While waiting for the L train at Union Square one Sunday earlier this month, a commuter named Liz spotted something — or rather someone — whose doings had bedeviled her and a few other New Yorkers for more than a year: A white man wearing a leather jacket and a black hoodie, scrawling a neo-Nazi slogan in black marker on a support beam.
Liz snapped the man’s photo, but he quickly ran away. Since then, she and other activists in the city have been searching for the man, whom they have dubbed “The L Train Nazi.” His graffiti of choice appears to be the number “1488,” a neo-Nazi code recognized as a hate symbol.
“I actually saw someone doodling on the support column,” Liz told the New York Jewish Week. “Sure enough, he was writing ‘1488.’ I was like, ‘get some pictures.’ He looked at me and tried to ignore it [me] and act as if nothing happened.”
The number 1488, in neo-Nazi speak, stands for two separate things: The 14 stands for a 14-word white supremacist creed — “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children” — and 88 stands for “Heil Hitler,” as “h” is the eighth letter of the alphabet.
Talia Jane, a Brooklyn-based freelance reporter of Jewish descent, collated some of the photos into a Twitter thread following Liz’s interactions. The tweets have been shared 1,300 times in the week since she posted them. The photos of the suspected “L Train Nazi” have been viewed nearly 800,000 times.
“People began to notice similar tags of a similar marker and similar handwriting style,” Jane told the New York Jewish Week. “It became assumed that there was one person behind these recurring tags.”
When asked by this reporter about the graffiti, the New York Police Department said, “there is nothing on file” about these markings.
MTA spokesperson Kayla Shults told the New York Jewish Week in an email that “there is no place for acts of hate of any kind, including antisemitic vandalism, in the subway system.”
“When observed, offensive materials are rapidly removed,” Shults said. “The MTA continues to be at the forefront of public service campaigns that promote respect and tolerance for all riders.”
Efforts to find the person behind the graffiti have also been coalescing offline. Elsa Waithe, 34, a comedian from East New York, first spotted the “1488” graffiti in November 2021 at the L train Livonia stop. Waithe covered it with a sticker but kept seeing similar graffiti nearby. Now, Waithe is putting up flyers at stations across the L line that say “#SubwayNazi” and display the man’s face.
“Be on the lookout,” the flyer reads. “This man was recently caught writing Nazi tags in NYC subways.”
“I personally plan to put these posters up every weekend, at least for a month or two, just so he knows that people know him now,” Waithe told the New York Jewish Week. “My friend asked me what I was doing. I said, ‘Essentially, Nazi-hunting.’”
Waithe said they made it their “mission” to always cover up the “1488” tags with a sticker but noticed that others began posting pictures of the tag at stations approaching Manhattan — including Myrtle-Wycoff, Grand Street, and eventually Union Square.
“If he had put a swastika, we all know what that is,” Waithe said. “This is just a coded swastika. It’s the same exact thing; it’s just not as widely known, so he can put it and be discreet or say it means something else. There is some plausible deniability.”
“No one wants a Nazi in their neighborhood,” Waithe said. “We all ride this train; we all live in this city. Is there a network [of activists]? No. It’s just concerned citizens.”