How to spot the secret images that far-right extremists use to recognize each other
Submitted by: Veronica Coffin
- Far-right extremists are exchanging old symbols of hatred for new ones
- Some want to make their beliefs more mainstream with less stigmatized icons
- But others want to show their allegiance without mainstream society knowing
- The US National Socialist Movement has swapped its swastika for a Norse rune
- And the KKK has replaced its white cross with a single ‘blood drop’
- Other symbols have secret codes only other extremists will know
- Don’t assume someone is far-right; they may have a similar, innocent, symbol
For decades far-right extremists have used well-worn symbols like the swastika and the white cross to signify their affiliation to racist causes.
But as right-wing US hate groups have risen in prominence over the past year, their members have found themselves looking for new ways to show their allegiance without being spurned by society.
That means creating new, secret methods of communication, Mark Pitcavage, a senior research fellow at the Anti-Defamation League, told CNN.
The far-right is replacing old symbols of hate, such as the KKK’s blood drop cross (pictured in red circle tattoo), with new, lesser known symbols that allow them to communicate secretly
Groups such as the Ku Klux Klan continue to hold racially charged meetings and ceremonies, but hide their iconography to mingle in mainstream society
Changes are happening fast in modern far-right groups, as a rise in right-wing extremism has been met with an equal amount of attention from the press.
Some of the new symbols exist to put a friendlier face on fascism, such as the US National Socialist Movement’s decision to replace the swastika on its logo with the old Norse Othala rune.
Jeff Schoep, the movement’s leader, told The New York Times in December that the decision was ‘an attempt to become more integrated and more mainstream.’
Others have an even more insidious purpose.
While some racists sport swastikas and other symbols in order to intimidate or openly proclaim affiliations, others want to continue operating in mainstream society, undetected by those not in the know.
They now have new symbols, deliberately chosen to look innocuous. Some are adaptations of existing codes; some have been co-opted from benign cultures.
That means not everyone sporting them on tattoos or clothing is an extremist – some may have worn them because of their original meaning, or may just have a symbol that is similar to these, but different.
However, these are the hateful new icons now circulating in extremist groups.
The new swastika: the Othala rune
Variations on the Norse; Othala rune, which is replacing the swastika as the main symbol for neo-Nazis. Previously it was used (with legs, as on the far left) on an SS infantry flag in WWII
This variation on the Othala rune is now being used by the US National Socialist Movement, replacing the swastika it used before
Nazis have a long history of stealing benign cultural symbols and infusing them with hate.
The most famous of these, of course, is the swastika, which originated on the Indian subcontinent at least 11,000 years ago and is still used by Hindus and other cultures.
But another symbol has been seized upon by right-wing extremists to represent their hateful ideology: the Elder Futhark Odal rune, also known as the Othala rune.
Runes were used to represent Norse and proto-German language before the adoption of the Latin alphabet.
That made them especially attractive to Nazis, who idolize Nordic people.
‘The Nazis believed that Scandinavians were pure Aryans just like Germans were,’ Pitcavage said.
The Othala rune (ᛟ) represents the concepts of ‘homeland’ or ‘inheritance’ and was used by Nazis – with ‘wings’ added to its bottom – by an SS infantry division in the Second World War.
The Othala is now gaining in popularity with neo-Nazis since the US National Socialist Movement announced last year that it was making the rune its new official symbol.
However, the ADL notes that the rune can be found in non-extremist contexts too, such as when used by pagans who write in the old alphabet.
The KKK’s secret symbol: The blood drop
Some KKK members have removed its white cross (pictured left) to make a new symbol. The new icon only has the ‘red blood drop’ which is less well known than the original
When the Ku Klux Klan created its emblem – which it terms the ‘MIOAK,’ or ‘Mystic Insignia of a Klansman’ – in the early 1900s.
Originally the symbol was of four white K’s on a red circle, with a yin-yang symbol in the center.
Over time the Ks were realigned and became a white cross, while the yin-yang symbol lost its white half and became a single red swirl.
