Some friends recently were saying my examples of KKK signaling in the open are just a theory. It’s true, I am proposing theories meant for dialogue, rather than saying I’m the final word on fascist fashion.
Nonetheless, hidden signaling by hate groups is a very real thing. It takes training and some careful observation to reveal the obfuscated messages without looking like you’ve lost your eyesight or joined groups on the wrong side of history. Trust depends on establishing some clear explanations for the hidden signals.
Let me now relate to you the type of behavior that I believe needs greater scrutiny. It’s the kind of behavior that sometimes even makes it into the news.
PBS NewsHour profiled a woman volunteering for the campaign who had prominently visible tattoos of widely recognized white power symbols.
In the segment, which was first flagged by Gawker, PBS profiles Grace Tilly, who is shown making calls at a Trump campaign phone bank in North Carolina.
Her symbols were a Celtic Cross and the number 88. Would you immediately recognize those as entries in the hate symbols database?
I’m definitely not the first to write about Nazi t-shirts designed to hide in plain sight. A descendant of Nazis literally just sent me a Mel Magazine article about Neo-Nazi apparel and asked me if there was anything I wanted for Christmas:
At a cursory glance, the T-shirt looks like an ad for Sea World. An orca, triumphantly jutting out of the sea, splashes water above the words “Antarktis-Expedition.” It takes just a second longer to notice the bold text hovering above the orca: “Save the White Continent.”
The shirt was created by the German label Thor Steinar, one of a few clothing brands that cater to neo-Nazis. Like Ansgar Aryan and Erik and Sons, Thor Steinar uses coded references to obscure events in Nazi history, veiled threats and playful imagery to flout German hate-speech laws, which forbid explicit references to the Third Reich.
So let’s just say I’ve been, and remain, in the right circles to know when I see something fishy (both puns intended). And that is why, while walking through an airport the other day, I could not help but notice someone wearing a giant 5th SS Panzer-Division symbol on a T-shirt.
First, I will explain the Nazi symbolism I am referencing. There are three parts: the SS, the Wiking and the Panzer-Division. An easy way of explaining these three symbols is to look at the marketplace of Neo-Nazi merchandise.
You perhaps can see how a SS, Wiking, and Panzer-Division ring has been segmented into the three parts around the finger, which makes it kind of unwieldy and large.
Now I will explain these three symbols on the ring, left to right:
- SS (schutzstaffel) = a criminal militant organization of the Nazi Party directly involved in numerous war crimes and crimes against humanity
- Wiking = “Nordic” volunteers who helped commit crimes for Nazi Germany
- 5th Panzer-Division = military designation for the SS Wiking motorized (tank and artillery) infantry
Here’s an example of the SS Wiking symbol on a tank, for some historic perspective, as it rolls its way towards committing war crimes
And here is a pamphlet from the same time period
Second, I was walking through an airport just the other day when to my great surprise I saw someone wearing a Nazi symbol.
And here is a closer view, where a 5th Panzer symbol becomes less clear as a Nordic-looking SS becomes more apparent. Unlike the ring, however, three symbols have been combined into a single giant one. Not what I was expecting. I had to find out who was wearing this thing and why
Most people I’ve explained this to call it an unfortunate oversight, or poor (ignorant) choice in design.
One guy thought it couldn’t possibly be intentional as the words surrounding the “Nazi rune” (his words) were so peace inspiring. I found that logic to be a bit like saying a hunter isn’t going to shoot a deer because a camouflage suit seems so nature-loving.
Nazi Germany infamously broadcast “make peace” propaganda into France right before invasion:
And Nazi propaganda cells convinced groups of Americans to protest for peace with Hitler, giving him little or no resistance, even during WWII. Note how “America First” disinformation campaigns now are described by historians:
Hitler’s dictatorship repudiated both democracy and human rights. The Nazi empire was the arena in which Hitler’s master race philosophy was to be put into practice. Censorship prevented the German press from exciting the conscience of the nation. There could never have been a successful passive resistance movement against the Nazis. The inability of members of [America First] to recognize this, especially men like Hutchins of Chicago, and Norman Thomas, is remarkable.
Inability of Americans to recognize harms from promoting Nazism definitely is remarkable, then and now. It’s probably fair to say it’s almost as bad as inability of Americans to recognize harms from promoting symbolism for white-supremacist “Confederate” states that Nazi Germany had used as inspiration.
Of course I had to walk up to this woman and ask her “what’s with wearing a giant Nazi symbol?” She gasped and said “Oh no. Oh my god. Don’t look. I don’t mean to offend anyone” and then walked away.
If all that isn’t enough. Simply Southern is, like the PBS profile of Grace Tilly, based in North Carolina. The company describes itself as a “brand to reflect the values of a southern lifestyle“. In their “giving back” section of the website they curiously depict black children next to marine animals.
I’ve written before about this kind of “giving” imagery.
So after greater scrutiny, what’s your call?
Update May 2020:
A reader pointed out that fascists couldn’t pass up a free “patriot” t-shirt offering, which had a hidden anti-fascist message.
The t-shirts were advertised as patriotic t-shirts, but actually pointed out that “St George was Syrian” when worn. The heat-activated message included the hashtag #DefendDiversity. A spokesperson for the charity Tell MAMA said: “The St George’s cross has become an icon of far-right xenophobia. Somewhat ironic considering St George had Syrian, Greek, Turkish and Israeli heritage. We distributed t-shirts to far-right nationalists celebrating St. George’s Day. When they proudly donned their new t-shirts, little did they know that their body heat triggered the message to appear.”