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Auschwitz, QAnon, Viking tattoos: the white supremacist symbols sported by rioters who stormed the Capitol

At left, a pro-Trump extremist sports horns and carries the American flag as he walks through the Capitol building after it was invaded by rioters on January 6. The image on the right shows another rioter wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with "Camp Auschwitz" as he stands in front of the building.
At left, a pro-Trump extremist sports horns and carries the American flag as he walks through the Capitol building after it was invaded by rioters on January 6. The image on the right shows another rioter wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with "Camp Auschwitz" as he stands in front of the building. © Twitter
Text by: Liselotte Mas
9 min

A group of pro-Trump extremists stormed the Capitol building on January 6 as members of the United States Congress met to certify Joe Biden’s presidential victory in the election held last November—usually a routine procedure. While many rioters wore shirts and carried signs emblazoned with the slogan "Trump 2020", others openly sported Nazi and white supremacist symbols, which are easily identifiable in the amateur images they posted online.

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Hundreds of supporters of US President Donald Trump—convinced that the presidential election was marred by rampant fraud and that Trump was the true winner—tried to stop Congress from validating the election result by storming the Capitol building on January 6. 

They forced their way into the building in the early afternoon and vandalised the offices of several elected officials. Authorities reported that at least one person was shot and killed during the incident and three other people died during the protests. Police arrested 52 rioters. 

In videos live-streamed by the rioters, you can hear people yell out that they are fighting for Trump. A majority were wearing hats, t-shirts, or scarves emblazoned with the campaign slogan "Trump 2020". Others, however, were decked out with far more controversial symbols. 

References to Auschwitz and white supremacists  

Two participants were caught on camera sporting particularly radical and offensive symbols. 

This man wears a sweatshirt that says “Camp Auschwitz”, referring to the notorious death camp where Nazis slaughtered Jewish people, and the false promise that was emblazoned on the camp’s gate: “Work brings freedom.”
This man wears a sweatshirt that says “Camp Auschwitz”, referring to the notorious death camp where Nazis slaughtered Jewish people, and the false promise that was emblazoned on the camp’s gate: “Work brings freedom.” © Twitter

One man was wearing a sweatshirt featuring a skull and crossbones and the words "Camp Auschwitz, work brings freedom" in English. This is an explicit reference to the death camp where Nazis exterminated huge numbers of Jews. “Work brings freedom” was the false promise inscribed in German on the entrance gate of the camp. Many people were shocked and horrified when this image started circulating online. 

"This was the text above the gate of Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau", writes this social media user.
"This was the text above the gate of Nazi concentration camp Auschwitz-Birkenau", writes this social media user. © Twitter

Another man received a lot of attention for his wild get-up. Jake Angeli, a pro-Trump activist and adherent to the QAnon movement, was bare-chested and wore a hat with fur and horns.

Jake Angeli, who goes by "Q Shaman," carries an American flag and a megaphone in the entrance to the Capitol building in Washington.
Jake Angeli, who goes by "Q Shaman," carries an American flag and a megaphone in the entrance to the Capitol building in Washington. © Twitter

But there is nothing humorous about Angeli’s tattoos. His arms are covered with bricks which, according to several media outlets, represent the wall that Trump once promised to build between the United States and Mexico. 

This extremist sports tattoos of various Viking symbols. While these symbols didn’t originally have any connection to white supremacy, they have come to represent these beliefs, especially in extreme-right American circles.
This extremist sports tattoos of various Viking symbols. While these symbols didn’t originally have any connection to white supremacy, they have come to represent these beliefs, especially in extreme-right American circles. © Twitter/France 24

On Angeli’s upper chest, he sports a triangular Viking symbol called the valknut, which is today affiliated with racism and white supremacy and the Wotansvolk Movement, which is a form of white nationalist modern paganism tied to neo-Nazi movements. 

He also has other tattoos that are derived from Viking symbols— the Tree of Life and Thor’s hammer. These two symbols, like many aspects of Viking mythology, have been adopted by white supremacist groups who believe that this ancient civilisation was an example of "racial purity"

Angeli has been caught on camera at various events over the past few months with a sign stating "Q sent me", a reference to QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory that has spawned a movement. Angeli has been given the nickname "Q’s shaman” within pro-Trump circles. 

