"It's been used for thousands of years as a symbol of well being and good luck, so when Westerners interpret it as meaning something ugly just because the Nazis used it, our society denies millions of people the right to live their religion freely," Thomas Kaenzig, a "Raelian Guide" and president of the Pro-Swastika Alliance said in a statement announcing the plans for Swastika Rehabilitation Day last week.
Photos of the Swastika Rehabilitation Day celebrations posted on a "Rehabilitate The Swastika" Facebook page show events in several locations around the world including Las Vegas, the Dominican Republic, San Francisco, Mexico, France, Italy, and Tel Aviv, among others. In a telephone conversation Tuesday, Kaenzig said "hundreds" of people participated in these events. There are also pictures of a plane carrying a banner with symbols depicting the equation "Swastika Equals Peace Plus Love" that the group said flew "along the Long Island coast line as well as up the Hudson river in New York City." The banners also displayed a link to the Pro-Swastika Alliance website.
"We had a plane planned in New York and Miami. We couldn't do Miami because of the weather conditions and in Canada there was a logistical issue, we had plans to have it fly there, too," Kaenzig said. "That'll be next year."
A Star of David with a swastika at its center is the symbol of the Raelian movement. According to the Raelians, this symbol came from "our Creators," the extraterrestrials who contacted Vorilhon and asked him to be their messenger on Earth. Raelians call these aliens the "Elohim."
"The swastika in our symbol stands for infinity in time and the interlocking triangles represent infinity in space," Kaenzig said in his statement. "We feature these images at our annual Happiness Academies worldwide ... We also use them throughout the year in accordance with our philosophy and to honor our creators, the Elohim, who gave us this symbol."
Materials on the Pro-Swastika Alliance's website highlight the fact the swastika was used as a religious and decorative symbol for years prior to the rise of the Nazi Party in Germany.
"If we keep associating the swastika with something negative, with the horrible regime of Hitler, we basically give credit to him or his regime. So, that's why we have to rehabilitate this symbol," explained Kaenzig. "He took it from us."
In his statement announcing Swastika Day, Kaenzig described it as a crusade for religious freedom.
"The real emphasis is on worldwide recognition and vindication for the truly positive connotations of this symbol. Therefore, the Raelian Movement asks members of all religions that use it in their symbolism, plus others who believe in religious freedom, to join us on Swastika Rehabilitation Day," the statement said.
Kaenzig previously made headlines as a vice president of Clonaid, a company linked to the Raelian movement that claimed to have successfully cloned several human babies starting in 2002. These claims sparked a court case over custody of the allegedly cloned child, and encouraged some in Congress to pursue a ban on human cloning. However, in spite of the controversy, there was little evidence the company actually cloned any children. In 2003, based on "sealed court documents," the Boston Globe described Clonaid as a "a disorganized, amateurish effort" with "no address, no board of directors, and only two employees" that had still managed to raise "hundreds of thousands of dollars."
Last Friday, in advance of the event, the Anti-Defamation League released an advisory addressing Swastika Rehabilitation Day that described the Raelian movement as a "fringe religious sect." Though the ADL expressed some disapproval with the event, the advisory noted the Raelians pose "no known security threat" and have "no apparent anti-Semitic intent."
"In past years we have received reports from people who were offended or even alarmed at this group's displaying swastikas in public settings," ADL National Director Abraham H. Foxman said in a statement accompanying the advisory. "While we wish the Raelians would understand why this Nazi symbol is so fraught with pain and so disturbing to many people -- especially Jews -- they have a right to free speech and expression and there is no anti-Semitic intent so far as we know."
Kaenzig would like the ADL to empathize with the Raelian movement.
"I wish they would recognize how important it is to us," he said. "That's why we do the Swastika Rehabilitation Day."