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Vaccine swastika protest display offensive says U. history professor

FILE PHOTO (Credit: Matt Rascon, KSL TV, Nov. 9, 2020)

Editorial note: This story includes images readers may find extremely offensive and hurtful. There was a spirited discussion about sharing those images, and a deep concern to respect those most impacted by them. Some are your neighbors, friends, and family. Some of those impacted are members of our KSL family. With all that in mind, and to give every ounce of honor and respect to those hurt by the symbol now and the millions who died under it, we publish this image to educate a broader community of its symbolism, and how it might impact those they care for. 

SALT LAKE CITY — A professor of history at the University of Utah weighed in Tuesday on images of a vaccine swastika, or a swastika made of syringes, at a vaccine protest over the weekend. 

Vaccine swastika: A symbol of hate

Julie Ault is an assistant professor of history at the University of Utah. She teaches courses about Germany in the World War II and post-World War II eras. 

She says the swastika was adopted by the Nazis in the 1930s. And it is widely accepted as a visual message of hostility. 

“This is absolutely a symbol of hatred, of white supremacy, and probably one of the most recognizable symbols of hatred that we have today,” Ault explains. 

Furthermore, Ault says, the symbol is associated with one of the darkest periods in human history. 

“At the core of Nazi ideology (and the swastika as a stand-in for that) was antisemitism that resulted in the extermination of 6 million Jews in the Holocaust,” she said.

Ault also points out the killing of people with disabilities, LGBTQ+ persons, and other ethnic minority groups.

“Those who chose to protest have added great pain to many in our community. While we fully support the freedom of expression in our country, the use of such symbols should not be given a free pass,” read a statement from the United Jewish Federation of Utah.

Offensive and disturbing

To a professor so familiar with the atrocities committed by German Chancellor Adolf Hitler and his regime, the comparison of public health measures to that bleak period of history is unfathomable. 

“[It is] incredibly offensive to many people, myself included, that something like this could be so taken out of context,” she said. “That a public health measure, a vaccination that is widely regarded as safe, … could be equated with the tyranny of Nazi rule and genocide.” 

Ault also says it minimizes the horrific nature of the symbol. 

It takes away the historic significance of the oppression of the Nazi regime, and Germany, and of course murderous policies of World War II; and within that, of course, then the Holocaust.” 

Hate speech or hate crime? 

So what was seen on the lawn of the Governor’s Mansion on Sunday? The First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America guarantees protected free speech. That includes hate speech. 

The FBI investigates hate crimes. The agency defines them as “a traditional offense like murder, arson, or vandalism with an added element of bias.”

The FBI acknowledges hate itself is not a crime. The bureau says it is dedicated to protecting free speech and other civil liberties. 

Sunday’s protest likely does not rise to the level of a hate crime. But Professor Ault says that doesn’t excuse it. 

“If you want to make a statement, this is the way to do it, but it is incredibly offensive at the same time,” she said. 

The FBI Salt Lake City office told KSL it will not comment on this specific incident, but instead provided the bureau’s page about how hate crimes are handled

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