This year’s presidential race was the first one Cam Freeman and his friend Joe Urquiola followed closely. They’re high school juniors and fans of Donald Trump.
“The main reason I like him is he’s a little different,” explained Urquiola. “It seems like he’s going to do something to actually change the country.”
“We would just look into Trump and have a group chat and talk about it and send each other articles,” recalled Cam Freeman. “As the election went deeper, we purchased hats and shirts.”
When they wore Trump gear to school on Inauguration Day, they stood out. In city where nearly 80 percent of voters supported Hillary Clinton, few students at New North High School were celebrating. Urquiola and Freeman say some kids stared at them when, along with three other friends, they pulled out a Trump flag.
“We found like a wall and we just kind of took a quick picture wearing our Trump hats and holding the flag,” said Freeman.
That photo was posted online. And here’s where political disagreement turned into something uglier: Another student reposted the photo on social media, with photo shopped obscenities above the boys’ heads. Urquiola, who is Jewish, was labeled a Nazi.
“I didn’t know that’s how people looked at me just because I like Trump,” said Urquiola. “I know most people in my city don’t like Trump. I didn’t know people looked at me that way, with the nasty words and things they put about me on there.”
When he learned about the photo, Newton North principal Henry Turner sent parents a letter indicating posts targeting students for their political beliefs “will not be tolerated”. But Joe’s father, Ed Urquiola wanted a tougher response. He cites the aftermath of an incident last September, when someone drove by the school waving a confederate flag.
“The entire school had to go to re-education,” said Ed Urquiola. “When they drove around with the confederate flag, which is an ignorant act, I agree – but it wasn’t targeted at anybody. It wasn’t pointed at a Jewish kid and saying you’re a Nazi because you voted for Trump.”
Robert Trestan, regional director of the Anti -Defamation League says it’s difficult to compare one incident with another.
“They took action,” said Trestan. “More importantly, they recognized the impact that this online harassment and bullying would have on the school environment.”
He says his office advised Newton in this case and a similar one at another local school. He says in schools across Massachusetts there’s been a dramatic uptick in the casual use of inflammatory language.
“Many people are using all sort of analogies, including Nazi and holocaust analogies,” said Trestan. “Not everyone, including many young people, really have the appropriate context.”
Ed Urquiola, however, thinks the word choice used to target his son reflects a widely held view of President Trump.
“To a lot of people here he is a Nazi. That’s why Joe was called a Nazi, a lot of people here believe that,” said Urquiola. “If you really think he’s a Nazi, and I support him, what are you going to think of me? I feel that here.”
That’s tough criticism for a city that prides itself on being tolerant.
“I disavow the idea that there is some kind of undercurrent in Newton that because you voted for Trump you’re not welcome to live here or that I don’t want my kids playing with your kids anything like that,” said Shawn Fitzgibbons, chair of the Newton Democrats.
He says opposition to the president is strong in Newton, but the photo labeling a teen Trump supporter a Nazi is an anomaly.
“These are kids, it’s bullying,” said Fitzgibbons. “The current president’s rhetoric has led kids to add this to their political discourse.”
Joe Urquiola and Cam Freeman say they do talk politics with friends who are not Trump supporters. What bothers them is that peers who don’t know them are quick to judge.
“It’s not a good feeling when there’s people who hate you or don’t want to be your friend who don’t even know you at all,” said Joe Urquiola. “I’ve never even talked to some of these people.”
WGBH’s coverage of K-12 education is made possible with support from the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.