US Swastika, Hitler's 'torch,' burning in USA

21:05  13 august  2017
21:05  13 august  2017 Source:   USA TODAY SPORTS

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  Swastika, Hitler's 'torch,' burning in USA © Provided by USA Today

When the ancient hooked cross first appeared on the Nazi Party's new red, white and black flag in the summer of 1920, Adolf Hitler recalled, “it had an effect like a flaming torch.''

But 97 summers later, when Hitler’s political heirs rallied in Charlottesville, Va., his “torch’’ – the swastika -- was not as conspicuous.

Instead, most of the neo-Nazis and white supremacists who helped turn Jefferson’s town into a battleground used other symbols, from the Confederate battle flag to the Detroit Red Wings logo.

The rally reflected a shift in the swastika’s place in the iconography of American hate.

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Swastika use is on the rise, but among those who understand it least. Rick Hampson, USA TODAY Published 1:00 p.m. ET Aug. But Hitler ’ s torch shows no sign of burning out. In the past year, swastikas have appeared across America with a frequency that would have pleased the Fuhrer and

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It is more popular than ever among non-ideological haters – kids, vandals, anyone out to shock or rebel or express a personal grudge against someone who happens to be Jewish, black, Hispanic or gay.

But the organized hate groups and committed race ideologues trying to seize the political moment have begun to shun the swastika on the assumption that its infamy distracts from their message.

Why, indeed, would any loyal American rally behind the symbol of a German movement that in World War II killed tens of thousands of Americans (not to mention 6 million European Jews)?

Sen. Orin Hatch, the Utah Republican, made the point on Twitter:  “My brother didn't give his life fighting Hitler for Nazi ideas to go unchallenged here at home.’’ He referred to his older brother Jesse, an Air Force nose turret gunner killed in early 1945 when his B-24 bomber was shot down over Nazi Austria.

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Hitler's appreciation

But Hitler’s torch shows no sign of burning out. In the past year, swastikas have appeared across America with a frequency that would have pleased the Fuhrer and confounded people like Jesse Hatch who died trying to stop him.

Thanks to a combination of hate, ignorance and nihilism, the swastika has been painted, posted, scratched, chalked, inked and penciled on all manner of surfaces, from a peak in High Tor State Park in New York to a picnic table outside the public library in Choctaw, Okla.

There it was discovered by 33-year-old librarian Shanna Shadoan, who reflexively tried to scratch it out. She knew what the Nazis did to books. She thought, “This is a public library!’’

No place seems safe. The swastika has been etched on parked cars in Miami Beach, Cincinnati, and Port Washington, N.Y., and spray painted on a sidewalk at Florida State University, a tree in New City, N.Y. and a Jewish couple’s mailbox in Phoenix.

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On Long Island, a swastika has been Silly-Stringed on a Jericho sidewalk and dug into a 20-by-20 foot grass plot at a Levittown park. In New York City, it has been scrawled on the car of a No. 1 subway train (whose riders promptly wiped it off) and on the elevator door of a Fifth Avenue apartment house.

Two high school students in in Murfreesboro, Tenn., made a swastika with toilet paper and fingernail polish and left it in a bathroom stall. Others at a charter school in Tallahassee formed a “human swastika.’’ And a group in Fremont, Calif., in what was described as “a senior prank,’’ spray-painted one on their high school courtyard.

Four people were arrested in Chandler, Ariz., for twisting a lawn menorah into the shape of a swastika.

And these are merely the physical incarnations. The swastika is all over the internet, including the eye sockets of Pepe the Frog, whom he the fringe right has kidnapped as its cartoon mascot.

The swastika is “the all-purpose hate symbol, the mother of all hate brands,’’ says Oren Segal, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism.

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Although there are no solid national statistics about swastika displays, FBI statistics show that anti-Semitic crimes, which had been declining, began moving upward two years ago. The ADL reported a 34% increase in anti-Semitic incidents last year, followed by another spike in the first quarter of this one. And the swastika is the most common factor in such incidents.

Although much of swastika tagging has little to do with politics, the uptick may be related to opposition to immigration and the contentious presidential election. “After that, It was as if some people said, ‘We don’t have to hide our feelings anymore,’’’ says Ryan Lenz of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which catalogued a spate of hate incidents after Nov. 8.

Known primarily as anti-Semitic, the swastika has been pressed into service against immigrants (on a sidewalk outside a Middle Eastern restaurant in Boise); blacks (on a car, along with a noose, in Kansas City); Muslims (defacing Al Maghfirah cemetery in Castle Rock, Minn.); and gays (on the front door, along with “DYKE” of a gay couple in Austin).

