Believers in a UFO cult are trying to rehabilitate the swastika, a symbol closely tied to Nazi Germany, and part of their campaign involves publicizing its pre-Nazi history. Saturday, June 23, was "World Swastika Rehabilitation Day," as declared by the Raelians, and one eye-catching tactic the group employed was flying a plane over the Jersey Shore trailing a pro-swastika banner. The banner bore the message (expressed in symbols) "swastika = peace + love," plus the URL proswastika.org and an image of a swastika within a Star of David—the official Raelian symbol. The banner drew mostly negative reactions from beachgoers and Manhattanites who saw it. "It got the attention, so it was a success," said organizer Thomas Kaenzig, according to the Huffington Post.
For the Raelians, a group that actively tries to cultivate its brand and is known for publicity stunts, divorcing the swastika from Nazism is a monumental but necessary PR task—you don't want to be mistaken for neo-Nazis when trying to spread the message your founder received from the extraterrestrial scientists who designed the Earth and life on it. But we don't need to get into Raelian mythology here—you're free to visit rael.org if you like. However, the pro-swastika site the Raelians have set up seeks to make its case with images of swastikas that predate the rise of the Nazis, many of which are tied to such tribes as the Navajo and Hopi. The visual evidence on display isn't sourced in any way; we've assembled below some similar images here with some backup when possible. There is no doubt that the swastika is an ancient symbol that had positive connotations, in Native cultures and others. Whether the Raelians—or someone considered less, well, nutty—can ever divorce it from the powerful Nazi association remains to be seen. For Natives of Navajo or Hopi heritage, there is an interesting additional question: If the swastika is a legitimate and benevolent symbol from your tribal culture, would you be—or are you—comfortable having one in your living room?
1. A swastika quilt from 1880-90, presumed Native American origin (no tribe given), from the Marjorie Russell Clothing and Textile Research Center, in Carson City, Nevada:
2. A rug identified as Navajo in origin, using the "whirling log" symbol, as the swastika is sometimes called in the context of Indian crafts, from whirlinglog.com:
3. Here, from the blog Arizona 1912-2012, an image of Arizona road signs featuring an arrowhead/swastika logo:
4. And from the same blog, a postcard from 1943 captioned "Navajos renounce their swastika design after U.S. declares war":
5. The city of Albuquerque's website has a page dedicated to explaining images such as this one, a swastika on the wall of the KiMo theater:
6. The youth association Campfire Girls drew on American Indian traditions and worldview, and went so far as to outfit participants in a "ceremonial gown" based on regalia. This widely circulated photo is purported to be of future First Lady Jacqueline Bouvier (Kennedy) in her Campfire Girl gown:
7. The illustration on this postcard is dated 1907; the text identifies the swastika as a "lucky cross" used by Navajo, Pima and Apache Indians (from collectibles website CardCow).
8. Westerners who visit Asia are often puzzled by the prevalence of swastikas in religious art; it's a common symbol in Hindu art and, in fact, many statues of Buddha depict him with a swastika on his chest. This image comes from The Buddhist Blog: