. Because Nazi symbols are banned in the country, a lot of German neo-Nazis will use that flag to show their ideology.” Despite the banner’s dual nature, Eric says he’s keeping it up. “Better that people on the El see a flag than see me naked.”

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