Photo of High School Boys Doing Nazi Salute Sparks Outrage

A photographer and group of high school boys are at the center of a firestorm of controversy this week after a photo surfaced showing the group doing the Nazi salute.

The group photo was captured on the steps of the Sauk County Courthouse before junior prom this past spring, it resurfaced this past weekend after a former student named Carly Sidey shared a screenshot of a since-deleted Tweet by a local parody account:

Journalist Jules Suzdaltsev then made the photo go viral after he Tweeted it and began investigating its origins.

The group pictured is the junior class at Baraboo High School in Baraboo, Wisconsin. The photographer behind the shot was quickly identified as Pete Gust of WheelMemories, who was present as a parent of one of the boys.

Gust’s website had the photo displayed until controversy erupted this week. Gust has since replaced it with the following message:

Due to malevolent behavior on the part of some in society; this page has been modified. It is too bad that there are those in society who can and do take the time to be jerks; knowingly and willingly to be jerks! The internet can be a wonderful tool but for some there is an overwhelming urge to destroy. The destruction may not be physical but instead, it can be bullying that is intellectual or emotional. To anyone that was hurt I sincerely apologize.

To those who have harmed them, we as society often ignore them I have chosen not to do that. YOU ARE JERKS! Grow up!

Gust tells Madison365 that he didn’t instruct the boys to do the Nazi salute.

“And the last picture that I shot, I said, ‘All right boys, you’re on the steps. … give me a high sign, a wave that you’re saying goodbye to your parents,’” he said. “And I called it high five, ‘give me a high five.’ … And so I stuck my hand up, and I said, ‘this is what I want,'” Gust says. “I didn’t tell them to salute anything. There was none of that that was taken at that point in time that it was a salute of any kind. It was waving goodbye to their parents (and) having a good time. High five.”

One of the boys pictured in the photo not doing the gesture refutes Gust’s claim that he asked the boys to wave goodbye to their parents. He provided the following statement to Suzdaltsev:

Blue tells Madison365 that Gust simply told the boys to raise one hand.

“Which doesn’t give a bunch of teenagers a lot of guidance on how to raise their hands,” says Blue, who felt that many of the boys immediately began intentionally doing the Nazi salute. “I felt upset, unsafe, disappointed and scared. I felt unsafe because I go to school with them, I don’t believe in what they represented and the symbol they shared … they knew it was wrong, but they still did it.”

The Baraboo School District responded to the outrage with the following statement:

The Baraboo Police Department says it’s investigating the photo as well.

The photo even prompted the Auschwitz Memorial to release a statement:

“Wish I was shocked, but the comfort they share in embracing supremacist culture is the most obscene part,” Tweets state Lt. Gov.-elect Mandela Barnes. “This happens when the behavior is increasingly more excused and/or promoted. It cannot be tolerated, ignored, or inconsequential. This will not be us.”