Baraboo student in viral photo says he was ‘shocked and confused’ as classmates made Nazi salute, blames imitation
While standing on the Sauk County Courthouse steps for a photo in May, Baraboo High School junior Jason Ramos recognized instantly that his peers were making a Nazi salute.
“After like a split second of them having their hand up, I was like, ‘Oh, so, this is what’s going on,’” he said.
The 17-year-old is now a senior, and said he remembers feeling shocked and confused by the moment that came “out of nowhere.” He can be seen in the front row to the right with his hand half up, curled in confusion.
“We were standing there taking pictures, everything was normal, and then it just happened so fast,” Ramos said.
That moment, frozen in perpetuity by a photo that went viral online last week, has caused grief for everyone involved.
Ramos believes one of the students misinterpreted photographer Peter Gust’s request for a “high sign” and “thought it’d be a good time to be funny.” Ramos acknowledged a Nazi salute is not something to be laughed about.
Another student, Brock Turkington, released a statement to reporters shortly after the photo went viral, noting that none of the students knew what “high sign” meant, a premise Ramos supported.
Events happened quickly, and Ramos said he doesn’t remember any of the parents present at the time noticing the implications of the gesture. Nor does he remember anyone talking to Gust about it afterward. Jordan Blue, a senior who also was in the photo and did not make the gesture, has offered a slightly different account, saying there were parents who were upset about the salute.
Sauk County Facilities Manager Ian Crammond said a security camera outside the courthouse that would have captured the incident was not installed until this month.
A separate camera inside the building’s east entrance includes a partial view of the courthouse steps and was installed at the time of the incident. However, Crammond said footage from that angle is not available for May 5 because of problems with courthouse cameras and their digital recorder.
‘They’re not Nazis’
Both Ramos and Turkington vouched for their peers, claiming most in the photo are not racist and never intended the gesture as a Nazi salute.
“One hand shot up and then everyone else went with, so it was kind of like ‘monkey see, monkey do,’” Ramos said. “It’s just shocking to me also because I know all of them, and I know they’re not Nazis.”
However, he doesn’t blame his classmates for following along with what everyone else was doing. In his eyes, the instinct to imitate is part of the problem.
“I just kind of want to use this as an example to show everyone why they should be themselves and start thinking a little bit more for themselves,” he said. That second of realization “saved me from getting called racist and pretty much everything that everyone else has been experiencing, because, you know, it’s just that split second determined whether or not they were gonna get ripped to shreds or not by people online.”
He said he wanted to speak to the Baraboo News Republic partially because of how “out of control” the issue has gotten and how negatively the school district has been portrayed with reports of bullying at the high school.
“Because after that, it was kind of seen as Baraboo is a racist town full of bullies,” Ramos said.
That image of Baraboo doesn’t accurately reflect the city or its schools, he noted. Ramos said he hasn’t witnessed anything at school that he would “actively call out as racist,” though he acknowledged some forms of subtle racism probably still occur.
Since international attention trained on the district, everyone at school has been “shaken up,” Ramos said. Many students, including those in the photo and some who weren’t there at all, have told him they received threats via social media websites such as Instagram and Twitter. The threats have been reported to authorities, he said, but with so many, it’s hard to tell which ones might be serious.
Students also are getting “flooded” with messages calling them Nazis “just because they come here,” Ramos said, though he has been spared. People who didn’t have anything to do with the photo have had to deal with the fallout.
Baraboo Police Chief Mark Schauf said city and school officials have faced threats from around the country.
In an effort to improve and repair some of the damage, school administrators hope to raise funds to send students to the Auschwitz Memorial in Poland, Ramos said.
For his part, Turkington started with an apology.
“I want to apologize to anyone that this incident has hurt; individuals that have been victims of racism, anti-Semitism, and/or xenophobia,” he wrote in his statement. “I would also like to apologize to the people of Baraboo, Baraboo High School, and my family. I am deeply sorry.”