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A Step-by-Step Guide to Rehabilitating the Swastika

An advertisement for the website flew over Coney Island and Long Beach this weekend as part of an effort to destigmatize the swastika. Here's a few other ways to fix the reputation of the religious symbol made infamous by the Nazis.

by Dave Schilling
Jul 14 2014, 9:25pm

Photo via Rehabilitate the Swastika's Facebook Page

Last weekend, the Raëlians, a sci-fi religious group that believes aliens created the human race and therefore women should be topless, paid for an airborne banner promoting their quixotic effort to change the overwhelmingly negative perception of the swastika. Through the advertisement and their website,, the Raëlians are hoping to remind the general public that the swastika was used by multiple religions and cultures long before the Nazis appropriated it for their nefarious purposes. 

The banner seems to be having the exact opposite reaction. New York city councilman Mark Treyger told CBS New York, "I will not accept their twisted logic. And I am also going to speak out against sending chilling messages of fear and intimidation to residents." 

All symbols, including the swastika, are only a means with which to communicate information quickly and efficiently, are created with that purpose in mind, and are tightly controlled by their creators. A red octagon means "Stop" in most places. A white apple with a bite taken out of it usually refers to the tech giant Apple Inc. When you see the familiar, comforting logo of the Chicken Shack in Hermosa Beach, California, you know you're going to get the "best 'Peruvian cuisine' but with a California twist and a fusion of 'International Flavors.'" When I lay eyes on that sign, I can help thinking of all the flavor that's about to blitzkrieg my mouth. I can't control it, just like I can't control being reminded of genocide when I see a swastika. The Raëlians really want to make you forget about those dead Jews and/or Raiders of the Lost Ark, and ruminate on peace and harmony instead. Good luck.

What they haven't realized is that peace is an inert concept. It's not sexy or exciting, because it refers to a lack of action. Symbols become intrinsically associated with the stories they tell, and the most popular stories are ones that are dynamic. No one goes to see movies about nonviolent conflict resolution. They see movies about robot dinosaurs destroying tall buildings. Through the power of active marketing and storytelling, the swastika can shake its status as the most hideous symbol of them all. 

Photo via Wikipedia Creative Commons

Step One: Identify the Problem

The problem here is obvious: Nazis wore swastikas and also fucked up the world in a pretty significant way. If Buzzfeed made a listicle called "Top 10 Celebrities to Wear Swastikas," I'm pretty certain Adolf Hitler would be somewhere near the top of the list—only slightly ahead of the dude posing in this picture with Taylor Swift. Hitler used the swastika as the symbol for his fascist movement because of its connection to the ancient Aryan peoples from whom he believed his master race had descended. This shouldn't mean that every time you see a swastika, you must think of National Socialism. You'd think that if any group could be able to pull off this semiotic gymnastics, it's an alien sex cult that convinces people that Jesus was an extraterrestrial ambassador, kinda like John Kerry.

Despite its status as the symbol of the Republican Party, I don't immediately think of low taxes, the Second Amendment, and Ayn Rand when I see an elephant. I also don't think of free abortions and black people just because I see Bill Clinton. This script can be changed, but airplanes dragging vague signage that scares people isn't going to move the proverbial needle. More drastic action has to be taken.

Photo via Flickr user LearningLark

Step Two: Destroy the Evidence!

Nothing, and I mean nothing, gets in the way of a great PR campaign like knowledge. I'm trying my best to forget about this whole climate change thing, but people keep throwing all this data in my face. Cut it out, man!

Bill Cosby's publicist has done a fine job of making sure more people aren't talking about the allegations of sexual assault that keep popping around him. Those allegations aren't widely reported, and most media outlets still claim that global warming deniers are "credible." Not so for the heinous crimes of the Nazis. We all know, and we are all completely disgusted by what they did. Only one way to solve this problem: Get rid of the information. Those who don't learn from history are destined to ignore it. I think a great man said that once, but I wouldn't know! *wink*

Photo via Flickr user Chris Short

Step Three: Associate the Swastika with a Product

The absence of meaning is not meaning, therefore it's time to start laying the groundwork for Swastika 2.0 (or as I'm fond of calling it, Swastika 2: Revenge of the Fallen). People need to associate the swastika with something useful, something that works—as opposed to world domination and ethnic cleansing, which you know, don't work. No matter how persuasive your threats, the world just isn't buying it. What they will buy is swastika swim trunks. I can't tell you how many pool parties I've been to where the invite says, "Don't forget to bring a bathing suit," and then I still forget to bring a bathing suit. I assure you that I won't be forgetting my swastika swim trunks. In fact, I may never forget.

Step Four: Celebrity Endorsements

These ladies seem perfectly nice, and completely normal (besides their association with a UFO cult and interest in trying to resurrect a symbol that's strongly linked to dangerous hate groups). I'm sure the Raëlians thought it would be wise to get regular looking folks to wear their shirts proudly in an effort to normalize the swastika. Wrong, wrong, wrong, wrong.

This image is boring. I don't know who these women are, they're barely outrageous, and I don't know where they're in, but it's not my face. They're probably not even verified on Twitter. It's vital to remember that it's not enough to have a superior product. You need someone to explain why that product is necessary for me to go on breathing oxygen.

Imagine how powerful it would be to see Robert Downey Jr., the poster boy for fixing a reputation, sporting a swastika armband at the Oscars. RDJ used to be synonymous with drug use, prison time, and a general inability to be a reliable employee. Today, he's a huge star that's beloved by millions. I'm sure you're already starting to see the benefts of Iron Man joining your cause. 

Photo via Flickr user Christina Rutz

Step Five: Have Someone Wearing a Swastika Save a Baby from Drowning

We all love babies, which means we also hate seeing babies drown. Babies drown all the time because they haven't bothered to learn how to swim yet. This is an epidemic. I hope you're starting to connect some of these dots, and can predict where I'm going. You've already got a celebrity endorsement from Robert Downey Jr. The photo of him throwing up a peace sign while wearing a swastika on the red carpet has gone mega-viral. Getting him to rescue an infant from certain death is all you need to take this shit over the top. The Daily Mail headline, "Beloved Movie Star Saves Defenseless Child from Drowning... While Wearing Swastika Swim Trunks," is going to make #HitlerWho a trending topic in no time.

Follow Dave Schilling on Twitter.

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