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GOP Okla. House candidate downplays swastika photo

OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — A Republican Oklahoma state House candidate on Friday sought to downplay a photo on his Facebook page of him wearing a swastika-adorned Iron Cross medallion around his neck, saying it was part of a Halloween costume a few years ago.

Rodney Hiebert, who is running against incumbent state Rep. Mike Sanders in Tuesday's GOP primary, told The Associated Press that he realizes some people find the swastika offensive, but he offered no apology. He noted the symbol was used as the emblem for the Oklahoma National Guard's 45th Infantry Division in the 1920s and 1930s, and by some Native American tribes.

Hiebert, of Taloga, said the photo was taken at a friend's Halloween party about four years ago and that the pendant belonged to his friend.

"I was just going to be a vampire. I had just got off work, and my friend said, 'Here, put this on and we'll just pass you off as a vampire and go.' I didn't really give no thought about it. I still don't really," the 42-year-old Hiebert said.

Hiebert, who says he would serve only one term if elected, said he is not a racist and that he has friends from various ethnicities and countries. He said he doesn't think public schools should be allowed to teach Spanish as a foreign language, and that they should place greater emphasis on teaching about Native American culture.

"Their heritage and traditions are going the way of the Dodo, while we're teaching our kids a foreign language to accept or be conditioned for when the United States is not primarily an English speaking nation anymore," Hiebert said.

He said he also would like to require businesses to post signage in English.

"I want to take the English language laws a step further and make sure that all businesses advertise on their signs and things in English first, and then whatever below it," he said.

Hiebert's opponent, Sanders, said many people find the swastika extremely offensive, particularly Jews and veterans who fought against Nazi Germany in World War II.

"Personally, I would not have done it," Sanders said. "Even if it is a costume, I would think that common sense would prevail, but it's a free country and people are allowed to do and say what they want."

Matt Pinnell, the chairman of the Oklahoma Republican Party, said it is inappropriate for anyone to wear a swastika.

"I don't think using those sort of symbols is ever appropriate," Pinnell said. "Whether it was a Halloween costume or not, I don't think it's ever appropriate to be flashing swastikas around."

Sanders and Hiebert are running for the House seat in the sprawling House District 59, which stretches from El Reno northwest to Woodward and includes portions of five counties. Whoever wins Tuesday's GOP primary race will automatically be elected to the seat, since there are no Democrats in the race.

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