ELKHART — Two small U.S. flags sprout from flower pots outside an apartment.
Hank Stow, a woman who lives at Walnut Hills, used to occasionally fly a large U.S. flag from her balcony, sometimes a Notre Dame flag. Not anymore.
After a neighbor flew a Nazi flag, causing a minor uproar, managers of the apartment complex cracked down on such expressions. No matter the flag’s colors, tenants can’t fly anything from their balconies. Thus Stow’s limited to the two small flags, flying discreetly from the flower pots on the floor of her second-floor balcony.
She betrays no hint of resentment. But ask her about Dale Duncan — the neighbor who unfurled the Nazi banner on April 15, the day of the Boston Marathon bombing, and May 27, Memorial Day — and she exclaims loudly.
“He put that ... flag up and was laughing,” Stow said, seated in a recliner adjacent to the balcony, the exterior of Duncan’s unit visible across the street, the TV set tuned to a medical advice program. “I hollered from right here. I said, ‘Mr. Duncan, you need to take that flag in.’”
Duncan didn’t, of course, and the sight of a large red flag with a black swastika in a white circle caused an uproar. People in cars stopped, gawked, took pictures, Stow said. Duncan — whose garb consists of Civil War-era attire — sat there on his porch, for at least a time, taking it all in, the flag rippling.
“He had it right over the (balcony) railing and it was just flying everywhere,” Stow said. Duncan, she added, tipped his hat “like a crazy person” when she hollered at him.
Speaking from his small, neat apartment, Duncan decried what he sees as an infringement of his free speech rights — the subsequent crackdown on flags. A Nazi flag and Adolph Hitler picture decorate one wall inside, a map of the Interurban Trolley public transportation system hangs from a closet door. A purple box of raisin bran sits atop the refrigerator.
“A couple of neighbors, they weren’t violent, but they called the office and they complained and now nobody can fly a flag,” Duncan said, clad in gray wool pants and suspenders that mimic the garb Confederate soldiers wore. He had called The Elkhart Truth to report the situation.
Still, he doesn’t report any plans to fly the Nazi flag outside again, much as he’d like to. He hints at concerns about getting the heave-ho from his apartment, one of a couple hundred or so units at the Walnut Trails complex in eastern Elkhart.
“Course my flag doesn’t talk. But it brings out volumes,” Duncan said.
The former farm hand and military veteran who now relies on disability checks to get by said he identifies with a Detroit-based group called the National Socialist Movement, has been drawn to the cause since he was 21.
Should Duncan have to put his flag in the closet? Does he deserve attention? Should he and his message about racial superiority be ignored, kept in the dark, under a rock?
That red, black and white flag — the same as used in Hitler’s Germany — was hard to miss for those living around him who saw it. It’s hard not to talk when it’s right there. And the calls came in. Walnut Trails reps won’t go on the record, but the phone rang, people complained. The callers weren’t happy.
Stow, who hails from Myrtle Beach, S.C., and speaks with a southern lilt, said some didn’t know what to make of the flag. Especially when Duncan brought it out the day of the Boston bombing, which spurred widespread alarm across the nation, speculation about terrorists. He also flew it on Hitler’s birthday, a few days later.
A kook about to go off the deep end?
A violent racist?
“They was scared. They didn’t know what was going on,” said Stow.
Walnut Trails management reacted. They contacted Duncan, he said, and posted reminders around the complex about rule No. 9 in the standard lease agreement. No flags, period.
Apartment officials can’t be accused of singling anyone out, attacking any particular message. Just keep your balconies clear of any and all banners. It’s about keeping things tidy, preventing showdowns between competing messages.
“Notice effective immediately! Flags and or banners are not permitted to be hung from the windows, balconies or patios as stated in your Lease Agreement,” the reminder reads. It continues: “There are NO EXCEPTIONS.”
So who is this guy?
Duncan is 59 and worked maybe 10 years as a hired help on a Wakarusa-area dairy farm, until about a year and a half ago. He talks of previous stints in Chicago and Virginia and said he previously served in the U.S. Marines and the Indiana National Guard.
He plans to run for mayor of Elkhart in 2015, though he doesn’t seem to be that familiar with the actual chief executive, Dick Moore. Just thinks running the city would be a good job.
While he’s talking, an African-American woman walking past his ground-floor apartment outside — a neighbor — pauses and looks in through the sliding door that connects to his small outdoor patio. They exchange a few pleasantries.
“Well I hope everything’s going all right,” she says before walking off.
Even Stow doesn’t think Duncan is totally a bad sort, necessarily.
“I get along with him,” she said. “When I see him out there I say, ‘Hi Mr. Duncan. How are you doing?’”
Duncan dismisses talk of hate, violence, white supremacy. Philosophically, his thrust is against communism, he maintains.
But there’s a strong dose of anti-Semitism and he casually uses racial and ethnic epithets.
“National socialism is against communism, not Jews. But too many Jews was in the Communist Party,” he said.
He’s a Holocaust denier, thinks different races of people should stick to themselves, shouldn’t mix. Asked if he thinks whites are a superior race, he doesn’t answer directly, but maintains that white Europeans are responsible for more inventions than others. He doesn’t hate anyone, he maintains.
“Whatever you do in the paper, do not refer to me as a white supremacist. Do not refer to me as a hate mongerer,” he said.
Still, there’s the big red Nazi flag, a symbol for genocide, hatred, anti-Semitism, racism. He sometimes even wears a Nazi armband. It’s hard to soft-pedal your views when you use the swastika as shorthand for your belief system. And for many, most probably, it’s no ice breaker for reasoned political discourse.
People sometimes flip him off when he wears his armband.
He was at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs health clinic in Goshen recently when he got in a confrontation with a man offended by the armband swastika. Same thing happened with a woman in a grocery store here.
“She said I was repugnant,” Duncan said. “I called her a communist as she went out the door.”
Follow reporter Tim Vandenack on Twitter at @timvandenack