Swastika appears on South Tongass Highway, Ketchikan’s second incident of racist vandalism in less than a week

A section of South Tongass Highway near the location where the swastika was painted is shown on Wednesday. (Eric Stone/KRBD)

A second spate of racist vandalism in less than a week has appeared in the Ketchikan area. An 11-foot-wide swastika and other hateful symbols were painted Wednesday along a main road just south of town.

A green-and-white swastika drawn across the southbound lane of the South Tongass Highway appeared Wednesday morning. The spray-painted anti-Semitic and white supremacist symbol drew widespread condemnation from community members.

Hannah Bayles was sitting on Rotary Beach with a friend, just up the road. She said it’s distressing.

“It feels like a space has been created where people feel comfortable doing that without fully understanding the impact that it has on our community members,” Bayles said.

She said more people in the community need to better appreciate the power of symbols.

“I think when we’re comfortable with people driving around town with their Confederate flags, or hanging their Confederate flags inside of their businesses that are inside the Plaza (Mall), it’s not a big leap to see swastikas spray painted on the sidewalk,” she said.

One passerby who said she’s of Jewish descent called the vandalism disgusting and hurtful. She didn’t want to be identified out of fear of being targeted by white supremacists.

A local LGBTQ group condemned the vandalism and imagery. Ketchikan Pride Alliance’s Ryan McHale said the community needs to have a serious conversation about its values.

“Because if we want community members to feel like they can be safe here, especially our Jewish community members, our Black community members, or queer, LGBTQ+ community members, how can they feel safe if they’re seeing swastikas and racist epithets on walkways and roads?” he said.

The first vandalism appeared over the weekend on a trail and skatepark near Schoenbar Middle School, but the latest outbreak was south of city limits. Ketchikan police say they’re still investigating the first incident, but the latest vandalism is out of their jurisdiction.

An Anchorage-based Alaska State Troopers spokesperson confirmed that they’re investigating.

“At this time troopers have no suspects or leads,” spokesperson Austin McDaniel said in an email Wednesday. “We have informed Ketchikan Police Department and are investigating any ties between the recent two instances of vandalism. If anyone has any information they are asked to contact Alaska State Troopers in Ketchikan at (907) 225-5118.”

Ketchikan police have also yet to publicly identify any suspects. Lt. Andy Berntson said the vandalism near the middle school included a social media handle that was misspelled.

“Well, usually if you’re looking at people that are identifying themselves or signing their handiwork, they generally spell their own name correct,” Berntson said. “So, I think we feel pretty good thinking that that person is not a suspect.”

Officials with the state Department of Transportation, which maintains South Tongass Highway, say they plan to use pressure washers on Thursday to remove the paint from the roadway.

Police Lt. Berntson said his department is taking its investigation seriously.

“We can’t have this stuff become commonplace. It’s not okay. And so certainly when you add in the content of it, it’s juvenile, it’s all about hate, and it’s just got no place in our town — or any town — but it certainly doesn’t belong here,” he said.

Anyone with information about either incident can call Ketchikan police’s anonymous tip line at 225-CLUE.

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