EAST VILLAGE — The tenant who stirred outrage by hanging a pair of Confederate flags from his windows on East Eighth Street for years flew flags featuring the Iron Cross — a Nazi symbol adopted by white supremacists, said a neighbor.
The top-floor windows of 403 E. Eighth Street, near Avenue D, showcased a pair of the German Naval flags emblazoned with the cross for roughly a decade before they were replaced by the Confederate flags, explained Paul Bakija, whose sixth-floor apartment directly faces the windows.
"No one really paid attention to it," said Bakija, who said the symbols may have gone unnoticed by those on street level. "He's on the sixth floor — no one really looks up."
He also said the tenant — identified by neighbors as a man in his late 30s or early 40s — routinely shouted racial slurs out his window several times a week until about four years ago.
"We would hear screaming and would look out the window and would see him stick his head out the window and yell racial epithets — the n-word, sp-c, words like that," recalled Bakija, guitarist for the Queens punk band Reagan Youth, which was founded in 1980 to critique the perceived fascism of the Republican party.
Bakija experienced it all firsthand because his windows directly face the tenant's, but people on the street didn't seem to notice.
"We would look down on the street and no one was like, 'Who is that?' because no one really paid attention, no one really heard it," he said.
Bakija said the Iron Cross flags were replaced by Confederate flags in Nov. 2016, right after Donald Trump won the presidential election. Unlike the previous flags, the Confederate flags were back-lit so they glow conspicuously at night, the neighbor said.
"[The Confederate flags] happened right after Trump got elected, I s--t you not," Bakija said, adding he plans to hang anarchist and Black Lives Matter flags from his windows in protest.
"He's had this since Trump's been in office — 200 days now — [and] all of a sudden this is a big issue because of Charlottesville."
As of Friday afternoon, the flags had been covered by a large blue tarp hanging from the roof.
Though neighbors have shared differing accounts of exactly how long the Confederate flags have been up, all agreed they had been there for at least several months before the controversy erupted this week.
A Google Street View image from September 2016 shows the iron cross flags in the windows, along with Israeli flags that still hang there.
Credit: Google Maps
Locals began circulating photos of the windows on social media Monday, two days after the Charlottesville tragedy. One Facebook post on the topic was shared upwards of 2,200 times, and many commenters expressed anger, with some suggesting throwing rocks or bricks at the windows.
On Wednesday morning, a man was recorded hurling rocks at the building and threatening to break all the windows while yelling that the flags must be taken down. Police stood guard outside the building that night.
The tarp blocking the windows Friday was weighed down by chains, according to a video taken by a neighbor, with passersby saying the cover-up needed to happen.
"[The flag] could start a war or something — a racial war," said Vernon Reed, 58, who lives a few blocks from the building. "I think it helps."
A woman who answered the phone at the building's management office, Yassky Properties, could not confirm whether it had covered the windows. The building's property manager did not return a message seeking comment, though he said on Thursday that management was trying to "resolve" the issue.