Last weekend, John Placek removed a slide of a swastika from a digital billboard he owns located on the corner of Route 422 and Bonniebrook Road in Summit Township. The swastika had been placed next to the words “FBI CORRUPT & DANGEROUS THE GESTAPO.”
The Worthington businessman said that he heard from a friend that a local Holocaust survivor found the imagery upsetting.
“My intent was not to offend anybody or create grief and hardship for people or bad memories,” Placek said. “So, what I did was — out of respect for her — I removed it.”
Placek’s decision to remove the swastika concerned only this particular billboard at this particular time, he told the Chronicle. When asked if he would commit to no longer using Nazi imagery on his billboards, Placek replied: “I’m not saying that.”
The billboard owner said that he would do whatever was necessary to get “the word of God around. If I need to get people’s attention, I will do that. I don’t do it with malice or meanness. My goal is to have God put back in our country, God put back in our schools along with the Pledge of Allegiance, and God put back in American lives because God is in control, not the government.”
Placek added that the swastika has been used for thousands of years in different cultures as a sign of goodness and that it was hijacked by the Nazis.
Despite his protestations that the swastika could be interpreted as something other than a symbol of hate, Placek said he believes there is an equivalency between the Gestapo and the FBI. To illustrate his point, Placek pointed to the arrest of a Philadelphia man for alleged violations of the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act.
“When you arrest a man who is a clergy, and he’s standing in front of an abortion clinic and is arrested because he’s against abortion by the FBI — not in front of the clinic, but at his home where he has seven children watching the FBI put cuffs on their father. That’s wrong. That’s the Gestapo. That’s what I’m trying to illustrate,” he said.
Placek went on to say there was a need to get America “straightened out,” pivoting to the LGBTQ+ community.
“The gays, bisexuals, transexuals, the queers … My God tells me that’s prohibited and they are the Antichrist. I’m going to go after them, and it’s not going to be popular,” he said.
Placek sees a similarity between the Gestapo and the FBI incarcerating people, pointing to those arrested on Jan. 6, 2021, whom he claims continue to be held without charges.
“Yeah, I think there’s a parallel between the Gestapo and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, no doubt about it,” he said.
In August, Placek faced criticism for similar messages on billboards he owns near his businesses in Worthington.
At the time, he told the Chronicle that it wasn’t his intention to offend anyone, but he thought the raid at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago home was comparable to the Nazis murdering more than 6 million Jews and stealing their property.
“In my mind, they’re equivalent,” he said. “I know you don’t want to hear this. What happened to the Jewish people, it was criminal. You’re talking to an old colonel from the Army. I served 22 years defending the Constitution of the United States of America. I’m pro-Israel and everything. I’m not anti-Jewish, but I was trying to make a statement that you can’t just go and do that to people.”
In 2019, following the acquittal of former East Pittsburgh Police Officer Michael Rosfeld in the fatal shooting of Antwon Rose II, Placek displayed photos of both Rosfeld and Rose with the message: “Legal System Works, Justice Served, Get over it.” Another sign featured the billboard owner’s face with the message, “I’m white and Proud of it.”
The owner of both a gas station and pool company, Placek lost his Sunoco affiliation following the Antwon Rose controversy.
Lauren Bairnsfather, executive director of the Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh, said it is important that Placek understand the swastika is a symbol of hate and antisemitism.
“The Nazis persecuted many different minority groups,” she said. “It’s not a symbol that you use to prove a political point.”
Bairnsfather said that Placek’s billboards are evidence of why what the Holocaust Center does is so important.
“To make sure there’s a deeper understanding of what those symbols mean and why it’s dangerous to use them to prove a political point. You’re recalling a genocide,” she said.
Placek’s messages, she said, are just one way to trivialize the Holocaust and prove there is still a lot of work left to be done.
For his part, Placek plans to push on with his controversial billboards but believes they may cause the FBI to target him soon.
“Watch, they’ll be hitting me next,” he said. “I mean they’ll be putting handcuffs on me and haul me off to jail because I have to state my own opinion.” PJC
David Rullo can be reached at email@example.com.