Raelian Swastika Campaign Calculated to Stoke Controversy

This weekend a plane flew over Coney Island and the Rockaways towing a banner with a swastika and an ad for  proswastika.org, a new initiative by the Raelians—a religious movement that believes humans were created by ancient extra-terrestrials, and whose insignia is a swastika inside of a hexagram.

According to Raelian spokesperson Thomas Kaenzig, the swastika was brought to Earth millions of years ago by our alien forefathers, which is presumably why Raelians believe the symbol appears in cultures all over the world. This weekend marked the end of “International Swastika Rehabilitation Week,” part of an attempt to reclaim the symbol from its Nazi associations which also featured street activism in Las Vegas.

Press coverage indicates that those who saw the plane felt outraged rather than informed. A teenager who spotted the sign described it as “horrific,” while City Councilman Mark Treyger called the sign “a chilling message of fear and intimidation.” The Raelians almost certainly counted on this emotional response. In her book on the Raelians, Susan J. Palmer suggests that the movement intentionally generates controversy to gain media attention and to present the itself as a group that is embattled for its enlightened ideas, a self-narrative that fosters a sense of unity among the group’s membership.

Defending the swastika, which for many Westerners provokes a strong sense of moral outrage, as a symbol of cosmic love rather than hate is a classic example of this strategy of “controversy surfing.” Furthermore, condemning the swastika as if the symbol itself were evil can foster a sense of righteousness.

As a high school history teacher lecturing on World War II, I occasionally encountered students who felt it was immoral to reproduce the swastika even for educational purposes. I witnessed another example of “swastika-phobia” on a trip to Kochi, India, once home to a sizable population of Indian Jews, a part of which is still known as “Jew Town.” I overheard an American tourist exclaim with alarm, “I was in Jew Town, and there were swastikas everywhere!” When her friend tried to explain that in Kochi the swastika is a symbol of Hinduism and not Nazism, she responded, “I know, but still!

Because the swastika inspires emotions that can overpower our logic, the outrage it generates plays to the Raelian narrative of their movement as a group that is hated for its enlightened ideals. In previous campaigns such as Clonaid and Clitoraid, the Raelians have presented themselves as a group that could transform the world through advanced science were it not for the influence of the Catholic Church and its medieval opposition to reproductive freedom and sexuality.

A public backlash against proswastika.org will likewise allow the Raelians to claim that their enemies are ignorant of history and other cultures and too angry to receive their message of love. For those who take offense at the Raelians and their campaign, it may be most effective to simply ignore them.

Joseph Laycock is an assistant professor of religious studies at Texas State University. His forthcoming books include The Seer of Bayside: Veronica Lueken and the Struggle for Catholic Tradition (Oxford University Press, 2014) and Dangerous Games: What the Moral Panic Over Role-Playing Games Says About Religion, Play, and Imagined Worlds (University of California Press, 2015).

  • Jim Reed

    Ignoring them is probably the best idea. But that is not what this article does. Is there some kind of deeper meaning that we are not aware of?

  • Fran

    Interesting approach to educating the public. Anyone with a smattering of historical knowledge of that symbol must be aware of how deeply ingrained it is in many ancient cultures. If anyone else or any other group has a different explanation for its widespread existence, I’d like to hear it.

  • Anthony Nuccio

    Agreed on the interesting approach aspect. I’m not sure why it’s so widespread among ancient cultures, but I think this is a perfect example of trying to educate people on the basis of how powerful and meaningful a symbol can be for the positive when it was appropriated for the negative.

  • http://wonderwheels.blogspot.com/ Gregory Wonderwheel

    I certainly don’t subscribe to the alien origin of the swastika, However, I do endorse the idea of swastika rehabilitation. In the 10,000 year history of human kind, the few decades of Nazi abuse of the swastika is a blip. There were times in China in WWII when Buddhist temples put swastikas on their roofs to warn airplane pilots that the buildings were being used as temples like putting a Red Cross on the roof of a hospital, but because the American pilots didn’t know any better they bombed the temples thinking they were Nazi places. The Native Americans used the swastika symbol for religious imagery as well, and of course that was hundreds of years before any Europeans came to the hemisphere. The Catholics perverted the use of the cross in the Inquisition and the Crusades and yet people today still revere the image, so the swastika should get the same treatment of reverence no matter how the Nazi’s attempted to pervert it’s use.

  • http://wonderwheels.blogspot.com/ Gregory Wonderwheel

    Yes, it is the archetypal meaning of the image itself which is profoundly deeper than the Nazis abuse of it.

  • DKeane123

    Or possibly the cross needs the opposite of rehabilitation?

  • Robert

    The controversy ignores something really basic: The swastika used by the Nazis takes the Hindu swastika, reverses it, and tips it on edge. It is a totally difference “device.” Taking offense at the Raelian swastika is like taking offense at the Russian national flag because, like ours, it is red white and blue. The Russians are not mocking us–and the Raelians aren’t making a statement about Nazism either.

  • DHFabian

    How many Americans are that familiar with ancient cultures? The bottom line is that, here and now, this symbol is associated with hate and genocide. Regardless of ancient historical significance, it is readily recognized by the masses as the symbol of Nazi Germany.

  • DHFabian

    Well, are they trying to educate the public, or merely shock them for the sake of gaining attention? What is their goal? To “enlighten” us, as sects have been doing throughout history?

  • Elohim

    This symbol can be found in ancient cultures all across the planet. While I certainly despise Hitler and what the Nazis did, I don’t feel that the symbol represents that. I understand that not many people are familiar with ancient cultures, but I certainly am.

