How to deal with a neo-Nazi in first class on Lufthansa?

No, this isn’t a thread title I’m making jokingly, unfortunately.

I’ll leave out the exact flight and date for now, though find this story to be very interesting.

My mom was flying back from Germany to the US on Lufthansa this past weekend. She was flying a 747 in first class, seated in 81H (the aisle seat in the first row on the upper deck, right behind the cockpit), and seated across the aisle from her was an American guy. The shocking part was that he had a huge swastika tattoo on his arm, which was fully visible thanks to the very short sleeved t-shirt he was wearing.

My mom was obviously shocked and appalled, and also told me that while the crew wasn’t rude to him, they were rather “cold.” My mom said she was incredibly uncomfortable with the whole situation, though thought the situation would only get worse if she complained about it.

This raises the question to me, though, of what would happen if another passenger, be it a Holocaust survivor, Jew, or anyone else, brought this up to the crew or ground staff before departure? Should the neo-Nazi be removed? As far as I can tell there’s no part of the contract of carriage that prohibits something as offensive as a swastika. Or should the passenger making the complaint be removed? That doesn’t seem fair, because using any “normal person standard,” the swastika is beyond offensive.

Thoughts? What would you have done?

Filed Under: Lufthansa, Travel
  1. Mistreating someone due to a Swastika is ignorant; it’s used widely across tons of cultures & religions. See – I have a Swastika outside my house too, and that’s not because I’m a Neo-Nazi. Au contraire, it’s because I’m Hindu.

  2. Okay, that’s the most disturbing passenger story I’ve heard in quite some time.

    Might German law (which bans certain types of expression involving Nazi imagery) have some recourse here?

    (Although one can wish that the crew could take matters into their own hands. “I’m very sorry, sir, but we only have the Kosher meal left.”)

  3. We’ve all seen the news stories about people being denied boarding for having offensive clothing (swear words, or if you’re UA a track suit…), or even at times indecent clothes (wasn’t a woman denied boarding by Southwest for having a short cut too low?). Isn’t it an easy extension for an airline to deny boarding based on visible tattoos that fit the above?

    I’m not advocating his removal, because people need to travel, regardless of whether you think their view points are abhorrent or not. Just saying it sounds like it’s plausible if Lufthansa wanted to.

  4. very interesting. But I would suggest the carrier gently approach the one who has such “offensive” tattoos and ask him to cover it with long sleeves.

    But it raises another question, what if a guy with racist-type of tattoo or in a racist “loud” conversation that bothers the nearby passenger? Should the one that was offended be removed or the one who’s supposably making such offense be removed?

  5. I don’t agree with his views, but it sounds like he wasn’t trying to upset people. We live in a society where the law supports people having differing views. What he was doing was clearly legal in the US. I think there’s nothing for another passenger to deal with, and I don’t think the airline should have done anything.

    He could have been arrested in Germany however:

  6. For 3000 years the symbol meant life and good luck, even was used by US Military shoulder patches in the early 20th century. It’s use became popular in Germany in the late 19th century and was adopted by what became an evil force who’s association with the symbol has now been bred into social understanding as a symbol of death and hatred.

    The symbol is still in use in historic buildings where the architect’s looked to it’s historical meaning (and no doubt – buildings that are older than the third reich), this confused soul certainly was taking quite a risk in public.

    Alas – the freedom of speech that we defend in the US must protect all forms of expression, lest one day any expression be quashed when dissenting power. The judgement will come in time and from a power much more exacting than public reaction will provide.

  7. Ditto. As someone who’s mother grew up in Germany during the war, I am very sensitive to this issue. The bigger question is how did that piece of white trash get in LH F?!?!?

  8. Maybe not quite as simple as it could seem. A good read is here:

    There is a great debate as to what the swastika means now. For 3,000 years, the swastika meant life and good luck. But because of the Nazis, it has also taken on a meaning of death and hate.

    These conflicting meanings are causing problems in today’s society. For Buddhists and Hindus, the swastika is a very religious symbol that is commonly used.

