In this week’s roundup: Swastika pendants and Hitler gnomes are just some of what’s for sale on Etsy, an update on Charlottesville 2.0, good hate reads and impact!
On Etsy, the online crafts marketplace, sellers are offering hundreds of items bearing symbols with close associations with hate – ranging from swastika jewelry to decals bearing white nationalist slogans.
Sellers generally purport to be offering these items outside of their Nazi-era context, as part of a real effort to return the swastika to its origin as a Hindu religious symbol.
A Ukraine-based seller offering a “Stainless Steel Ganesh Buddha Cross Necklace” noted in the item’s description that, “The word ‘Swastika’ came from the Sanskrit word, meaning any lucky or auspicious object, and might thus be translated literally as ‘that which is associated with well-being.’”
However, this same user is also selling Iron Cross earrings. Based on a prominent Nazi-era symbol, the Iron Cross has been adopted as a symbol by white supremacist groups, although it’s also in use among bikers and skateboarders in the United States.
Many of the symbols are subtle, like in this pair of sunglasses.
Or this bodysuit.
“It is important to understand that Etsy is not a curated or juried marketplace, which means that anyone can list anything on the site at any time,” she wrote in an email.
Etsy isn’t the only platform selling items associated with hate. A recent report turned up numerous examples of online retail giant Amazon selling everything from neo-Confederate apparel to a racist e-book targeted at young children.
Peter Simi, an associate professor at Chapman University who has interviewed hundreds of members of the white supremacist movement as part of his research, regularly sees white supremacists sporting accoutrements bearing hate symbols not immediately obvious at first glance.
“This is tapping into a misconception that white supremacists are really blatant, overt, in-your-face, with obvious tattoos all over their body and wearing swastika T-shirts,” Simi said. “While some people may fit that characterization, most don’t. They tend to be more subtle about how they express themselves.”
It’s not only swastikas. There also are items being sold on the site emblazoned with other symbols that have been associated with hate. One seller is offering a car decal bearing the white nationalist slogan, “It’s OK To Be White.”
Etsy’s has rules prohibiting the sale of items that “support or commemorate current or historical hate groups, including propaganda or collectibles” and lets users report listings that violate those rules to the site’s administrators. However, the policy does specifically state that the site permits swastikas, when “used in peaceful or religious context,” as well as other controversial items that have “educational, historical, or artistic value.”
How the Hitler garden gnome fits in here is a little unclear.
However, the blurriness of the line between when symbols are used in the context of hate and when they aren’t illustrates an important process repeated over and over within the white supremacist movement. These groups have a long history of appropriating already existing pieces of popular culture, in the process tainting them with the association.
For example, when cartoonist Matt Furie created Pepe The Frog, the character wasn’t intended to have any associations with racism. It was only after Pepe was adopted by the online elements of the far right, and white supremacist figurehead Richard Spencer was recorded getting punched in the face wearing a Pepe pin, that it became widely viewed as a hate symbol.
That Pepe pin? You can buy it on Etsy.
Other efforts have been less successful. For example, white nationalist groups like Identity Evropa have attempted to associate iconic works of classical, European sculpture with white supremacy by featuring the works on recruiting flyers distributed on college campuses.
Keegan Hankes, a research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, insists that quibbling over what the seller says a swastika, or other hate-associated symbol, means is missing the larger point. While swastikas may have a long history in India, where they’re associated with luck rather than hate, its most obvious associations are impossible to ignore in the United States.
“By and large, the swastika is unmistakably considered to be a hate symbol. I’m sure there are a couple situations where someone is using it in the Hindu context. But there’s no mistaking what it symbolizes and what the ideologies it’s connected to are,” he said.
“There’s a market for stuff that’s not as overt as a burning cross or a swastika,” Hankes continued, “because it allows people to be edgy but also wear it in their everyday lives and not necessarily totally repulse people – it’s almost like a subtle wink.”
While Hankes thinks it’s imperative for platforms like Etsy to take this type of material down, Simi isn’t so sure.
