It was the second week of February in 1994. I was in my freshman year of college, and most of my closest friends worked at the theatre in Tamarac Square in Southeast Denver. Tombstone was still running, and just a week prior, Schindler’s List was released. I popped in to meet a buddy who was finishing his shift. What I saw when I walked through the door stopped me cold in my tracks.
I was utterly gobsmacked. Every single employee was wearing a plastic yellow six-pointed Star of David badge on their maroon polyester vests. As I approached the counter, I got close enough to read the words on one of the badges. It said, “U.S. Marshal.”
Yes, what happened was an unfortunate, if utterly tone-deaf accident in the timing of the release dates and the promotional swag that was distributed to the staff. What was more disturbing was the defensiveness of the manager on duty as I tried to explain just how bad the optics were. I was forced to call in to the corporate offices to lodge a complaint. And I don’t believe anything came of that, either.
And here we are, 27 years later, having learned nothing… in fact, we’ve only found a way to make it far worse.
“Vaccinated employees get a vaccination logo just like the Nazi’s (sic) forced Jewish people to wear a gold star. Vaccine passports & mask mandates create discrimination against unvaxxed people who trust their immune systems to a virus that is 99% survivable.”
Georgia Republican Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted this out on May 25, and was met with a rousing chorus of “what in G-d’s name is wrong with you?” from Jews and pretty much anyone else with an iota of history education from around the world. Finding agreement among the Jewish population isn’t always easy, but when it comes to the egregious and excessively hyperbolic appropriation of our experiences in the Holocaust, we all pretty much line up: This was way out of line.
To put it simply: Your choice to take the vaccine or not is a choice my grandparents’ siblings and parents did not get to make. Your choice may mean you have to wear a mask to go shopping at Big Lots. My grandparents’ families had no choice that kept them from being gassed at Auschwitz.
And yet, perhaps emboldened by the fact that it seems the GOP has decided anyone with an R next to their name is teflon as long as they kneel before Trump, Gigi Gaskins remained undaunted. She was only too excited to share a picture of herself sporting a yellow Star of David patch on her Instagram page last Friday. “Not Vaccinated” reads the words on the patch. She announced that she would be selling the patches for $5 a pop — with a promise that “trucker caps” were on the way.
Gaskins is the owner of HatWRKS Nashville, a relatively (formerly) successful hat shop just a mile south of the Country Music Hall of Fame. It took no time at all for Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and Tik Tok to catch fire. Within a couple hours, aghast at the backlash, Gaskins had already pulled down the picture you see above, and began digging herself a deeper hole with brain-dead displays of arrogant indignance and non-apologies.
I spent most of the ensuing 24 hours contacting every hat brand on the list of companies whose products she sold via Facebook, Messenger, and Twitter. I and many others shared out pictures of her public Instagram posts and the list of brands she reps from the HatWRKS website as well. The deluge of outrage was loud and clear, and within 36 hours, Goorin Bros. (which has shops in Denver and Boulder), Kangol, New York Hat and Cap Co. Tula, Brixton, Akubra, Roche, and Stetson (among others) had either replied to me personally or directed me to a public statement that they were cutting ties with her and pulling their wares from her shop. And there was a demonstration at her shop on Sunday.
And yet, the irony runs deep, and is clearly lost among Gaskins and her ilk. Take, for example, an earlier Facebook post (since deleted) where she expressed displeasure that someone had cautioned her against referring to herself as the “hat Nazi.” Yet here she was a short time later, trying to make a buck off of an abhorrent misuse of an image that continues to reverberate with terror and pain among survivors of the Nazi atrocities still living today:
What comes next for Gaskins is predictable: She’ll jump onto the “cancel culture!” bandwagon, and hit the red-hatted tour circuit with other morally corrupt goons like the My Pillow guy at places like the Corn Palace in Mitchell, South Dakota, with musical opener Joe Piscopo to a half-filled room of Q-morons who are so starved for decent entertainment options that this somehow makes the list. It’s little more than a way-stop on the B-line to obscurity. Good riddance, indeed.
But the problem itself isn’t going away. To be clear: Exploiting the Holocaust is antisemitism. Period. And trying to get away with it by simultaneously proclaiming yourself to be a Zionist — as Marjorie Taylor Greene does — just makes it worse. In that case, she’s traipsing into an ugly dual-loyalty canard that only perpetuates the othering of American Jews. But she’s far from the only one.
Take Colorado District 3 Repulican Rep. Lauren Boebert’s allusions to the “Brown Shirts” enforcing health orders in her district on our Jewish governor’s order. Or Ken Buck’s unforgivable hyperbole comparing the plight of a same-sex couple seeking medical treatment to a hypothetical example of a Nazi seeking treatment from a Jewish doctor. And Rep. Greene hasn’t learned a lesson by any stretch yet, as she continues to double down on her antisemitic comparisons.
Enough is enough. Over the last five years, antisemitism surged to unprecedented heights. Over the last two weeks, a new surge broke out across the nation, with violent attacks on people and property from coast to coast.
It’s not surprising, given just how woefully uneducated the American populace appears to be in its two youngest generations on the subject. A 50-state study commissioned by the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany revealed, “a worrying lack of basic Holocaust knowledge,” among respondents under the age of 40. Particularly alarming: “The state-by-state analysis yielded a particularly disquieting finding that nearly 20 percent of Millennials and Gen Z in New York feel the Jews caused the Holocaust.”
The unsurprising coda: Greene’s state of Georgia and Gaskins’ state of Tennessee both scored among the lowest in basic knowledge of Holocaust history.