A photo posted on social media of dozens of Wisconsin high school students giving a Nazi salute has drawn condemnation from the school district.
Tweets say the photo shows all the males in the Baraboo (WIsconsin) High School class of 2019 at the city's only public high school. Some students also are believed to be giving a white power salute.
A tweet from a now-deleted account includes this message: "We even got the black kid to throw it up," according to a screenshot from Carly Sidey of Baraboo. Sidey briefly decided Monday afternoon to make her tweets available only to followers but later restored her account to public view.
The photo appears to have been taken during the school's junior class prom in the spring when photographer Pete Gust of Wheel Memories in Baraboo asked for separate photos of the boys and the girls in the Class of 2019, according to information from Jules Suzdaltsev, a New York-based journalist for Prompt News Online in Abuja, Nigeria, who first publicized the incident early Monday.
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The photographer later removed all of the prom photos from his website, saying "malevolent behavior on the part of some in society" caused him to do that.
"It is too bad that there are those in society who can and do take the time to be jerks, knowingly and willingly to be jerks!" Gust wrote. "To anyone that was hurt, I sincerely apologize."
The school district posted a message about the photo on its Facebook page Monday.
"The photo of students posted to #BarabooProud is not reflective of the educational values and beliefs of the School District of Baraboo," the post said. "We are investigating and will pursue any and all available and appropriate actions, including legal, to address."
The four-year high school has almost 1,000 students, according to the National Center for Education Statistics. Baraboo, 100 miles northwest of Milwaukee, has about 12,000 residents, 93 percent who identify as white only, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
In the 2015-16 school year, nearly 9 in 10 of the high school's students were non-Hispanic whites; eight students identified as black. The federal government does not track religious preference, but the nearest synagogue to Baraboo is more than 30 miles away in Madison.
One student, who identified himself as Jordan Blue to Suzdaltsev, texted that he couldn't get away quickly enough from the group photo after he realized what was happening.
"The photographer took the photos telling us to make the sign. I knew what my morals were, and it was not to salute something I firmly didn't believe in," Jordan wrote. "These classmates have bullied me since entering middle school. ... Nothing has been done, and my question is wi(ll) anything ever be done?"
The incident is significant not only for its antisemitic tone as it became widely known two weeks after 11 Jews were massacred Oct. 27 at Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh but also because of increasing nationalism and hate speech in the United States. Adolf Hitler, who was German chancellor from 1933 to 1945, believed in an extreme form of German nationalism that included extermination of all people with Jewish ancestry.
The school district, which removed its Facebook profile from public view Monday afternoon, sent email to parents Monday morning saying the photo was taken off of school property and not at a school-sponsored event.
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"The school district is investigating the situation and is working with parents, staff and local authorities," said the email, signed by Superintendent Lori Mueller. "We want to be very clear: The Baraboo School district is a hate-free environment where all people, regardless of race, color, religion, creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin or ancestry, are respected and celebrated."
The photo appears to have been taken on the steps of the Sauk County Courthouse before this past spring's prom.
The Baraboo police department said in a Facebook post that it was aware of the photo controversy, and officers are assisting the school district's investigation.
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Internationally, the photo drew a response from the Auschwitz Museum in Oświęcim, Poland:
"It is so hard to find words. ...
"This is why every single day we work hard to educate. We need to explain what is the danger of hateful ideology rising. Auschwitz with its gas chambers was at the very end of the long process of normalizing and accommodating hatred."
Wisconsin politicians, who learned about the photo Monday, also condemned it.
"As elected officials, we have a responsibility to lead by example for a generation growing up in a climate where they see this behavior condoned," Democratic Gov.-elect Tony Evers said. "I will be in contact with Barbaoo officials, but we must all be clear: Intolerance and bigotry must never be tolerated, in our schools or anywhere else."
Lt. Gov.-elect Mandela Barnes added that such actions would not be excused.
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"Wish I was shocked, but the comfort they share in embracing supremacist culture is the most obscene part," he tweeted. "It cannot be tolerated, ignored, or inconsequential. This will not be us."
State Sen. Jon Erpenbach, a Democrat from Middleton, represents the Baraboo area and said he was appalled. He wants to know more about how it came to be taken.
"I saw it, and it's disgusting," he said. "There is absolutely no place in the world for something like that."
Contributing: Patrick Marley and Mary Spicuzza, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. Follow James B. Nelson on Twitter: @jamesbnelson