“I’m not saying ignore the platforms, but when that’s our focus, it gives us this false sense of security that if we pass certain rules then all the hate goes away. But it just gets suppressed, and goes underground,” he said. “It’s targeting a symptom. We need to get to the deeper issues as to why someone would eventually become attracted to these symbols and the ideas associated with them.”
Charlottesville 2.0: Will it happen?
Jason Kessler, the provocateur who organized last year’s infamous and deadly “Unite The Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, has pledged to hold anniversary rallies in August in both Washington, D.C., and Charlottesville.
As of this week, the Washington event seems more likely to happen than the rally in Charlottesville. Back in June, Kessler received initial approval to hold an event at Lafayette Park, directly north of the White House, on Aug. 12. A spokeswoman for the National Park Service confirmed in an email Thursday that the permit is still being considered.
Kessler’s Charlottesville permit application, however, was rejected by the city manager back in December. Kessler promptly sued the city in federal court, claiming his First Amendment rights were being violated. That lawsuit is still pending, and Kessler recently applied for an injunction against the city.
Attorneys for the city filed a scathing response to Kessler’s request last week. They pointed out that he began his political career by stealing the identity of a Florida woman, claimed he reneged on security plans for last year’s chaotic event, and accused him of both supporting and fomenting violence between far-right protesters and their anti-fascist opponents.
Kessler’s permit was initially denied for these reasons and because he sought to reserve a public park in Charlottesville for 32 consecutive hours, not because city leaders find his political views abhorrent, the attorneys wrote. They pointed to a permit issued to the Ku Klux Klan last year as evidence that this isn’t a First Amendment issue. They wrote:
As the City’s past history granting permits to highly unpopular speakers demonstrates, it did not take lightly its decision to deny Plaintiff’s permit, but rather acted on sincere and documented public safety concerns. To be sure, Plaintiff is careful to assert in public that he does not intend or seek violence, but he also did that last year – even while taking a very different approach in private settings (such as “members only”-type social media forums) where he thought his tactics would remain undiscovered.
Last year, we wrote about how leaked chatlogs show the planners of the Charlottesville rally were secretly planning violence all along.
Some good recent reads on hate
It’s summertime, which means it’s time to kick your feet up and read about horrible, hateful people.
We’ve read a few really good articles recently that we’d like to share. So grab a glass of your preferred tipple, sit back, and read on:
This piece from Truthout is a smart look at where the alt-right is today and how racists in America are seeking to forge alliances with nationalistic and racist organizations overseas. A snippet:
American white nationalists seem to believe that if they can support the idea of nationalism for all races, it will make their own racial nationalism more palatable and less likely to gain opposition.
This analysis from Slate looks at how conservative trolls in the U.S. have “lost their mojo” at the same time that Trump’s GOP is increasingly turning to the tactics of the far-right, especially online. The crux of the author’s argument:
Here’s what I think is happening: Now that the trolls have put their man in the White House and taken up tone-policing, their formerly exclusive DGAF attitude seems to be hybridizing with the get-off-my-lawn alarmism of Fox News. And it’s going both ways. While onetime edgy figures like Posobiec have taken on the affectations of state-television hackery, complete with never-ending finger-wagging outrage about Hillary Clinton and the Red Hen, more official actors have started to use the methods of the grassroots.
Lastly, this is a really interesting look at the 100-year-old racist rallying cry of “white genocide.” The author writes:
Then, as now, the perceived risk of “race suicide” is not only to white supremacy, but to the preservation of an entire way of life upon which white supremacy is projected. In other words, they seek to establish a way of life built on a power and a status whose enjoyment is unquestioned.
Last week, we highlighted a report from Sludge showing that a handful of government officials had donated money to the political campaigns of white supremacists running for office. After the story ran, Laurence Berg, a country board member in La Crosse, Wisconsin, said he would request a refund of the $1,500 donation he gave to the campaign of white nationalist Paul Nehlen.
Berg said he didn’t know about Nehlen’s unsavory views until after Sludge’s story about his donations to Nehlen’s campaign became public.
In other impact news, one day after ProPublica identified Michael Miselis as a member of the violent, racist Rise Above Movement, the 29-year-old was fired from his job as an aerospace engineer at military defense contractor Northrop Grumman.