Dismay and distress gripped the residents of Pleasant Street in the quiet little town of Lauderdale this week when one of their neighbors hoisted a red flag bearing a swastika.
Ben Holsen first spotted the Nazi emblem flying on Wednesday night after another neighbor alerted him to its presence. The flag was flying next door to the home of a Jewish family.
"They are terribly afraid," Holsen said. He quickly notified City Hall.
"They said there was nothing they could do," he said. "That's when I posted the picture [of the flag] on my Facebook page."
His posting brought a torrent of reaction, almost all of it expressing anger and sorrow, although a few people pointed out that it's not illegal to hoist such a flag on private property.
Reached by phone Friday night, the flag's owner, Robert Walter, said he ordered it through the mail and put it up because he likes its pattern.
"I'm not no skinhead neo-Nazi guy," he said. "It was a German navy flag. The navy wasn't responsible for rounding up Jews, and sending them to labor camps and stuff."
Walter took down the flag after a flood of complaints. "I don't like all these people calling me and complaining," he said.
Lauderdale is a small city in the center of the Twin Cities, in Ramsey County. Heather Butkowski, its city administrator, said the city has had no previous problems with Walter and has no plans to confront him about the banner.
"We are letting people know it is protected by the First Amendment," she said. "He had the right to fly it."
Some neighbors felt let down by that response, Holsen said.
"I feel disappointed in my city," he said. "You had multiple neighbors raising a concern … most of them fearing for their safety."
On Friday, Steve Hunegs, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, released a statement condemning the flag. "We stand in solidarity with the neighbors disgusted by this hateful display, as well as the greater Jewish and non-Jewish communities who are outraged by this symbol of genocide and tyranny," he said.
In little Lauderdale, which Holsen calls an island in the larger metro area, Pleasant Street had been just that until Walter's action, he said.
"I'm glad the flag is down," he said. "Just because this guy is full of hatred and put up such a hateful symbol doesn't mean we need to match that with hate."