Celebrants of World Swastika Rehabilitation Day, who on Saturday arranged to have a swastika-festooned banner flown along Manhattan and the New Jersey shore, are expressing bafflement and outrage over the barrage of complaints their festivities invited.
“Why should the swastika, a symbol of peace for more than 1.5 billion people in the world, offend the people of Manhattan?” asked Thomas Kaenzig, coordinator of the event, in a press release. “Any negative emotions regarding the swastika by people under the age of 70 years old are obviously linked to their education and not to their experiences. It’s about time people were re-educated to understand the original meaning of the oldest and most recurrent symbol in the world.”
The event was organized by followers of the “Raelian movement,” a publicity-loving UFO cult founded by a French race car driver and journalist who claims to be the son of an extraterrestrial named Yahweh and a half-brother to Jesus, Moses and Buddha.
Raelians claim that human life was created by a race of extraterrestrial scientists called the Elohim, who in 1973 abducted their leader, Claude Vorilhon (or Rael, as he prefers to be called), took him to their planet, and told him he was a prophet chosen to prepare the earth for their return.
The group, which is best known for claiming, early last decade, to have cloned a human child, uses as its logo a swastika inside of a six-pointed star. Vorilhon claims that the symbol was inscribed on the side of the flying saucer that abducted him and points out (accurately) that the swastika is an ancient symbol that to this day has positive associations in Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism
The Raelians’ attempts to “re-educate” Westerners about the swastika’s true meaning may be innocent, but its other rhetoric about religion – particularly Catholicism – is anything but. In 2002, while the group was based in Quebec, its members responded to sex scandals within the Church by encouraging Catholic high school students to renounce their faith and burn small wooden crosses in protest. The group also operates a website called NoPedo, which urges parents to “Protect your children from pedophilia: Stop sending them to catechism.”
The site also says that “Rael’s Girls” – described somewhat coyly as “women from the ‘Raelian Movement,’ who either work in the SEX Industry themselves or are Raelian Women who wish only to offer their support to the SEX Industry” – “are offering their experience in the sex industry to organize seminars for the Catholic Priests who want to rediscover a harmonious sexuality and to help cure thousands of them who are molesting or are about to molest young children.”