As a result, the ADL no longer automatically classifies a swastika tagging as an anti-Semitic incident.

The symbol is used so liberally that sometimes it’s hard to know its point. Is a swastika next to the president’s name, for example, an endorsement or a condemnation?

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A changing symbol

Changes in the swastika’s use reflect “changes in the hate community,’’ according to Brian Levin, a Cal State-San Bernardino criminologist who heads the Center for the Study of Hate & Extremism.

Its users can be divided into two broad categories: vandals – who are by far the more numerous -- and ideologues.

Vandals mark the swastika anonymously and covertly; they don’t display it at rallies in the town square. These taggers are usually individuals, often kids rebelling against adult authority, seeking peer approval and probably hazy on what the symbol means, besides, as Segal puts it, “it’s a bad symbol used by bad guys.’’

The work of such “thrill offenders’’ often betrays their ignorance – their swastikas are counterclockwise, lopsided or flat, and German words are misspelled (“sig” instead of “sieg”). Criminologist Jack Levin has compared them to the people who used to steal hub caps.

Some in this category are individuals, often adults, who don’t care about ideology and use the swastika as a psychological weapon against someone because of a personal grudge or beef.

Ideologues, including those on parade Saturday in Charlottesville, appreciate the swastika’s meaning, history and power to intimidate. But they’ve come to regard the swastika as politically problematic.

Because they seek mainstream appeal at a time when the nation seems more open to their message, these activists have turned increasingly to symbols less conspicuous and notorious than as the swastika.

The National Socialist Movement, for example, displays a German runic symbol on its website homepage, not the swastika. White supremacists “know swastikas tend to turn people off,’’ Segal says. Instead, the nationalist fringe relies on Nazi symbols such as the “death’s head’’ skull-and-bones of the elite SS units, and its lightning-shaped “SS” emblem.

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Many of the alternative flags and symbols were on display at the Charlottesville rally, which focused on opposing removal of a statue of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee from a public park.

Marchers carried Confederate battle flags, neo-Confederate flags and other banners featuring fascist symbols (such as the eagle and fasces) and the ancient sun wheel symbol of Germanic and Nordic tribes. Members of a Michigan anti-immigration, white nationalist group called the “Detroit Right Wings,” displayed the logo of the Detroit Red Wings hockey team (without permission).

And many protesters carried American flags.

  Swastika, Hitler's 'torch,' burning in USA © Provided by USA Today

A long, remarkable history

The swastika has been around for a long time -- in Greco-Roman mosaics, Celtic stone carvings and Native American blankets.

The 45th Infantry Division, based in Oklahoma, included a yellow swastika in its shoulder sleeve insignia to honor native Indians. Even today, the swastika turns up legitimately in unexpected places, such as the 1908 façade of the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

The swastika fad dated to the early 1870s, when artifacts with the symbol on them were found near the site of ancient Troy by the archeologist Heinrich Schliemann. He’d seen the sign on ancient pots found in his native Germany, and believed it came to western Turkey with an ancient Aryan tribe on its westward migration.

The swastika was taken up by German nationalist movements as a symbol of a past, “pure” Aryan ethnic identity. Then Hitler made it the center of what graphic designer Steven Heller calls “the most effective political branding system in history.’’ In the Third Reich, the swastika even had its own typewriter key.

Is the swastika fatally tarnished by its Nazi associations?

Two entrepreneurs, taking advantage of a Supreme Court ruling in June that disparaging symbols or words can receive trademark protection, have applied for a trademark to suppress the swastika’s hateful use.

Also this year, a company made T-shirts and sweatshirts decorated with the swastika, ostensibly to make it “a symbol of love and peace.” But the effort foundered when the clothing website Teespring – inundated with protests -- removed them from sale.

University librarian suffers stroke after UVA protest injury .
University of Virginia librarian Tyler Magill was among the counter-protesters surrounded by torch-bearing white supremacists Friday night at the school's famous Thomas Jefferson statue.On Sunday, Magill was shouting down and disrupting a press conference by Jason Kessler, who organized Saturday's so-called Unite the Right rally that devolved into violence, including the death of 32-year-old Heather Heyer.By Tuesday, Magill'sUniversity of Virginia librarian Tyler Magill was among the counter-protesters surrounded by torch-bearing white supremacists Friday night at the school's famous Thomas Jefferson statue.

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