    How you interpret the symbol is your own decision. I’m not here to try to convince anyone how to interpret it. For me, it represents a symbol of hope and peace. I think my consciousness is capable of separating the symbol from Hitler and understanding what the symbol really meant.

  • Anthony Nuccio

    Those questions are difficult to answer at face value. Personally, I believe that they are trying to educate the public and I believe that the public should be enlightened to actually learning about the world’s past and not just about one’s own culture.

  • Anthony Nuccio

    Of course it will be recognized by most people as a symbol of Nazi Germany; that’s why the Raelians are starting this campaign in the first place: to educate the public.

  • Elohim

    Yes, the symbol is “vertical”, as opposed to being “diagonal” as it was with the Nazis.

  • jesus_raelian1

    The Swastika is
    an ancient symbol(at least proven to be 6,000 yrs. old) and is a symbol that
    can be found in many cultures and religions around the world! And is a
    symbol of GOOD, LOVE, LIFE, PEACE; is a POSITIVE symbol. People felt
    insulted due to the short and little knowledge they have about this
    magnificent symbol. I encounter many Jewish people that don’t even know
    the swastika is also a JEWISH SYMBOL, that can be found decorating many
    ancient temples in Israel. Most people got stuck in the hate and
    resentment left by the Nazis when they STOLE the symbol. Fear is the
    mother of all violence and aggression, and fear comes from ignorance
    (which means: TO IGNORE).

  • jesus_raelian1

    IGNORING, comes from the word IGNORANCE. And as long as we don’t educate ourselves we’ll keep being “ignorant “about this beautiful symbol that is shared by so many cultures and religions around the world, is part of our human history. Just because one stupid and unhappy man STOLE it it doesn’t mean this symbol is bad. On the contrary, is a symbol of LIFE, GOODNESS and WELL BEING …..

  • Jim Reed

    This group does things to provoke people, like the swastica symbol, and the Clonaid and Clitoraid campaign. I think that is why the article says it might be best to just ignore them.

  • jesus_raelian1

    More reason to EDUCATE the “masses” about the true meaning of this wonderful symbol that belongs to many cultures and religions including millions of Buddhists and Hindus around the world. This is a 6,000 yr. old symbol, not from 100 or so years ago…..

  • jesus_raelian1

    I am a Raelian and I will answer your question with pleasure: I will say BOTH. We need to educate, but some times the only way is by “shaking”the consciousness of people, so they can wake up from their comfortable sleeping condition. This symbol is a very ancient symbol that is an important part of our human history since it can be found in many religions and cultures around the planet. Rehabilitating this symbol, we are rehabilitating PEACE, LOVE and TOLERANCE.

  • lyone

    In the first place, one must understand that the Nazis REVERSED the direction of the ancient Indian Swastika symbol. This is crucial, as you will see. . . . . .

    In Hinduism, The Swa-astika literally translates as the “self existent” and represents Fate or the turning of the Wheel of Time, which all beings (even the Gods) are subject to. In HInduism, this is a positive thing, because it means that “this too shall pass”–whenever anything bad occurs, you can be sure that the Wheel of Time will turn, and things will change again. Hindus see this as a comforting thought, overall. Not in the least because all things are ultimately progressing towards higher and higher levels of spiritual enlightenment for all sentient beings, as we all move from one incarnation to the next, so even though one may experience dozens of lifetimes of suffering, ultimately the inner, untouchable self is slowly moving toward higher realization.

    Hitler changed the meaning of this, by turning the symbol backwards–as if to say he was reversing time……in order to restore the Reich to its previous glory and domination over all of mankind and the earth (presumably). Well, we know how that worked out. That, too, passed.

  • lyone

    I totally agree.

  • lyone

    But it’s NOT “this symbol”. Calling it the same symbol is like saying an upside down cross is the same symbol as a cross. The two are not the same at all.

  • Jim Reed

    Wouldn’t progressing towards higher levels of spiritual enlightenment ultimately have to include progressing beyond the concept of moving from one incarnation to the next, and focus on sentient beings having only one incarnation each?

  • Golovolomka

    A quick Google image search for

    Hindu swastika

    shows that the Hindus use the symbol in both clockwise and counterclockwise orientations.

  • lyone

    Why?

  • Jim Reed

    It’s just more true.

  • Jim Reed

    As a symbol, the cross can’t turn either clockwise or counterclockwise, although it can spin like a top.

  • lyone

    I guess I am not omniscient enough to know what is “more true.” I know that God has revealed himself to many people in many cultures at different points in history–and that the human perception and interpretation of those revelations is always imperfect.

    But to say that the being that is born as a cat in one life can only incarnate as a cat, without that inner sentience having the opportunity to expand and move on seems to paint a very human centric picture of God–and an ego-centric picture of what is “more true” in terms of human religions.

    The HIndu take on this is that those states and forms that change (like life and death) are not our deepest (or in your terms, “truest”) selves. The true self does not die and it is not born. It survives all changes unchanged, and all of the various incarnations–the being born and the dying and the being born again–are God’s gift to us, to give us the material opportunity to come to know the unchanging self that exists in the midst of all this changing material universe. How cruel it would be of God to give us each only one opportunity, when so few of us learn all that much in one lifetime.

    Of course, all of this is extreme shorthand, and I am not going to explain all of Hinduism on a comment board. You are either full of your own ego and notions, or you have the humility to learn about other revelations.

  • Jim Reed

    Reincarnation seems more like an imagination of what people would like to believe than anything to do with God or truth.