A T-shirt company’s attempt to rebrand the swastika as a “symbol of love and peace” has triggered a backlash against the business and Teespring, the web-based custom apparel platform where the shirts were for sale.
Originally, KA Design created tees that feature swastikas set against rainbow backgrounds formed into the shapes of the continental U.S., a square or a circle. The shirts display words like “love,” “peace,” and “zen.”
In a video and statements on its Facebook page, KA Design explained that it was trying to return the swastika to its ancient roots as a symbol of love and peace.
In East Asia and the Indian subcontinent, the swastika has traditionally been a positive symbol, representing spiritual values and principles – things like love, peace and infinity, says KA Design. In the western world, the swastika was long associated with good luck. In the west, however, any positive associations have effectively been destroyed as a result of Nazi Germany using a swastika, rotated 45 degrees, as its primary symbol. Since World War II, the swastika, in the western mind, is starkly associated with anti-Semitism, genocide, war, and ideas of white racial superiority.
Still, KA Design, which uses the tagline “questioning boundaries,” says it wanted to help erase the negative image of the swastika with its T-shirts. A video KA Design produced about the shirts states: “The swastika is coming back. Together with peace. Together with love. Together with respect. Together with freedom.”
Nonetheless, the attempt to sell swastika-branded T-shirts was denounced with anger in some quarters. Pro-Israel activist Arsen Ostrovsky, executive director of the Israeli-Jewish Congress, panned attempts to make money from the shirts. In a social media post, Ostrovsky decried the shirts as “obscene and disgusting,” adding that the swastika is a “Nazi symbol of hate and murder” that is “irredeemable.”
To The Jerusalem Post, Ostrovsky further opined: “This is not only highly naive, but grossly offensive. What’s next, using the ISIS symbol to promote gender equality?”
Prominent Neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin, founder of The Daily Stormer, a white supremacist news/commentary site, expressed support for the shirts KA Design created.
Following initial outcry, KA Design reworked the shirt designs to include a circle with a slash over the swastikas – a configuration intended to profess an anti-Nazi/anti-racist viewpoint. On its Facebook page, KA Design said: “Hatred and Nazism have won. We brought out the worst in people. We believe in a world of infinite forgiveness. We forgive everyone. And we hope to be forgiven. Let Love Prevail.” It added: “Teespring has nothing to do with our project. It is a beautiful company with the nicest people around. Leave all the Hate to us.”
While the tee designs were changed, Ostrovsky and others maintained that the shirts should be scrapped entirely.
“Although it is welcome the original obscene swastika designs were withdrawn, the fact the company is still seeking to profiteer from this, albeit amended design is still unacceptable,” he told The Jerusalem Post. “Nazi symbols, in which ever way, shape or form, should not be used for commerce.”
Several of the amended-design shirts remained for sale – for $22 -- on Teespring as of mid-day Monday, but were no longer there Tuesday morning. Still, on Monday, Counselor searched the terms “swastika” and “Hitler” on Teespring and found that there were other shirts with overt racist overtones available on the site. Those shirts also appeared to have been removed by Tuesday, but examples of them are below.
They included this Swastika shirt, which features a swastika inside a black-and-red abstract bird reminiscent of Nazi iconography.
There was also a shirt that featured a Nazi-angled swastika with the words, “Hitler Did Nothing Wrong.”
Another shirt read “We’re all Hitler Now.”
Yet another tee featured a picture of a Time magazine cover of President Donald Trump with the cover lines altered to say “The New Hitler. Deal with It.” Still, sellers of this shirt seem to have meant it as an anti-Trump/anti-right wing shirt, rather than an endorsement of white nationalist views.