The Raëlian movement believes it is an extraterrestrial peace symbol
Spare a thought for those who headed down to enjoy the sun on Saturday the 12th of July on Brighton Beach and Coney Island in New York City, when their sunbathing was interrupted by a plane flying overhead and a banner displaying a swastika – the ultimate symbol of unflinching fascist hatred – and the message: “Proswastika”.
Needless to say the beach goers were not amused – submitting several complaints to the local councilman Mark Treyger, who told the press that “it’s a very chilling image, in light of the fact that southern Brooklyn has the largest remaining number of World War II and Holocaust survivors”.
“There is no place for this in New York City,” he continued.
But while many New Yorkers sunbathing that day may have feared that a flying swastika trumpeted a Neo-Nazi comeback, what they were actually seeing was a new campaign by the Raëlian International religious group, the beginnings of “Swastika rehabilitation week”.
Raëlian philosophy is a unique concoction of science fiction ideas and Eastern-style spiritualism, and argues that life on earth was created thousands of years ago by extraterrestrial scientists who they call the “Elohim”.
The Elohim, according to Raëlians, have made numerous attempts to teach humans the true meaning of their existence: coming to earth in the forms of Jesus, Mohammed, and Buddha before eventually revealing themselves to a French journalist and race car driver, Claude Vorilhon, in 1974. Determined to spread the message and prepare for the return of the Elohim, Mr. Vorilhon changed his name to Raël, and began the movement which now boasts 85,000 members across the world.
Behind the campaign is longtime Raëlian apparatchik and high level “guide” Thomas Kaenzig, who now serves as leader for the Swastika rehabilitation campaign worldwide. This is not the first time Thomas has been in the media spotlight. In 2002 he acted as spokesman and Vice President for a Raëlian-affiliated corporation: Clonaid, which controversially claimed it had cloned the first human, a practice Raëlians believe will lead to immortality.
Here he is in 2003 talking on American TV about the project.
I called him up at his home and he kindly answered some questions.
What, broadly, are the goals of your campaign?
The goal is basically to rehabilitate the swastika symbol. Basically in the mid-2000s Germany tried to ban the swastika throughout Europe, make it illegal to show the swastika symbol throughout Europe. And it was at that moment that Raël, leader of the Raëlian movement said “well hang on, this symbol is part of our official symbol” – for us Raëlians it only means good things. The swastika for Raëlians means infinity, which is the symbol coming from Elohim so there’s nothing more sacred than this symbol.
We have to make sure that we have to help people understand that there’s nothing bad originally about the symbol, for sure we had this monster called Hitler who used it for his purposes but it’s been hijacked and used as a symbol. And this is not only for us Raëlians but for more than one billion people on this planet, we’re talking about Hindus, Buddhists, Jains and of course many others for whom this symbol is very special.
So that is why in the late 2000s we created proswastika.org. And the goal, again, is to reclaim this symbol for mainly for the western world. I dunno if you’ve travelled to Asia, I have a lot. And I can tell you that this is a non-issue out there and quite a lot of countries in Asia the symbol is recognised everywhere – in Japan and Korea, China and India.
Why is the swastika in particular so important to Raëlians?
The link between the symbol and why it’s so important for the Raëlist movement is the Elohim, it means infinity, and the symbol they gave to us is the Star of David interlaced with the swastika. And we can find the swastika symbol on this planet, if you go on our website we have about six, seven hundred pictures of swastikas around the world, and it’s interesting to see this very famous symbol, the swastika, all over the planet, in civilisations that have no link between each other thousands of years ago. So there’s gotta be a common origin, and that common origin is the Elohim, our creators.
So the swastika is an alien symbol?
Yeah that’s the symbol they use, that’s their symbol. It’s the symbol that they gave humanity basically.
What has been the general feedback to the campaign?
