On May 25, Nicholas Dean attended a rally protesting the removal of Confederate monuments in New Orleans, among them a 20-foot statue of Robert E. Lee. There he was photographed wearing an Iron Cross ring, a skull ring, a homemade shield bearing the "come and take it" slogan popular with anti-government militia groups, and other paraphernalia.
Dean was subsequently fired from his job at Crescent Leadership Academy, a majority-black school.
"The children of New Orleans should be able to trust that educators value their humanity, respect them as individuals, and will treat them with a sense of fairness and equality," said Kunjan Narechania, the superintendent of the Recovery School District which includes Crescent. "Educators are role models, and they should prioritize this sacred role above all else. Any educator who is unwilling to prioritize and respect the humanity of all children has no place in schools."
Dean has protested his firing: he told The Times-Picayune that he "didn't go to protest for either side. I went because I am a historian, educator and New Orleans resident who wanted to observe this monumental event."
"If I've made a mistake in any of this, it's not that I went to the memorial and had my photograph taken near a Confederate flag," Dean told the newspaper. "It's not that I was wearing a skull ring or an Iron Cross ring. That's not the mistakes that I made. There's nothing wrong with those things. The mistake that I made was believing that multiculturalism, diversity, ethnic pride or heritage applied to me, too."
Dean also posted a video online where he called his firing a political hit. "I do value European symbols and European heritage, and those things," Dean said. "It's not OK by the left, it's not OK in the mainstream media because if you do that, if you step out of bounds — specifically if you're white — and you claim your own heritage, you're going to be called a racist and you're going to be called a Nazi."
Earlier that month, Dean appeared as the guest on the "Guerrilla Radio" podcast where he denied that his jewelry had any Nazi affiliations, but admitted that others might mistake it as such. He told the hosts that he has observed the behavior of African-Americans at Crescent Leadership and other schools, and respected their mindset.
"I started seeing how the black community looked at each other and how race and tribe is so powerful for them, and I really respected that," Dean told the hosts. "Even though they fight a lot, kind of tribally, there's a sense of unity among blacks that's just understood. That was when I began my own kind of identity, if you will, quest."
Crescent Leadership is a second-chance school for students who have been rejected from New Orleans' charter schools (which make up over 90 percent of the city's student body.) The school, and Dean's work there, was featured in a 2015 NPR article.
"It ain't no bad school. The principal, Mr. Dean, is a good man," said then-16-year-old student Tahj Cruell, who is black. "He works with you. It's hard to get into trouble because the teachers here understand you. And if you get into trouble here, you're just ignorant."