Swastika offends residents of Fruita

Less than a day after it went up, it came down.

But in the short period of time that a Nazi swastika-bearing flag flew just two doors down from Shelledy Elementary School, the city of Fruita erupted in disgust, outrage and dismay.

The flag, erected on a pole in front of 269 N. Mesa St., saw only a few hours of daylight but attracted negative attention during that time from neighbors, passersby and residents in the small town with a friendly reputation.

"It just spews hatred," said neighbor Carol Lynch, who said she and her husband have reported suspicious activity at the residence repeatedly to police and have lived in their house for 13 years. "This close to the school, what are we teaching kids?"

Lynch said the residents have been living in the home for roughly a year and that she and her husband Kevin have attempted to help the woman and baby who live there, as the water and utilities have been shut off to the address. The property is in foreclosure, according to public records.

Neighbors said the flag was put up by Larry "L.J." Brooks, a 40-year-old man who is known to ride a bike around town. Despite rumors that the Lynches removed the flag, the couple said they did not take it down overnight.

According to Colorado Bureau of Investigation records, Brooks has a significant criminal history dating back to 1999. His convictions include felony drug possession, weapons offenses and domestic violence. Attempts to contact Brooks on Wednesday were unsuccessful and it's not clear why the flag made its brief appearance, but postings on his social media accounts share white supremacist views, something in line with neo-Nazi values.

"What I feel is that sign represents hatred, it represents genocide," said Kevin Lynch. "It represents everything evil in this world. And that's why I went out and bought a shotgun because I feel that my security has been jeopardized now."

According to an incident report with the Fruita Police Department taken Tuesday night, Kevin Lynch called dispatchers to report the neighbors flying the flag. He said he was upset about Brooks' behavior and feared retaliation, as Brooks was shutting off their access to water from the faucet in his yard.

For some, the flag hit a personal nerve, especially on a day when voters participate in the democratic process and only recently since 11 people were murdered in a Pittsburgh synagogue. But they said the symbol of the swastika expresses intolerance for so many groups and types of people that it's hard to tell who is being targeted.

"Those people are much more than Jew-haters," said Dena Dickinson, a Fruita resident who saw the flag when she drove down the street Tuesday afternoon. Dickinson comes from Jewish ancestry and said she was glad to see Fruita residents respond in disgust to the gesture.

"My fear was that people would be indifferent, that they'd say let's just ignore it," she said. "Fruita is much more progressive than that."

"We have to shed a light on this," said Fruita resident Ken Kreie, who also serves on the City Council. "I think this has to be dealt with, you can't just let it be because you can never make progress."

The Lynches said the swastika flag flown on Election Day was just the latest in a long string of incidents over the past year. Kevin Lynch said he has made numerous reports about suspected drug activity at the residence, to no avail.

"This is less than 1,000 feet from a school playground," he said. "We've reported and reported and nothing came of it."

Fruita police Sgt. John Coughran confirmed the department had received a report Tuesday night from a neighbor, which he called a "civil issue."

"The flag was part of it, but it was nothing criminal," he said.

Displaying the swastika isn't illegal. In fact, it falls under the First Amendment.

On Wednesday morning, the flag was no longer flying. It's not clear what happened that brought it down.

"It's my hope that it was social pressure and not somebody trespassing or going and snatching it in the middle of the night," Kreie said.

Regardless of how the flag disappeared, residents said they were glad and also heartened by the message conveyed by the majority of Fruitians — that there's no place for swastika flags in Fruita.

"I totally understand the free speech thing," said Carol Lynch. "But you let this go, the next time it will be a noose hanging from a tree."

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