They then decided the ‘blood drop’ would represent the blood they imagined would be shed in ‘defense of the white race,’ the ADL says.
But as the KKK has become better known over the past 100 years, the blood drop cross has become more recognizable.
That’s why Klansmen will sometimes use just the blood drop as a more subtle symbol of their allegiance to the group.
The secret dice code
These dice have the numbers 1, 4 and 8 (5+3). The code 1488 is a common one in neo-Nazi circles and represents a white separatist ideology and the phrase ‘Heil Hitler’
To the untrained eye, these may look like a perfectly ordinary pair of dice.
But the truth is their dots hold a secret neo-Nazi code.
The first die shows one and four dots – representing the number 14. The second has five and three dots – which add up to eight.
Together, they form the hate code ‘1488’.
The number 14 is used to represent ‘the 14 words’ slogan of white supremacy: ‘We must secure the existence of our people and a future for white children.’
The number 88 represent the phrase ‘Heil Hitler,’ because the letter ‘H’ is the eighth in the alphabet. It’s commonly seen in neo-Nazi contexts.
Dylann Roof, for example, took 88 bullets with him when he murdered nine black people at an African-American church.
The code is often written as 1488 or 14/88 in digits – some racist stores even sell merchandise for $14.88 – but the dice allow the message to be carried, and passed on, in secret.
Of course, the code relies on the idea that dice aren’t unusual in tattoos – and so it’s important to not assume that anyone with a dice tattoo is secretly an extremist.
The lettered grave
Tombstones are common in tattoos, but some have the initials of white supremacist heroes in them – such as ‘RJM,’ for neo-Nazi terrorist Robert Jay Mathews
Another subtle symbol is a grave with initials marked on it.
Like the dice, a tattoo or drawing of a grave isn’t especially notable or unusual.
But members of the far right use tattoos of graves to secretly signal to others that they are extremists.
They use initials of prominent white supremacists, fascists or other similar figures to show their views.
In the example to the left, the initials ‘RJM’ represent Robert Jay Mathews, an American neo-Nazi terrorist and the leader of American white supremacist militant group The Order. He died in a gunfight with law enforcement agents in 1984.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), the numbers of hate groups rose from 2015-2016, something they link to Donald Trump’s campaign for president.
Most of the hate groups noted by the SPLC were white separatist or supremacist, or anti-Semitic. They included the KKK, neo-Nazi groups and skinhead gangs as well as racist publications.
The total number of hate groups increased from 892 to 917, the SPLC’s Intelligence Report 2017 said.
Anti-Muslim groups also nearly tripled from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016.
On Presidents Day 11 Jewish centers received bomb threats, and last month a Texas mosque was torched after the Trump administration issued an executive order suspending travel to the United States from seven Muslim-majority countries.
Donald Trump has come out against the rising numbers of racist, Islamophobic and anti-Semitic attacks – but his rise has also seen a rise in the number of hate groups in the US
‘The country saw a resurgence of white nationalism that imperils the racial progress we’ve made, along with the rise of a president whose policies reflect the values of white nationalists,’ said Mark Potok, senior fellow and editor of the Intelligence Report.
That thought was echoed by Gerald Martin, a retired public-school teacher from Dallas, and veteran white supremacist.
He told the New York Times that he was delighted when Trump made election campaign remarks about building a wall to keep out Mexican drug dealers and rapists
‘I’d been waiting to hear those words from a mainstream political candidate all my life,’ he said.
In the past week Trump has worked hard to fight that image, visiting the Museum of African American History and announcing that anti-Semitic attacks against Jewish community centers are ‘horrible and are painful’.
But those cries are falling on deaf ears for some. On Wednesday the director of the Anne Frank Center complained that it took two days for Trump to voice opposition to the Jewish Center attacks.
‘His silence was deafening,’ she said. ‘His silence is why there is a cancer of anti-Semitism in the White House. It was just a Band-Aid on a cancer.’