  9. While I dont agree with the speech, it would be a freedom of speech issue in the US.

    On a different note, this is EXACTLY why there should NEVER be cell phones on a plane!!!!!

  10. Maybe he was a member of a Buddhist or a Jain sect which also use the swastka as a symbol of their religion?

    Bottom line if he wants to show the rest of the world what his “affiliation” is then that is his right. (Freedom of expression is one of the reasons why I feel so fortunate to live in the US.)

    I also doubt it’s in the contract of carriage where the crew is required to be “warm & fuzzy” to all passengers….polite & professional is generally the requirement of all employees.

    While, as a Jewish female, sitting next to him would certainly make me feel uncomfortable I’m all for tolerance and not providing the reaction that tattoo was intended to provoke.

  11. I’d probably ask to move seats. But if it’s really just his tattoo, then I don’t think they have the right to do anything. Common carriers are supposed to take anyone (who’s not dangerous).

    And doing something might make the situation worse.

  12. As a JewJetter who frequents LH F, I would have been outraged if seated next to this guy. The use of that symbol, while not illegal in the US, is still quite an offense in Deutschland. There is a time and a place to express bigotry and hate– air travel is not one of them. He should have been removed ESPECIALLY while flying the German flag carrier.

    You think ElAl would have let this guy and his tats on the plane?…


  13. Yes, he should have been removed. It is highly illegal to show a swastika in Germany. And German law applies on German planes, therefore he commited a crime.

  14. 5 years ago, I sat next to someone who had a swastika tattoo on his wrist, and it was prominently displayed to anyone who wanted to see it. He was a white American.

    Those who did see it (mostly Americans) immediately gave him a funny look and the purser also gave him the cold treatment.

    As a brown American (aka, Indian), I however noticed the symbol for what it was … not the Nazi swastika, but instead the Hindu version (its rotated 45 degrees, and has the four dots). But I noticed it because I knew the difference.

    Most people who are not educated on the differences will see what they want to see – in this case, what looked like the Nazi swastika.

    The gentleman and I struck up a conversation (based on the fact I correctly recognized the symbol), and turns out that he went to India in this 20s, and has been a devout Hindu ever since living there. He was one of the nicest persons I’ve encountered.

    It goes to show that we make quick assumptions and judgements about people, without stopping to think if there is another explanation.

  15. @jr

    He was sporting a swastika tattoo! There is your proof. No one in 2011 gets a swastika tat and flies to or from Germany without knowing what it means.

    The only excuse I can come up with is that he got one at knife point in prison because he was 90 days late on a back-due soap payment.

    If that were the case he surely would be wearing sleeves until he had it professionally removed.

    Lucky, your mother is one cool cucumber, mine would have completely lost it.

  16. Yeah, I mean American free speech laws don’t apply on Lufthansa… Presumably there would have been some PJs in Lufthansa first (they usually at least give out shirts on a day flight), so if any passenger complained if I were an FA I would probably attempt to make him put it on. That said, I probably wouldn’t push the issue unless there was a complaint. If the person is morally depraved enough to wear a swastika tattoo (and while swastikas aren’t necessarily Nazi symbol’s at this point most of the time they are) who knows what kind of a scene he could start if pushed…

  17. Legal issues aside, there’s a responsibility not just to transport a paying passenger but also to the sensibilities and experiences of the other passengers in the cabin.

    So it seems a reasonable corproate policy for Lufthansa to ask the man to cover up.

    This was in F. Germany to US, so it was a day flight. No pajama bottoms but they give out rather smart-looking shirts.

    I think it would have been appropriate to ask the man to don a long sleeve shirt, and offer him a LH PJ top to assist him in doing so.

  18. Also, this might sound insensitive to Hindus, but given the inescapable connotations of the swastika nowadays, I don’t think that it’s a good idea to get a swastika tattoo in such a highly visible place (even if it’s the less offensively rotated Hindu version). You can’t force people to see it as a sign of wisdom and light as it was intended. Nor do I think it’s too much to ask someone with a visible swastika tattoo to cover it up. I still wouldn’t want to be the one to ask him to do so, especially on a German flight where its a highly sensitive symbol.

