Teens who attended an Orange County party this weekend that included Nazi symbolism purportedly had this to say:
“I want to express my deepest remorse and regret.”
“I made a poor decision.”
“We made a very big mistake.”
“I am so sorry.”
“My actions were disgusting, appalling, irresponsible.”
A parent, who asked not to be identified, released handwritten letters of apology Monday about the same time a huge crowd gathered to denounce the anti-Semitism that had roiled the Newport Beach and Costa Mesa communities since images from the party went viral Sunday.
“I am ashamed none of us stepped up to take down this sign, and we should have stepped up right then and there to say it’s not right,” his child wrote.
In the letters, which were reviewed by The Times, some of the teens said they were not bigoted but admitted they had caused great pain to the community.
In Costa Mesa, the mother of two students who went to the party said she was “very upset” about their presence. Her anger and sadness, she said, stem from the fact that she and her family are Jewish.
What do we know about the party?
At the house party in Costa Mesa, the high school students were playing a drinking game with red Solo cups and pingpong balls. At some point in the night, the plastic cups ended up in the shape of a swastika.
It’s not clear how many people helped form the symbol, but a parent of one student who was at the party said that, as more cups were added and moved around, someone noted that it was starting to look like a swastika and completed the image. When it was done, a dozen or so teenagers crowded around the display and posed for photos, their arms raised in a Nazi salute.
“German rage cage,” one partygoer captioned a photo, presumably referencing the popular drinking game Rage Cage, before posting it on Snapchat.
“Ultimate rage,” another wrote.
A parent who did not want to be identified said that on Sunday he invited a Holocaust scholar to his home to speak with nine students who had attended the party. Some teens who had defended the behavior at the gathering did not accept invitations to his home, but the students who did go expressed remorse and decided to write apology letters. The parent released those letters Monday evening.
What has been the reaction?
There has been widespread outrage over the conduct at the party. Many students said they were deeply upset by the events.
Newport-Mesa Unified School District officials were working to discover who attended the party and had a role in the incident to determine a potential course of action. But because the party took place off-campus on a weekend, it’s unclear what disciplinary actions the district can take under the law.
“While these actions did not occur on any school campus or school function, we condemn all acts of anti-Semitism and hate in all their forms,” Newport-Mesa Supt. Fred Navarro said in a statement.
But Jocelyn Navarro, a junior at Newport Harbor in Newport Beach, said Monday she wasn’t surprised when the photos surfaced online.
At Newport Harbor, she said, students group themselves along racial lines: Latino students with other Latinos, whites with whites. It isn’t really intentional, she said.
“White people stay together, Mexicans stay together. We naturally just do it because we know that’s the way it is,” she said.
On Monday, Newport Harbor students poured out of school buildings wearing every shade of blue as an act of solidarity with the Jewish community.
“I’m very glad that we are all making a statement that the vast majority of us believe that this is disgusting,” senior Sam Quattrociocchi said during lunch. “Some people at the party thought they were making an edgy joke, and they were completely wrong.”
Fellow senior Timothy Shannon said, “Most people are trying to figure out ways to better ourselves out of it.”
How does this fit in the larger picture?
The fallout from the Costa Mesa party comes as anti-Semitic incidents at schools and colleges are on the rise, nearly doubling in 2017 from 2016, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
In 2017, K-12 schools surpassed public areas as the places with the most reports of anti-Semitic incidents. The organization logged 457 anti-Semitic incidents in non-Jewish schools that year, up from 235 in 2016 and 114 in 2015, the ADL said. Jewish institutions and schools also saw incidents double, jumping from 170 in 2016 to 342 in 2017.
Peter Levi, regional director of the Anti-Defamation League in Orange County, said he hadn’t seen evidence that the students who made Nazi salutes were Nazis or Nazi sympathizers but said their actions “normalize hate.”
“They normalized swastikas. They normalized Nazi salutes,” he said. “And it’s not just them, it’s probably happening all over the place — they’re the ones who took pictures on social media and got caught.”
Levi said he was “deeply concerned” by their actions and the increase of such actions among teens and youth as a whole.