Nazi flag along Nickel Plate Trail draws anger from riders, officials

Oct. 25—MACY — Kokomo resident Mike Williams said he was in disbelief when he saw a Nazi flag flying from a flagpole alongside the Nickel Plate Trail near Macy.

He said he had biked that section of trail earlier in the year, and the same landowner had a Confederate flag on his property. The flagpole is located at the very back edge of the property and sits just off the pathway.

"When I saw they had a Nazi flag now, I was just dumbfounded," Williams said. "I just can't believe that someone in this country would do that. ... I'm not Jewish, but I started thinking if I were Jewish, I'd really feel threatened and scared if I saw that."

But Jerry Piotter, a farmer who placed the flag on his property at 9380 N. 100 West, said the flag isn't meant to threaten anyone.

He said he hung it there as a political statement opposing President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party, who he believes are socialists. Piotter said he believes socialists share the same philosophy as the Nazis.

Piotter said he isn't a Nazi sympathizer, but he is a Republican who believes the Democratic Party represents the same ideology of the Nazis.

"They're telling us what to do and when to do it and how you're going to do it," he said. "Everything Trump did to get this country straightened out, those silly bastards have gone against it."

He said he thinks the Democratic Party will begin flying the Nazi flag as well, and his flag is a warning to people to prepare to see more of them flying around the country.

"They might as well get used to seeing it now," Piotter said. "It will be flying over the White House before it's all over. Within a year, that will be the new American flag."

But Mike Kuepper, president of the Nickel Plate Trail organization, said he thinks Piotter only hung the flag to antagonize people on the pathway.

"He's not been easy to deal with over the years, to put it mildly," Kuepper said. "The flag tells you everything you need to know about the guy."

Kuepper said the Piotter family has a long history of opposing the trail since the section running near their property was paved in 2010.

Piotter was ordered by a jury in 2013 to pay $500 to the trail group for cutting down trees along the path after they filed a lawsuit against him alleging he committed acts of vandalism and mischief. The lawsuit also said Piotter's wife set a fire on or near the trail in April 2013.

A jury eventually ruled the Piotters intentionally interfered with the use or possession of the trial's right-of-way and ordered them to pay a total of $1,500.

Piotter was also charged with misdemeanor battery in 2011, stemming from an incident in which he allegedly confronted three trail volunteers fixing washouts along the path. According to court records, Piotter got angry when one of the men ignored him, and Piotter grabbed him by the shirt collar. The charge was dismissed in 2013.

Kuepper said the Nazi flag is now just one more act Piotter has taken to oppose the trail.

Piotter said his decision to hang the flag had nothing to do with the trail, and it was his right to fly any flag he wanted on his property.

"I'm just letting people know my feelings, and they might as well get used to it because they're going to see more and more of it," he said.

Miami County Sheriff Tim Hunter said Thursday he wasn't aware of anyone reporting or complaining about the flag. He said he talked to the county prosecutor, who said the flag falls under the First Amendment right of free speech.

Hunter said he also isn't aware of any county ordinances that would bar anyone from hanging a Nazi flag. The Anti-Defamation League, a leading anti-hate organization founded in 1913, considers the Nazi Party flag to be hate speech.

Kuepper said it may be Piotter's right to fly the flag, but the real fallout from his decision is embarrassing the entire county and making trail riders feel unsafe and uncomfortable.

"If you want to be stupid, I guess you can legally be stupid," Kuepper said. "It's just kind of sad in a way. It just puts a black eye on our community. All of us working hard to make our community a better place, then you got this."

Kokomo resident Williams said he knows there's nothing that can be done legally to force Piotter to remove the flag, but he believes local residents and businesses should stop interacting with him as way to shame Piotter into taking it down.

"I think we can't afford to ignore this," he said. "We as American citizens need to do something about it, and that would be to shun and shame them."

But, Piotter said, he has no intentions of taking down the flag and doesn't care what people think about it.

"So far, right now, that's our right as American citizens — to fly whatever the hell we want to fly," he said.

Carson Gerber can be reached at 765-854-6739, carson.gerber@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter @carsongerber1.

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