Angeli carried a sign saying "Q sent me" during a rally in Arizona in 2020.
Angeli carried a sign saying "Q sent me" during a rally in Arizona in 2020. © YouTube

References to the QAnon movement 

A number of protesters who participated in the assault on the Capitol wore clothing or carried signs referencing QAnon, a far-right conspiracy theory that alleges that Trump is working in secret to fight a vast network of pedophiles. The theory first appeared online in 2017 and was propagated by an anonymous person who went by the name “Q”.

This man wears a shirt that says "Trust the plan".
This man wears a shirt that says "Trust the plan". © Twitter

This protestor wears a shirt that says "Trust the plan", one of the main slogans associated with the movement. Q has been promising believers for years that Trump will carry out a sudden and simultaneous arrest of hundreds of Satan-worshipping members of the elite for pedophilia and high treason. Believers think there is a hidden "plan" that will allow Trump to stay in power in order to carry out these arrests. 

This pro-Trump supporter is carrying a sign referencing the QAnon conspiracy theory in the entrance to the Capitol building.
This pro-Trump supporter is carrying a sign referencing the QAnon conspiracy theory in the entrance to the Capitol building. © Twitter

This screengrab shows a woman carrying a sign that alludes to pedophilia, a central theme in the QAnon conspiracy theory. Only part of the sign is visible in the image. It reads “The children cry out for…”. 

The videos posted online by the rioters feature lots of references to Q and the so-called “plan”. One image shows a rioter carrying a sign in the form of a Q down the halls of the Capitol.

Screengrab of a video live streamed by a rioter in the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
Screengrab of a video live streamed by a rioter in the Capitol on January 6, 2021. © DLive/BakedAlaska

The flag of Kekistan, the imaginary country created by the Alt Right on 4chan

QAnon first appeared in 2017 on the American forum 4chan. Another symbol born of this forum was also on display in the Capitol— the flag of an imaginary country called Kekistan, easily recognisable by its green colour and all the letter Ks on it. 

A rioter carries a flag for the imaginary nation of Kekistan as he tries to enter the Capitol on January 6, 2021. In the upper left corner, you can see the original flag for reference.
A rioter carries a flag for the imaginary nation of Kekistan as he tries to enter the Capitol on January 6, 2021. In the upper left corner, you can see the original flag for reference. © Twitter/France 24

Kekistan is an imaginary nation whose mascot is Pepe the frog, a character who frequently appears in memes and posts by President Trump’s far-right supporters. 

Old symbols of the American extreme right

The rioters also proudly brandished other violent symbols associated with the extreme right, like the Confederate flag. 

A man brandishes the Confederate flag in the Capitol on January 6, 2021.
A man brandishes the Confederate flag in the Capitol on January 6, 2021. © Twitter

This flag represents the Confederacy of southern, slave-holding states who fought against the North during the American Civil War. Today, the flag is seen as a racist, segregationist symbol. 

The rioters also set up nooses in front of the Capitol, using camera cables stolen from journalists. This violent installation refers to the horrific lynchings and hangings of  Black Americans throughout the history of the country.

Two other flags often associated with the American extreme right were also held aloft in the halls of the Capitol. The Gadsden flag was adopted by American colonists struggling against their English rulers in the lead-up to the American Revolution. The "Join or Die" flag features a design drawn by Benjamin Franklin meant to show how important it was for the colonies (later states) to come together. 

 

A rioter leaves the Capitol carrying a "Join or Die" flag on January 6, 2021.
A rioter leaves the Capitol carrying a "Join or Die" flag on January 6, 2021. © Twitter

The far right has appropriated these symbols of American independence. Today, the “Join or Die” flag is associated with white supremacist movements, especially the Three Percenters militia. This paramilitary group is considered an Antigovernment Movement by the Southern Poverty Law Center. They defend the right to carry weapons.  

Many of the rioters referred to the Revolutionary War, shouting out “1776” while storming the Capitol building. This is a reference to the Declaration of Independence, signed on this date. 

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