Bernie Sanders reacts to the 'horrible' Nazi flag waved by a protester at his rally

Bernie Sanders reacts to the 'horrible' Nazi flag waved by a protester at his rally
via CBS News / YouTube

A shocking incident at a Bernie Sanders rally last Thursday was a visceral reminder that anti-Semitism is on the rise in America.

A few moments into Bernie's speech at the 7,000-person Arizona Veterans Memorial Coliseum, Robert Sterkeson unfurled a five-foot-tall Nazi swastika banner and shouted anti-Semitic insults at the presidential candidate.

Sterkeson is a white supremacist and, according to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has "harassed a range of Jewish and Muslim organizations and events."

The banner was quickly ripped out of Sterkeson's hands by security and he was ushered out of the building.

Sanders recounted the event on Sunday in a conversation with CNN's Jake Tapper.

"To be honest with you, he was behind me. And I saw the crowd woo-ing and I turned around and I didn't quite see what it was," Sanders said. "I learned about it right after I left the stage."

The incident was especially disgusting because Sanders is Jewish and members of his family were "wiped out" in the Holocaust. If Sanders wins the Democratic primary he would be the first Jewish American major-party nominee for the office.

His opponent, Joe Biden, condemned the incident on Twitter.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt is concerned that the is incident emblematic of the rise in anti-Semitism in America that started with the 2016 election.

"Good people, regardless of how they vote, should call this out in no uncertain terms," Greenblatt said according to NBC. "I worry we'll see more of this."

According to the ADL, in 2018 there were 1,879 recorded Anti-Semitic incidents in the United States, with a dramatic increase in physical assaults. "Assault, harassment and vandalism against Jews remain at near-historic levels in the U.S.," the ADL writes on its website

"Assault, harassment and vandalism against Jews remain at near-historic levels in the U.S. The deadly attacks in synagogues in Pittsburgh and Poway have made American Jews feel more vulnerable than they have felt in decades," the ADL continues.

The American Jewish Committee tweeted saying that "Nazi flags are symbols of pure hate and have no place anywhere in America, much less in a rally for a Jewish presidential candidate."

Sanders is used to heckling by supporters of his opponents at rallies, but the swastika banner was unconscionable.

"OK, we have been disrupted by various groups. Some people have gotten excited and we got rid of them you know," Sanders told Tapper. "But the idea that there was a swastika. A symbol of everything this country stands against. We lost 400,000 people fighting that symbol, fighting Nazism. Six million Jews were killed. Other people were killed. The most devastating war in the history of humanity."

"Obviously, it is unspeakable," he continued. "It is disgusting. It is something, I got to tell you, I never expected in my life, as an American, to see a swastika at a major political rally," the Vermont senator said. "Horrible."