Overall I’m very happy with the feedback we’ve had from the campaign. We’ve had a lot of positive feedback in general, particularly from Hindus, Buddhists – we had people saying “thank you so much for taking on this campaign, in my daily life when people come to my home I constantly have to explain ‘I’m not a Nazi’”. It’s something very positive and something very beautiful. So a lot of support from these communities and a lot of encouragement.
We’re not here to offend, we’re here to educate.
What would you say to those that say the symbolism is so extreme and represents something so terrible, that it can never be rehabilitated?
A few things to mention here. Of course I’m very sensitive to what people had to go through during Hitler. The Raëlian movement is a pacifist movement, and we denounce any form of violence and killing which is, yeah, the ultimate horror.
For sure, Hitler was a monstrosity, but then again I think the last thing anyone would want, the descendants of the families who went through World War Two, is for Hitler to take credit for something he doesn’t own. Associating the swastika with Hitler and Nazism, you only give credit to him and his ideology.
The second thing which is a very important point is, people say ok it’s an ok symbol in the East, not int the West. I don’t agree with that statement, it’s actually wrong. The swastika as a symbol can be found worldwide. Including in Israel!
Is the purpose of the campaign purely the rehabilitation of the swastika, or are you also interested in promoting Raëllan ideas?
I think those two go hand-in-hand together, because everything the Raëlian movement does is to promote Raëlian values. It’s who we are, and the Swastika is part of our official symbol. So basically in 2007, that’s when Raël said it’s time we start using the swastika again, following the actions of Germany on an EU level that’s when Raël said we have to change the symbol back.
Have you noticed an increased interest in Raëlian philosophy since the increased media attention?
Well, you know, we’re not here to find new members, to recruit new members or anything like that. As Raëlians we’re here to inform the public about who we are and what we do, what people do with that is totally up to them. Well we’ve had huge media interest in the last few days, so are more people gonna come to Raëlian events? Probably.
But you know it’s gonna take years, so [recruiting isn’t] so important. People can do with the information whatever they want. I never try to convince anybody about it, just say here’s a flier, go on the website. The Raëlian movement is really here to inform people.
You gained significant media attention in 2002 for your involvement in Clonaid. What have you been up to since then?
A few things to clarify here – the Raëlian movement is not involved in any human cloning.
The Raëlian movement supports cloning from a moral and philosophical point of view, just as we support all progressive things, things which bring humanity forward. So yes, I’m involved with Clonaid, but there are only a few Raëlians involved, there are also non-Raëlians involved with Clonaid, it wouldn’t make a difference between the Raëlian philosophy supporting the concept of cloning from a moral philosophical point of view.
What else has the Raëlian movement been involved in? The Raëlian movement’s been involved in many other progressive actions and movements for social change. There are two bigs ones: one coming up, is “go topless” day, basically fighting for gender equality, the next go topless day is coming up at the end of August.
The other big project the last few years is the Clitoraid project and fighting female genital mutilation. We’ve build a hospital in Burkino Faso, where women can come and have their clitoris rebuilt for free.
We also are involved in fighting for sexual minorities – gay pride, gay rights initiatives and actions. We also have one minute for peace meditations that we do around the world, where people gather and meditate for peace in public.
Raëlians, as UFO-believing sects go, are possibly one of the least harmful fringe religious groups out there. They’re not gonna stalk and harass you like the Church of Scientology, or incite their members to suicide like Heaven’s Gate.
With their commitment to equal rights, peace and love, sexual freedom and tolerance, it’s almost possible to set aside their leftfield philosophy and enjoy them as fun loving and harmless kooks that they are.
Speaking to Thomas, the Raëlians come across as more oblivious than deliberately offensive. They, of course, are correct that the Swastika is not just associated with Nazism and Fascism – their website is filled with hundreds of examples of its use in architecture, traditional dress, and religious texts throughout history and across the world.
But flying a Swastika over New York, a city with a high concentration of Holocaust survivors and their descendants? Maybe it’s not up to the Raëlians to decide whether that symbol is ok now.
Photo credit: Wikimedia user Kmarinas86