KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — After old photos dug up from his Facebook page went viral, a Kalamazoo business owner is admitting he made bad decisions but saying he’s not a Nazi sympathizer.
Aaron VanArsdale confirms it’s him in the photos that appear to have been taken in 2013. In one, his hand is raised in a Nazi salute and in the other, a swastika is drawn on his forehead. In an old Facebook comment, he joked the swastika was a birthmark.
“I’m not a Nazi. I’m not a fascist. I’m not a white supremacist,” VanArsdale told 24 Hour News 8 Wednesday. “My pictures were inappropriate, that’s for sure. They were meant in jest but definitely bad humor, bad decision. I own up to that.”
A man from Lansing shared the pictures on Facebook at the beginning of the month. Since then, the post has been shared more than 4,000 times. There has been intense backlash, including calls to boycott VanArsdale’s business, Craft Draft 2 Go in Kalamazoo.
On Wednesday morning, he discovered someone had tagged his business with “Get Out,” an expletive, “Nazi scum” and “ANTIFA” — shorthand for an anti-fascist movement that confronts white supremacists. The graffiti has since been cleaned up.
VanArsdale, an Iraq War veteran, says that despite the photos, he believes in equality.
“I know it’s not me, but people are going to draw their own conclusions and say what they want to say,” he said.
For now, VanArsdale has shut down his business and disabled its Facebook page because of all the comments and messages he received.
When asked if he would be willing to sit down with local community members to better understand why there’s so much outrage about the photos, VanArsdale replied “absolutely.”
“Yeah, I would invite multiple representatives from different groups and sit down and talk and try to get some resolution,” he said.
24 Hour News 8 reached out to the Kalamazoo mayor about setting up such a conversation, but did not hear back Wednesday night.
VanArsdale says he turned over surveillance video from his business to the Kalamazoo Department of Public Safety to see if the people responsible for the graffiti can be identified.