Unpopular Opinion: Why I Support the Swastika-Wearing MN Couple
By now you've likely heard about or even seen the video of the Minnesota couple wearing Nazi flags across their faces in Walmart.
Over the weekend, an unidentified couple in Marshall, MN was caught on camera wearing Swastikas -- the symbol of Nazi Germany -- over their faces in lieu of face masks.
According to Fox9, the video was taken by and posted to Facebook by Raphaela Mueller, a German intern in Marshall studying to be a pastor. Born and and raised in Germany, her own great grandmother fought against the Nazi party. Naturally, she was incredibly upset to see the couple wearing flag-masks in the store and began recording as she and her friend addressed them.
"You're sick," calls out a man behind the camera. "You can't be American and wear that mask. You cannot. We literally had a war about this." Another man can be heard off-camera saying, "I kill Nazis. My grandfather killed Nazis."
The woman wearing the Nazi symbol doesn't seem phased by the accusations or threats, sauntering and throwing up her middle fingers while also attempting to explain herself.
"I'm not a Nazi. If you vote for Biden, you're gonna be in Nazi Germany, that's what it's gonna be like."
"You're sick," the man behind the camera accuses again. Like many, the video upset me, too, though perhaps not for the same reason.
After watching the video, reading various local and national news reportings of the incident and observing the general response, I realized something startling -- I actually support the couple wearing swastika symbols over their faces, not oppose them.
To be clear, I don't support the Nazi symbol, Nazi Germany, Adolf Hitler or the atrocities that occurred under his regime. I believe that was an awful time in world history and pray we never see such abominations and persecution again. I do, however, think I understand the couple and their reason for choosing to wear a Nazi flag in public, and -- if I'm correct -- I support them in it. Here's why.
My first thought as I watched the video was "What a misunderstanding!" The woman wearing the Nazi flag explains for herself that she's not a Nazi and does not support what Nazi Germany stood for. Rather, the reason she and her husband are wearing the swastika is not to support it but to protest it -- the atrocities it stood for and the threat of America's future. She clearly tries to explain that in the video, though it's equally clear that those around her have already decided the couple's motives and don't want to hear her. Those filming and watching nearby made their own assumptions and -- instead of seeking to understand -- failed to create open and respectful dialogue. "The Nazis lost," the man filming reminds her, again failing to hear what she's actually saying. "Please, don't wear those masks."
"I was speechless, I was shocked," Mueller told Fox9. "It was just this sense of disbelief, like what did I just see?"
What I believe she saw -- and what's ironic to me -- is a pair of American citizens using a symbol of historic tragedy as a protest against something equally evil. Had they all been able to set aside their presuppositions and engage in respectful dialogue, I'd bet they would actually agree that the reign of Nazi Germany was an awful time in world history and the Nazi flag one that should never be flown again. Unfortunately, a lack of respect and willingness to communicate congenially led to a gross misunderstanding with alarming consequences. The couple was charged with trespassing and banned from visiting any Walmart for the next year. Walmart corporation had this to say of the incident:
What happened today at our store in Marshall, MN is unacceptable. We strive to provide a safe and comfortable shopping environment for all our customers and will not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment in any aspect of our business. We are asking everyone to wear face coverings when they enter our stores for their safety and the safety of others and it’s unfortunate that some individuals have taken this pandemic as an opportunity to create a distressing situation for customers and associates in our store.
I can't help but think that Walmart's response seems confusingly contradictory. "What happened today at our store in Marshall, MN is unacceptable?" Is that a reference to the couple wearing a Nazi symbol as their face mask or the harassment they received for it? "We...will not tolerate any form of discrimination or harassment in any aspect of our business." Does that go for those who filmed and threatened the couple for wearing swastika flags as face masks? "It’s unfortunate that some individuals have taken this pandemic as an opportunity to create a distressing situation for customers and associates in our store." Again, is that referring to the couple wearing Nazi flags for masks or those who stood by filming and shouting accusations and epithets? It seems to me that there's a double standard in what's expected and allowed by Walmart.
Governor Walz himself addressed the situation, calling the couple's expression of freedom of speech “Disgraceful, plain and simple."
I recognize that I am interpreting the situation from my own perspective and that my lens may be inaccurate. I admit that. But I wonder if this situation has revealed a striking shortcoming in all of us still -- that is, the willingness to understand, the disposition to dialogue, and the readiness to respect that we each expect from others. Even Governor Walz, I would argue, was quick to judge and unethical in his response. The First Amendment's freedom of speech allows for engaging in symbolic speech such as the burning the American flag in protest. While many -- myself included -- would be upset at such an action, it is, in fact, American and permissible to do so. As it is also American and permissible to take a knee during the national anthem in support of Black lives. As it is also American and permissible to wear a Nazi flag in Walmart to protest the threat of socialism. "You can't be American and wear that mask," says the man in the video.
Actually, I think that's exactly what being American is about.
*The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not reflect Townsquare Media*