It’s a party that has now been seen around the world: Newport-Mesa students crowded around a table Saturday night with red cups arranged in the shape of a swastika. Some are doing the Nazi salute. The photos — most were initially posted on Snapchat and then publicized — have since sparked outrage. Here’s what’s happened and what’s been said about that weekend party.
What happened Saturday night?
Newport Beach school officials on Sunday said they were investigating images posted on social media from the previous night appearing to show a group of partying students — arms outstretched in a Nazi salute — gathered around red plastic cups arranged in the shape of a swastika.
“German rage cage,” one partygoer captioned a photo, presumably referencing the popular drinking game before posting it on Snapchat.
“Ultimate rage,” another wrote.
The party occurred in Costa Mesa, according to Newport Beach police spokeswoman Heather Rangel. District officials said they sent a letter to parents on Sunday.
“We were recently made aware of social media postings involving some students who created inappropriate anti-semitic symbols, and possible underage drinking,” the letter said. “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.”
What’s happened since then?
School and district officials met Sunday to discuss the incident and were working with law enforcement officials and others to determine appropriate disciplinary action.
One student who posted a photo of the swastika surrounded by students told another student in an online conversation that “you are stupid if you think we actually support what Hitler did. It was a joke. None of us are … Nazi supporters.”
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 students who had defended the conduct did not accept invitations to his home, but the students who did go expressed remorse and decided to write apology letters. The parent released the letters on Monday evening.
At least one of the students has received a death threat, the parent added.
“These are children who made a big mistake,” he said.
At Costa Mesa High School on Monday morning, Principal Jacob Haley told the campus over the public address system that he was disappointed that some of his students attended the party. At Estancia High School, some teachers lectured on underage drinking.
On Monday at Newport Harbor, students wore blue as an act of solidarity with the Jewish community.
In Costa Mesa, the mother of two students who went to the party said she was “very upset” about their presence. The woman, who declined to give her name, said she wasn’t aware there was a planned gathering of teenagers and that alcohol would be served.
On Monday night, administrators in the Newport-Mesa Unified School District held a public forum to address what transpired at the off-campus party attended by sophomores and juniors from area high schools. Students have said teenagers from Newport Harbor, Costa Mesa and Estancia high schools were present.
What are students saying about it?
Soon after the photos surfaced, community members weighed in and said they weren’t surprised.
Josdel Hernandez, a junior at Newport Harbor, said she's seen incidents of more casual racism at school: A student doodling a swastika on a desk, for example, or cracking a joke about Nazism.
As jarring as the photos were, Jocelyn Navarro, another junior at Newport Harbor, also said she wasn't surprised when they surfaced on Snapchat and Twitter on Sunday morning.
"Every one of them was laughing," said Jocelyn, 16. "They all had smiles on their faces."
Student leaders took to social media to condemn the incident.
“As an organization dedicated to representing the students of Newport Harbor High School, we and the school administration denounce and condemn all acts of anti-semitism and hate in any form,” representatives of the school’s Associated Student Body said in a statement on Instagram. “Any negativity due to any type of persecution is utterly wrong, unacceptable and will not be tolerated. ... With all of the bad out there, we encourage everyone to turn to goodness, kindness and respect over hatred.”
Several Jewish students said the anti-Semitism displayed over the weekend was no unexpected spasm of hatred but the outgrowth something more entrenched — literally etched into the desks and bathrooms of their school.
“I pee in stalls with swastikas written on them. I write on desks with swastikas carved in them,” Maxwell Drakeford, a 17-year-old senior, said at the town hall meeting Monday. “I've had kids throw change on the floor and say, ‘Pick it up, Jew boy.’ ”
Kaitlyn, a 17-year-old student at a private Jewish school in Irvine, helped bring the photos to light after she saw them on Snapchat.
“How can these kids who have been educated about [the Holocaust] still find it funny?” she said.
What are others saying?
The Daily Pilot received several letters to the editor soon after news of the party broke.
Among the messages we’ve heard: “As our news feeds filled with images of the party — the red cups arranged in the sign of hate, the swastika, the kids hands’ raised in salute — our mouths gaped and our hearts sank.” “I request our school district set a date aside in the next few weeks where every student in grades 7-12 is required to watch ‘Schindler’s List.’” “A swastika and Nazi salute are viewed by most people as pure evil. It was this very evil that killed young Anne Frank during World War II.”
Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarian wrote about the party, what’s come after it and how it’s already affected people.
“Rachel, 16, told me she grew up thinking there was ‘little to no anti-Semitism’ in her world,” Abcarian wrote. “‘But in the last couple of years,’ she said, ‘it’s all started coming up.’ It has rocked her.”
Lastly, local leaders and representatives have given statements or have taken to Twitter.
“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.
“I am heartsick and disgusted seeing kids in our community engage in anti-Semitism,” Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) tweeted.
Newport Beach Mayor Diane Dixon and Mayor Pro Tem Will O’Neill said in a joint statement that they were “appalled and saddened” by the incident and that it was “not acceptable and not reflective of our community’s collective character.”
Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) tweeted on Monday, “I condemn this display of a hateful, anti-semitic symbol and call on parents and community leaders to redouble our efforts to educate young people about the history of violence against Jewish people worldwide. This has no place in Orange County.”