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Swastika T-shirts aim for love, spark anger

Clothing company tries to reclaim Nazi emblem as a symbol of love, but consumers aren’t buying it

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Screen capture from a promotional video for tee-shirts featuring the swastika as a symbol for peace. (Facebook/KA Design)
Screen capture from a promotional video for tee-shirts featuring the swastika as a symbol for peace. (Facebook/KA Design)

An attempt to reclaim the swastika as a symbol of goodwill by putting it on a T-shirt went awry this week as some panned the product as being in bad taste while a Nazi website enthusiastically embraced it.

Within days of the promotion going viral, the shirts were removed from the website that was selling them.

KA Design began marketing the shirts, which featured rainbow-colored swastikas, last month via the US online retailer

In a video posted to its Facebook page on July 12, KA Design announced its intention to re-brand the swastika, which is strongly associated with Nazism and the Holocaust.

“The Swastika is 5,000 years old, it’s a symbol of peace,” the video says, as it displays eastern designs of the emblem. “It’s a symbol of love, it’s a symbol of life.”

“But one day, Nazism. They took the swastika, rotated it by 45 degrees, and turned it into Hatred, and turned it into Fear, and turned it into War, and turned it into Racism and turned it into Power. They stigmatized the swastika forever. They limited our freedom.”

“The swastika is coming back, together with Peace, together with Love, together with Respect, together with Freedom,” the video declares. “Introducing the new swastika.”

On its Facebook page KA Design describes itself by saying, “We celebrate freedom. We want to explore our boundaries, and push them forward. We love humanity, love and peace. We are KA.”

Nearly a month later the video had been viewed 1.7 million times and received over 9,000 comments, many of which rejected the notion that the symbol used by the Nazi regime could be reclaimed as an icon for goodness.

The Auschwitz Memorial Museum, at the site of the former Nazi concentration camp in Poland, criticized Teespring, tweeting at the retailer on Sunday: “You will not escape from the fact that swastika was turned by Nazis into a symbol of racism, hate, antisemitism and mass murder.”

The Israeli Jewish Congress, a conduit for Diaspora-Israel dialogue, posted a statement Sunday on its Facebook page that also took Teespring to task for selling the shirts and demanded the items be removed from sale.

““It is obscene and disgusting that Teespring would seek to profit of this in the name of art, trying to turn this irredeemable Nazi symbol of hate and murder, into a symbol of ‘love and peace.’

“They are not unique in this however, with a disturbingly growing pattern in recent years of other clothing companies seeking to do similar. This is not only highly naive, but grossly offensive.

“Hopefully management will understand the magnitude of their mistake and offense caused, and discontinue these items immediately,” the IJC said.

The Israeli Jewish Congress (IJC) Statement on decision of American clothing company 'Teespring' to use Nazi swastika to…

Posted by The Israeli Jewish Congress on Saturday, August 5, 2017

By contrast, the Daily Stormer website, an online community serving neo-Nazis and white supremacists, backed the initiative, with editor Andrew Aglin writing, “I want to say that I am in 100% support of the rebranding of the Swastika as a symbol of love.

“I have been trying to do this for years, and I am thankful that hippies are finally getting on-board with that particular project,” Aglin added.

Aglin then launched into a tirade against IJC’s director of research, Arsen Ostrovsky, who had circulated via social media his organization’s statement against the shirts.

“Ow, did the nasty old Grinch Jew get his feelings hurt?” Aglin wrote, and promised that “gas chambers… of love” will follow.

The Dazed Digital website contacted KA Design to query the company about its ambitious plan, publishing the response it received on Sunday.

“We really like the symbol in its shape and aesthetics, and we would love to share the beauty of this symbol detached from the Hatred associated with it,” KA said, saying that while none of the staff have a background in the fashion industry they are all interested “in the cult of beauty.”

“This project only represents the first step of our ‘master plan,’ and we are excited about what the future will give us,” it said.

KA Design, which Dazed Digital described as being “somewhere in Europe,” said it understands why some people are offended by the shirts.

“They don’t want to break the strong bond between the symbol and the atrocities committed by Nazism,” the company said of its critics. “The new meanings given to ‘our Swastika’ wouldn’t make any sense if not based on the previous ones. We want to promote love and peace to remind everyone that mankind can be better that what it currently is and was in the past.”

The company refused to disclose sales figures for the shirt.

By Monday Teespring had removed the T-shirts from its website and they were no longer available for purchase via the company.

The original swastika design, which can be branched either clockwise of anti-clockwise, has been used by Buddhists, Hindus, and Jains for thousands of years.

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