    I also don’t think that given the circumstances it’s unreasonable for Lucky to assume the man was a neo-Nazi

  19. @jrl read comment 20 right before yours. A swastika is not proof of being a neo nazi as labeled by our host.

  20. Re: JRL – “There is a time and a place To express bigotry and hate-……..” ?????????
    Pls. advise us all when and where you find it appropriate.

  21. I’m an American living in Montreal, Canada. When I last changed apartments, one of the movers had what appeared to be a gigantic swastika on his arm. When I asked him about it he explained that it was a symbol used by his First Nations (Indian) tribe. It is possible that the passenger seated near your mother was not using the tattoo as a Nazi symbol.

  22. So his only crime was wearing a tattoo which offended your sensibilities and you wanted him removed..

    How is this different from Nazis who were offended by the people who wore star of David and hence wanted to get rid of them ?? Who is the real nazi here ??

  23. I’m hoping most people here – including you, Lucky – are knowledgeable enough to find or research that the swastika itself is not an offensive mark in some contexts. The swastika meant a lot more before it was ever adopted by the Nazis, and to consistently brand it as meaning nothing except Nazism and death is unfair and ignorant.

    That aside, it is recognised that cultural and moral values differ from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and may be enforceable by law. In the case of Germany, the swastika is clearly illegal and presumably German law is supposed to prevail on all flights operated by a German airline (whether that be ex-Germany or going to Germany, and irrespective of the position of the aircraft in whichever nation’s airspace – clarification here?).

    However, let’s say the pax was committing a crime by showing the swastika which is prohibited under German law. Even more so since they were flying out of Germany. Does the law make differences in punishment if you deliberately flaunt the symbol vs. simply forgetting to cover it but didn’t mean to show it vs. having the symbol at all (i.e. someone found out you had it even though you covered it up)?

    Then, assuming that the tattoo was only really noticed after take-off, what’s the most practical thing to do once you leave the ground, let alone leave Germany airspace? I suppose this crime is not enough to request a diversion and have police waiting there. I don’t think it would be possible to restrain the man or have police waiting on arrival at the destination (not at least without serving the man a notice). Someone suggested that the man should be requested to cover-up: what if the man doesn’t comply? There may be a legal basis but the question still remains what will / should the crew actually do about it even if they could rely on a legal recourse?

    On the other hand, assuming that it’s not completely within a legal recourse to reprimand or arrest the man, then perhaps we’re back to some sort of argument which would be similar to dealing with someone who decides to watch / read pornography openly on an aircraft…

  24. Notwithstanding the differences in the meaning of a left-facing or right-facing or slanted or dotted swastikas, it would have been super nifty had mom snapped a picture of the arm/tattoo/cabin and sent it to the CEO of LH, asking him what *he* felt should have been done, if anything.

    I suspect he’d not have been pleased.

  25. Lest we forget and while each equally despicable, more died under the Hammer and Sickle/Red Star than the Swastika.

  26. @ RA,
    The time and place to express hate per our 1st amendment right would be on a soap box in a trailer park. Not on an airplane post 9/11.

  27. I feel sorry that he has to identify with something associated with hate to feel any self worth.

  28. I have two thoughts on this:
    1. As a Jainist, I wonder if he was a neo-Nazi or a follower of Jainism or Hinduism?

    2. One of my friends cousins was almost denied boarding for wearing a t-shirt with Arabic (that said we cannot be silenced, out of all phrases) a couple of years ago. Here is the blog link describing the incident:
    Couldn’t the person be asked to cover up?

  29. That another passenger might take offense should not be the measure as to whether or not a person is suitable for transport.

    It is the hallmark of a free society that we not only tolerate, but actively protect views we despise for that is the only thing that truly protects our own freedom. Discomfort is a small price to pay for such a rare gift.

