A man who appeared to have a neo-Nazi neck tattoo featured on a fluffy day-time TV show about cute dogs being saved by vets.
The Dog Rescuers With Alan Davies, shown by UK broadcaster Channel 5, follows the work of vets and inspectors from the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), the oldest and largest animal welfare charity in the world, as they save dogs from neglectful owners, or treat their ailments.
The show is presented by Alan Davies, an English comedian, actor and TV personality known for his goofy style. The heroism of the RSPCA vets, the cuteness of the doggos and Davies’ cosy patter make it an excellent formula for feel-good daytime TV.
But this winning combination was disrupted in the first episode of series nine of the show, which first aired in 2019 and was being repeated on the 5 Select channel as recently as this week, when a man who VICE World News has been unable to track down for comment, brings his dog Merlin to see a vet about a skin condition. The man appears to have a Black Sun or “sonnerad’ tattooed on his neck. After the issue was highlighted by VICE World News, Channel 5 said they would no longer be broadcasting the episode.
The sonnerad is a Nazi symbol used by members of the far-right. It featured on the front page of the manifesto of Brenton Tarrant, the white supremacist terrorist who murdered 51 people at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The man discusses the health of his dog – how he suddenly came down with a skin condition and was vomiting everywhere – while his neck tattoo is clearly displayed, only partly covered by his collar.
According to anti-racist organisation the ADL, “One sonnenrad version in particular is popular among white supremacists: two concentric circles with crooked rays emanating from the inner circle to the outer circle.” This appears to be the symbol on the man’s neck.
Ashton Kingdon, a researcher at Southampton University who focuses on right-wing subcultures and propaganda, told VICE World News: “The Sonnenrad has become synonymous with a variety of far-right groups who use it to indicate their allegiance to neo-Nazism and/or white supremacism.”
The symbol adorned the floor of Wewelsburg castle which was used by Heinrich Himmler’s SS for Pagan rituals, but as it was never formally attributed to the Nazi Party it slips through the cracks of legislation banning Nazi iconography in Germany.
“It is for this reason that far-right propaganda makes use of the Sonnenrad so frequently. Seeing this symbol on being featured on a mainstream programme might embolden the far-right, as people will see it and think it’s somehow less concerning.”
A spokesperson for anti-fascist research group Red Flare said: "The Sonnenrad is a Nazi symbol designed for the headquarters of the SS. This is one of the few far-right symbols which is even more explicitly Nazi than the swastika. A TV show broadcasting this symbol shows the producers have no idea what they're doing and they will have cheered up neo-Nazi audiences around the world."
The incident comes as the symbol has become ubiquitous in far-right meme culture. It featured heavily in the “white boy summer” memes that subverted an innocent mainstream trend and flooded far-right Telegram channels and other platforms. It has also featured heavily in the background of fashwave and terrorwave memes.
Despite being common in far-right circles, it has nowhere near the same exposure as the swastika, hence why it can pass unnoticed. In another incident, publisher Pan Macmillan ended its relationship with Australian celebrity chef Pete Evans after he posted a cartoon featuring the symbol on his Instagram account. Evans said he did not agree with Nazism and offered his “Sincere apologies to anyone who misinterpreted a previous post of a caterpillar and a butterfly having a chat over a drink and perceived that I was promoting hatred,” adding, “I look forward to studying all of the symbols that have ever existed and research them thoroughly before posting.”
A spokesperson for Channel 5 said, “Thank you for pointing this out. We film dozens of dog owners over many series – some are case studies that we follow over a period of time and others, like the contributor in question, drop into the animal hospital with their pets. We had not been aware that this particular tattoo might be deemed offensive and as a result of the information we have taken down the episode and will not be repeating it until edits have been made.”
The episode appears to have been removed from Channel 5’s online catch-up service My5 after VICE World News made enquiries.
A spokesperson for production company Middlechild said, “This is an observational documentary series. Without any pre-planning the man attended the RSPCA centre and agreed to let us film his dog receiving treatment by the vets. We would of course remove footage of, or obscure, any tattoos identified as clearly offensive to the general public, but this symbol was not identified as offensive during the compliance checks undertaken pre-broadcast. We are grateful for you bringing this to our attention and will take steps to avoid potential offence going forward.”
VICE World News approached Motion Content group which also produces the show for comment but received no response.
A spokesperson for the RSPCA said: “We were unaware that this was in the show. The RSPCA is a charity passionate about diversity and inclusion; the views which this symbol can represent are offensive and not in line with our values. We have spoken to the channel and understand they are removing this episode from circulation.”
VICE World News attempted to reach Davies for comment but had not received a response by the time of publication.