A fringe religious group that believes extraterrestrial scientists created life on Earth is today flying a large swastika banner over Brighton Beach and Coney Island, outraging residents in one of the world’s largest communities of Holocaust survivors.
The plane was spotted by beachgoers flying between Coney Island Avenue and Brighton 15th Street around noon. With a symbol of a Star of David interlaced with the swastika, and a message that reads “卐 + ☮ = ❤ Proswastika.org,” the banner is commissioned annually by the International Raelian Movement in an attempt to “rehabilitate” the symbol to it’s pre-Nazi-era meaning of peace. It flew over the beach in previous years, sparking headlines – and outbursts from upset residents.
This year is no different.
“A plane was flying with this sign over the beach today, not once but twice it went past the beach. Beaches filled with families and children. This is an inhumane action and must be stopped,” wrote tipster Jane Roitman, who sent in the photo above.
Another tipster called in to say that the group is being beyond insensitive, given the area’s dense population of Holocaust survivors and the current inflamed tensions between Israel and Palestine.
“I was dumbfounded by it. My grandparents are Holocaust survivors, and everyone [in Brighton Beach] knows someone whose family was affected by the Holocaust,” said Loren Azimov. “The timing could not be worse with everything going on in Israel and Palestine; it’s as bad as it has ever been.”
Azimov said there are other ways to try to rehabilitate the symbol without being so offensive, and that he’d like to see either the banner grounded.
“The First Amendment is not an acceptable reason [to let it fly.] What if it was rehabilitation of slavery? People would be up in arms,” Azimov said, adding that he’d like to see pressure on the company the organization chartered to refuse them access to the skies in the future.
It wouldn’t be the first company to decline the Raelian’s business. The group sought an expanded international campaign for what they’re calling Swastika Rehabilitation Week this year. When they approached a major Canadian billboard company, they were turned away.
“The company representative said many people would see our ad as offensive and inflammatory, so they wouldn’t post it,” said Thomas Kaenzig in a press release. Kaenzig is a planetary guide, the title for a top-ranking clergymember. “So this poses a real catch 22. How can the world be reeducated about the truth of this symbol if we can’t get the word out to show people?”
Azimov has been calling elected officials and government agencies, but to no avail. One prominent leader in Brighton Beach’s Russian-Jewish community told him that he should “consider writing a letter to the leadership of this org and kindly express compelling reasons not to fly this in our area.”
The Raelians may not be so receptive to Azimov’s rationale. Aside from brushing off similar complaints in previous years, the group appears to have a tenuous grasp on reality.
Raelism dates back to the 1970s and is the world’s largest UFO religion, believing that space scientists created life and have been popping in for visits throughout human history (with increased frequency in recent years, as evidenced through all the UFO sightings in the past century). Buddha, Jesus and other religious figures are all believed by the group to be messengers of the extraterrestrials. The group is attempting to build an interplanetary embassy to welcome extraterrestrials, and have been denied land in Israel because of their prominent use of the swastika.
The group also operates Clonaid, a company developing human cloning. The company claimed to have cloned the first human in 2002. There was no evidence that the claim was anything more than a publicity stunt, and the group has since been derided as cult led by a sex-crazed leader.
UPDATE (3:28 p.m.): Councilman Mark Treyger, who represents Coney Island and part of Brighton Beach, and is also the grandson of Holocaust survivors, called Sheepshead Bites to express his outrage.
“It isabsolutely disgusting and an egregious act of hate and intolerance. Whatever this hate group is, it’s an unacceptable act. I’ve asked the police department to investigate how this happened and how it came to be,” he said.
Treyger said he’s received numerous calls from constituents offended by the banner. He has also reached out to the mayor’s office and the City Council speaker’s office, which he said were receptive to the concerns. He said authorities are trying to determine if the plane and advertising campaign are in violation of any laws, and are also attempting to identify the company chartered to fly the banner.
The local pol said the group’s attempt to restore the symbol as one of peace and unity has little chance of success, and the group should stop its “outrageous” approach.
“Try asking someone who witnessed their loved ones murdered under that symbol if they’ll view that symbol as anything but murder and pain,” he said. “There’s no place for this here in this country.”