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In mid-October, after several months in which scrawled swastikas seemed to disfigure every phone booth, trash can, and newspaper-vending machine in downtown Washington, a man was caught spray-painting the Nazi symbol on a phone booth at 10th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue NW. Esyededeea Aesfyza was arrested and charged with destruction of public property. According to one woman who’s been conducting an ad hoc cleanup campaign, though, new swastika graffiti are replacing the old ones that have been painted over.
Aesfyza, described by the Washington Post as “a Greek-born Iowa resident who was living out of a car in Washington,” offered as his defense that the swastika is a pagan symbol with no inherent connection to Nazism. (Since he’s been charged with vandalism and not a hate crime, this isn’t directly relevant to his defense.) Yet most of the swastikas seen around town are contained in a circle, as the Nazi one usually was, and are usually accompanied by a lightning-bolt-like “SS” that resembles the insignia of Hitler’s most notorious special troops.
According to U.S. District Attorney’s Office spokesman Kevin Ohlson, Aesfyza was originally placed in a “diversion” program and required to remove the graffiti he had produced. Then, however, he was arrested a second time on the same charge; he now has been terminated from the diversion program and faces charges in both incidents. No one else, reports D.C. Metropolitan Police spokesman Mike Brooks, has been arrested in connection with swastika graffiti.
Whether this is a simple case of Nazi-see, Nazi-do or a more organized campaign, more graffitists are apparently out there. One woman, who says she’s personally masked 100 or more swastikas with the two cans of spray paint she’s taken to carrying with her, reports that new swastikas have appeared where she’s obliterated old ones, sometimes as soon as the next day. The woman, who asks not to be identified, notes that she’s seen evidence that other people are countering the graffiti, either by concealing the symbols or by drawing additional lines on the swastikas to render them meaningless patterns. She also says that the city’s Department of Public Works (DPW) is apparently painting over the ones on trash cans, though it’s unclear whether the department is targeting swastikas or just tidying up in general. DPW spokeswoman Linda Grant could not be reached for comment.