A plane towing a swastika banner and advertising a "pro-swastika" website angered some local residents when it flew over several New York beaches on Saturday.
The banner, created by the International Raelian Movement, included a peace sign, a heart symbol and swastika, along with the URL of the group's website, proswastika.org. According to its mission statement, Raelians believe the swastika was co-opted by Nazis, and that it is time to "rehabilitate" the symbol.
“By keeping the negative connotation of the swastika and linking it to Hitler, you only give credit to this guy’s monstrosity,” Thomas Kaenzig, spokesperson for the organization, told the New York Post. “It’s very important to reclaim it and explain to the public that this symbol has a beautiful origin."
The group flew the banner over the Rockaways and Coney Island as a culmination of what it called "Swastika Rehabilitation Week."
Some beachgoers expressed outrage.
“It was horrific,” Ariel Creamer, a 14-year-old who saw the banner near Belle Harbor, told the paper.
Officials in Brooklyn, home to a large number of World War II and Holocaust survivors, were particularly outraged.
"I am deeply offended and hurt,” Brooklyn City Councilman Mark Treyger told NBC New York. “Try explaining to someone who witnessed their loved ones who were butchered by people under that Nazi symbol that it's anything but a hateful one."
“Flying this hateful banner is an outrageous and hurtful act,” City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito told the Daily News.
But according to Kaenzig, outrage over the banner just proves the need for it.
“As long there are people still offended by it, it means we need to continue our work, to continue to rehabilitate the symbol," Kaenzig said.