    Let him fly in peace.

    We have little to fear from such beliefs unless they are widely shared in which case no amount of freedom will grant protection.

  30. Isn’t anyone else curious as to how a neo-nazi got into LH F – those tickets are usually beyond the reach of most ex-cons, who are the ones usually sporting the tattoos in the US.

  31. “Isn’t anyone else curious as to how a neo-nazi got into LH F – those tickets are usually beyond the reach of most ex-cons, who are the ones usually sporting the tattoos in the US.”

    Er, you judging him is just as bad as when neo-nazi’s judge everybody else. For all you know, he might have a job that pays him well enough, maybe even a white-collar job, or maybe he inherited a trust fund. Who knows? Not every neo-nazi is like the kind you see on shows like Sons of Anarchy.

  32. To idiots who keep bringing up wikipedia, stop being douche-bags. You’d get it if you were Jewish, and I’ll bet nobody who brought up, ‘hey look at wikipedia, maybe he’s Hindu’ is Jewish. This is the 21st century, not 1000 BC. A swatztika is a swatztika, plain and simple. If you’re really a Hindu, pick a new damn symbol, your symbol of luck has been turned into an abomination of what it once was. For a religion that claims to be loving and peaceful, you sure don’t seem to care if you offend a whole race of people. My stance on the plane, ask him to cover it with longer sleaves, as long as he keeps to himself the rest of the flight, let him fly.

  33. Kiran, you’re an ass because you think removing a passenger and killing 11 million people (including 6 million Jews) is somehow equivalent.

  34. Germans are very aware about the Nazi and south Asian versions of the ‘Hakenkreuz’ and LH staff is knowledgeable enough to spot the difference. If the pax had the actual Nazi version of the swastika he would have heard something about it from the crew including a polite request to cover up. LH aircraft are German territory and German law applies.

  35. I fly LH regularly and I recall a case in 1998 when a group of German skin heads tried to fly from Frankfurt to Tel Aviv. LH diverted the plane to Istanbul and offloaded the group….LH takes this stuff seriously.

  36. I had to navigate away from these comments and come back. I was angry at the intolerance displayed by some and the downright disrespect displayed especially by Jonathan in comment 43.

    At no point did Lucky rely from his mother that the man did or said anything negative. For that he was more of an adult than many commenters here. Was the display of the tat in bad taste? Yes. However, the man was American, so within the US he has every right to display it. I might not agree with it, but I will fight to the death for his right to do just that.

    In most cases where I have felt uncomfortable for something worn, displayed, or said I have found a kind request to coverup or stop the action goes a long way. In many cases it opens an avenue of conversation that leads to understanding and mutual respect.

  37. @Jonathon

    Lay off the douche bag rant. You have no idea who the person is, or what the symbol on his arm is. Try to be just a little more intelligent then “a swastika is a swastika plain and simple” because that clearly is not true.

    He didnt as far as we know start handing out membership cards for the neo nazi party, even though he has been labeled as such.

    There is no doubt more color to the story then what was relayed to lucky from his mom which was relayed to us, but from what we know, there is no proof that the guy is actually a neo nazi.

    The douche bag around here is you if you think that anyone who isnt a Jew doesnt “get” that Hitler and the german nazis were fucking evil.

    You will get additional douche bag status points for thinking the Hindus should change a thing just because of what Hitler and the Nazis did.

    You are an Elite Douche Bag, no doubt about that. I dont even need to see what tats you have.

  38. @ Jason H –

    “However, the man was American, so within the US he has every right to display it. I might not agree with it, but I will fight to the death for his right to do just that.”

    You are going to die for somebody to display a swastika on his arm? I don’t believe you.

    “Jason H, grab your rifle, the authorities aren’t letting some dude display a swastika on his arm. Are you ready to die?”

  39. @Cam

    Yes. I will. I will fight for his right to do as he pleases as guaranteed by the first amendment to the Constitution of this country that those that serve have sworn to uphold. As I said, I might not personally agree, but I will defend the very amendment that allows him to display a tat that some feel is offensive.

