DES MOINES, Iowa - An Iowa man is defending his decision to display a large swastika sign in his front yard - right across the street from an elementary school.
It’s happening right by the playground at Morris Elementary School on the south side of Des Moines. William Stark says his sign is "pallet art."
Along with the swastika sign, he is also displaying numerous Confederate flags, a "Back the Blue" flag supporting police officers and an American flag with just 11 stripes and 32 stars.
On Wednesday morning graffiti calling Stark "Nazi Scum" had been sprayed on the pallet signs in the yard and a trailer on the property.
A Facebook post about the swastika sign has generated hundreds of comments, mostly negative.
Stark told WHO that it is not a racist sign but a historic one. He calls it a "World War II flag" and says anyone offended by it doesn't understand history.
Des Moines Public Schools released a statement condemning the display. The district also said the individuals displaying the signs have had numerous conflicts with Morris Elementary School and the district in the past and police are involved in the situation. The statement reads:
"We should all be sickened that someone would promote the hatred espoused by Confederates and Nazis within sight of the front doors of an elementary school. At Morris Elementary School, where more than 60% of the students educated are children of color, students see these symbols of hate when they arrive and leave school, or are simply on the playground. The individuals in the home displaying these symbols have had numerous conflicts with Morris Elementary School and the school district. We have recently notified them that DMPS has worked with the Des Moines Police Department to have a criminal trespass advisory issued against them. The police will be notified if they are on school property."
The City of Des Moines released a statement regarding the display. It reads:
"While the City may find these signs inappropriate and repugnant, particularly when displayed near an elementary school attended by students of diverse backgrounds, it must be noted that these residents have First Amendment rights protecting their freedom of speech, especially in and around their homes. As ruled by the U.S. Supreme Court, 'such speech cannot be restricted simply because it is upsetting or arouses contempt.'"
Stark was convicted of second-degree theft in September for trying to pass a fake check for $2,300 at a metro store. He was given a five-year suspended prison sentence. Court records show he has a history of substance abuse and mental health issues.