A fringe religious sect known as the Raelian Movement has announced plans for its fourth annual “Swastika Rehabilitation Day,” scheduled for July 20. “Swastika Rehabilitation Day” activities scheduled for the United States on that day include events at Copley Square in Boston, on bicycles on Chicago’s lake front, in Las Vegas on the Strip, in Los Angeles at the Santa Monica Pier, in the air over New York City, at Point State Park in Pittsburgh, on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, and in the Castro District of San Francisco.
The Raelian Movement is a small religious movement based primarily in Western Europe, with some adherents in North America, Japan, and even Israel. Its logo consists of a Star of David intertwined with a swastika—a rather startling image. Although people often report sightings of the Raelian logo as a hate symbol, the Raelians use the swastika not in its Nazi context but in its East Asian context as a symbol of good fortune. For a time in the 1990s, the Raelians shifted to a less controversial logo, but they soon returned to the original version.
It is because of their logo that the Raelians have for decades been active in so-called “swastika rehabilitation,” efforts that to date have not achieved their desired purpose and are unlikely to do so any time soon, at least in Western society. The Raelians’ other controversial campaign, their “Go Topless” campaign for women, has also won little but notoriety.
The Raelian Movement was started in the 1970s by a former French race car driver, Claude Vorilhon (now known as Rael); its beliefs center around advanced extraterrestrial civilizations. It does not have a history of violence.
The most problematic aspect related to the Raelians is their opinions about other religions. Though they profess to be tolerant and in most respects live up to such claims, this is not always true when it comes to “competing” sets of religious beliefs. In particular, the Raelians have launched a number of nasty attacks against the Catholic Church over the years.
The Raelians have also made problematic statements regarding Jews and Judaism. Some statements have stemmed from the group’s poor governmental reception in Israel, others from sympathy with Palestinians, while still others have risen from a desire that Jews accept Raelian teachings. All three sentiments combined in a 2008 statement by the group’s spokesperson in Israel, Leon Mellul, in which he claimed that Jewish teachings were “primitive ideas from the Middle Ages” and “unfounded nonsense” and said that Israel’s survival depended on: 1) recognizing Rael as the Messiah; 2) permitting the “Raelian Embassy” [in Israel]; and 3) “showing love and compassion for all human beings.”