Residents in a Gilbert neighborhood across from Veteran's Park near the city's downtown became disturbed Thursday when a man some of them say is a bully put up a makeshift Nazi flag.
Anthony J. Neal's stomping ground is a small back lot with a black iron fence barricading it from the alley in an area called Heritage District. Old tires, metal pieces, and general trash lean up against the fence on both sides. The newest addition to Neal's castle was a flag with a red spray-painted swastika. It's sloppy and a little lopsided, but unmistakably a swastika.
The flag went up on Thursday afternoon after Neal and some friends were working in the yard clearing trash. Neighbors took note immediately. They snapped photos, called the Gilbert police, and posted to Facebook.
One neighbor, Mary, took it upon herself to inform Gilbert Mayor Jenn Daniels via Facebook Messenger. She told Mayor Daniels that her neighbor has made his white supremacist views known but now "he feels he can crudely express them," she wrote.
Daniels didn't immediately respond to a request for comment.
Mary and her fellow neighbors do not want to be identified by their full names because they say Neal has a tendency to pick on those who tattle. Neal had a prohibition against harassment filed against him Maricopa County Superior Court many years ago.
Another neighbor, Jim, says he has known Neal for 27 years and is not surprised by his antics anymore. Jim says he has collected a gallon tub full of golf balls and rocks that Neal has thrown at his house over the years. He refuses to throw them back.
When a Phoenix New Times reporter took pictures of the Nazi flag on Friday, Neal came out immediately.
"It's a joke," he said as he stepped out the door. "We thought it would be funny."
He wanted to get a rise out of his neighbors, Neal said. To see who would complain or not.
Does he often get in disputes with his neighbors?
Yes, he said, but it has nothing to do with race.
Someone dared him to put the flag up, Neal said as he grabbed a step stool.
"It's stupid, " he said as lined the ladder up with the flag.
"It's just a joke, man," he continued while climbing the ladder. "Don't take it to heart, man."
Does he identify with the Nazi beliefs?
"People take this too seriously; they have too much time on their hands," he said, trying to get a handle on the wooden pole the flag was stapled to.
Neal said he's aware of the current political climate. He knows President Trump was here on Tuesday and held a rally in Phoenix. Neal made no mention of his own political leanings, but does note it was "crazy" to watch protesters "attack" police in Phoenix.
He is not popular with his neighbors, they say.
"Nobody likes Tony," Jim said, taking a drag of his cigarette while old Western movies play on TV. "I can't think of a single person."
But Jim won't call him a racist. Neal is just a pest, he said.
Other neighbors who have grown up on this block agree. They've seen Neal interact with people of all ethnicities. He doesn't discriminate, he harasses everyone — regardless of race. They're not surprised by the Nazi flag.
"He is German," one neighbor said. And he's right. Neal's mixed pit bull's name is Männchen, which means small man in German.
The newer neighbors, like Mary, are not so forgiving.
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"I know he has a right to fly that banner," Mary said. "I think he should expect to be shamed for it, but he has a right to fly it."
Mary adds that she would gladly gift Neal an American flag to replace the homemade Nazi one.
In the meantime, with the Nazi flag in hand, Neal stepped down from the step stool and rolled it up.
"It's funny but it's not," he said. "That got way out of hand."