At least two Klamath Falls billboards were vandalized with swastikas and numbers linked to white supremacists and neo-Nazi beliefs.
The green spray-painted graffiti was discovered the morning after Election Day on Main Street billboards for the Klamath County Democrats and Grocery Pub.
Multiple swastikas were painted on the billboards, as well as the numbers “1488.” Those numbers are a common white supremacist symbol referencing a future for white children and an homage to Adolf Hitler.
According to the Anti-Defamation League, “the numbers form a general endorsement of white supremacy and its beliefs.”
Klamath Falls Police Chief Dave Henslee said symbols like those on the signs will not be tolerated in the city. Once notified of the graffiti, he sent code enforcement to cover it up. If KFPD identifies the person responsible, Henslee said the person will be charged accordingly, likely with criminal mischief.
Klamath County District Attorney Eve Costello called the actions “very disturbing,” but said she has “not noticed any increase in hate related crimes” in the county.
Klamath Falls Equity Task Force member Joey Gentry said the vandalism is an example to her of why it is necessary that the city consider a resolution to declare racial inequality a public health crisis in Klamath Falls. For those who don’t experience racism on a daily basis, public displays of hate symbols are proof that racism does exist in the city, said Gentry.
“I hope that our community sees this as an opportunity to notify our councilors to take a personal stand against racism and oppressive actions,” she said.
The timing of these symbols appearing the day after the election cannot be ignored, she said, noting her belief that people with racist tendencies have been emboldened by President Donald Trump.
She said she was physically sick when she heard about the hate symbols and that it serves as motivation to her to continue what she’s doing, from activism with the equity task force to protesting racial inequality and police brutality downtown since May.
“I see it as both evidence and continued motivation to do the work that we’re doing,” Gentry said.
Gentry, a member of the Klamath Tribes, wasn’t surprised that neo-Nazi beliefs exist in Klamath after her experiences protesting downtown. She said she’s had people drive past her and other protesters and yell “white power” at her and her group.
“I’ve seen the escalation and the vitriol and the hatred that people in our communities view towards us,” she said.
Although Gentry knows there are racist beliefs in Klamath Falls, she said she’s also been encouraged by the support she’s received while holding her signs downtown.
Gentry said many people can agree that the spray-painted symbols are unacceptable; she hopes the vandalism will open up conversations about more subtle forms of racism that also need to be stopped.
Chair of the Klamath County Democrats Valerie Lenardson said she was “dumbfounded” when she saw the damaged sign.
Lenardson said the organization cleared out the Democrat campaign office, located a block from the billboard, on Monday at the advice of statewide party leaders who feared violence against the offices. Lenardson felt it was safest to close up shop and believes the vandal targeted the group’s billboard since the office was no longer occupied.