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By Jacob Henry

(New York Jewish Week) — While waiting for the L train at Union Square one Sunday earlier this month, a commuter named Liz spotted something — or rather someone — whose doings had bedeviled her and a few other New Yorkers for more than a year: A white man, wearing a leather jacket and a black hoodie, scrawling a neo-Nazi slogan in black marker on a support beam.

Liz snapped the man’s photo but he quickly ran away. Since then, she and other activists in the city have been searching for the man, whom they have dubbed “The L Train Nazi.”

“I actually saw someone doodling on the support column,” Liz told the New York Jewish Week. “Sure enough, he was writing ‘1488.’ I was like, ‘get some pictures.’ He looked at me and tried to ignore it [me] and act like nothing happened.”

The recent encounter on the L train platform, Liz said, didn’t escalate into violence. “He didn’t want to get an assault charge, and I didn’t want to get an assault charge,” she said. “He stormed off and I forwarded the pictures.”

The number 1488, in neo-Nazi speak, stands for two separate things: The 14 stands for a 14-word white supremacist creed — “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” — and 88 stands for “Heil Hitler,” as “h” is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

Beginning in November 2021, other Twitter users had taken photos of similar graffiti at subway stations on the L and M lines in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn. This isn’t the first time hate symbols have plagued the L train: two trains were removed from the line in 2019 after MTA officials discovered anti-Nazi stickers (which nonetheless partially displayed swastikas) on the train.

Efforts to find the person behind the graffiti have been coalescing offline as well. Elsa Waithe, 34, a comedian from East New York, first spotted the “1488” graffiti in November 2021 at the L train Livonia stop. Waithe covered it with a sticker, but kept seeing similar graffiti nearby. Now, Waithe is putting up flyers at stations across the L line that say “#SubwayNazi” and display the man’s face.

“Be on the lookout,” the flyer reads. “This man was recently caught writing Nazi tags in NYC subways.”

“I personally plan to put these posters up every weekend, at least for a month or two, just so he knows that people know him now,” Waithe told the New York Jewish Week. “My friend asked me what I was doing. I said, ‘Essentially, Nazi-hunting.’”

Waithe said they made it their “mission” to always cover up the “1488” tags with a sticker, but noticed that others began posting pictures of the tag at stations approaching Manhattan — including Myrtle-Wycoff, Grand Street and eventually Union Square.

“He was putting them in very obvious places,” Waithe said. “Livonia is right next to public housing. This is a Black neighborhood. It pissed me off that someone would threaten the community. That’s what this is, a threat.”

Waithe feels that coded numbers such as 1488 and 1352, a racist anti-Black slogan, allow the perpetrator to hide Nazi messaging in plain sight.

“If he had put a swastika, we all know what that is,” Waithe said. “This is just a coded swastika. It’s the same exact thing, it’s just not as widely known, so he can put it and be discreet, or say it means something else. There is some plausible deniability.”

“No one wants a Nazi in their neighborhood,” Waithe said. “We all ride this train, we all live in this city. Is there a network [of activists]? No. It’s just concerned citizens.”

Sophie Ellman-Golan, spokesperson for the Jewish progressive group Jews For Racial and Economic Justice, commended the efforts of the people who are keeping “tabs on the subway Nazi.”

“This particular Nazi has spent years trying to make Jews, Black people and all marginalized groups feel uncomfortable and unwelcome on the subway,” Ellman-Golan told the New York Jewish Week. “But it’s Nazis who should feel uncomfortable and unwelcome — on the subway and in our city and state.”

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