  40. Jonathon, you are clearly an elitist ass displayed obviously by YOUR intolerance for other religions and assuming that no one else would “get it.” Don’t be such a fool.

  41. @ Jason H

    While I don’t want to come off like Jonathan, the fact remains that the swastika is such a fraught symbol for so many people that it doesn’t matter at this point how it might be seen in other religions. Jewish people and others affected by the Nazi regime are not going to and should not have to take the time to learn the difference between the swastika that represents wisdom and peace in the Hindu faith and the swastika that represents the regime that killed 11 million people outside of the horrible war they started in Europe. It might be intolerant, but in this day and age, the typical connotations brought up by the swastika are too horrific to ignore.

    While I don’t think we should ban people from displaying visible swastika tattoos, I don’t think its fair for those who get visible swastika tattoos to get angry when people get offended by them, even if the tattoo is a reference to the Hindu swastika. The fact is that the symbol was misappropriated by the Nazis and for 99% of the people in this world that is the first thing they think of when they see it. Even I who am aware of the Hindu origins of the symbol still automatically am reminded of the Nazi regime when I see a swastika (its an unfair, but uncontrollable response). A symbol only has the meaning we bring to it, so unless people want to go around with disclaimers explaining the difference between Hindu swastikas and Nazi swastikas, they can’t get mad when people take offense at them.

  42. As a dentist, I once had a teenage in my chair for a first visit. He had a swastika tattoo on his arm.

    I asked him if he knew what it meant and he played clueless. Nevertheless, I told his mother that I would not be treating him – my office, my right.

    As to the plane – no right or wrong. If he’s a neo-Nazi, I hope he is consigned to the same hell as those in the 1940’s. To me, the ultimate punishment for them is that Israel lives as a vibrant state with the largest percentage of Nobel Prize winners, the largest per capita percentage of patents and the leaders of the high-tech world. Take that! 😉

  43. @chasgoose

    I’m very aware of symbolism and the rhetorical agency a particular symbol can carry. My masters studies were in just that, but the rhetorical agency is heavily dependent on cultural ideology (okay… that one is from my thesis, but the short definition is the ideology that is formed from and governs our cultural norms and standards. One of the components of which is religion. It is also not uniform across multi-demographic countries.)

    I’ll reiterate from my first post. “In most cases where I have felt uncomfortable for something worn, displayed, or said I have found a kind request to coverup or stop the action goes a long way. In many cases it opens an avenue of conversation that leads to understanding and mutual respect.”

    If he was asked politely to cover up his tat and he was belligerent then that is another story. However, from the story Lucky told that was never done. So we will never know, unless he stumbles on this post, the truth about the tat.

  44. I think the title of the post should be changed to “man with a swastika tatoo”, because unless Lucky’s mom asked him if he was a Neo-Nazi, this is an assumption and not a fact.

    To the fact if the person should have been removed from the flightmy answer would be “No!” If noone complains to him or to the FA no reason to remove him; however, if someone would have complained some sort of conversation should have evolved out if it, which would have lead to the person covering it up or deplaning prior to departure.

    I think other discussions about the who, when, where and why of the swastika are just beyond the initial question of the blog post and will not be resolved any time soon.

    Just my $0.02.

  45. I am surprised that several people here “respect” this man’s “right to free speech”. As we all know, free speech has limits. You can’t scream out “death to Jews” on a Lufthansa flight and expect not to be offloaded. You can’t scream “Fire” on a plane, movie theatre, etc, without getting in serious trouble.

    So the real question is whether this expression of free speech falls into some sort of restricted category.

    As a gay male Jew (double whammy), that symbol is deeply disturbing to me. And it becomes moreso when people suggest that someone has a “right” to wear it. For me, his rights only exist to me within the context of how they affect my own rights.

    Ultimately he can wear it, and I can spit on him. But who should be asked to leave the flight?

  46. @ Jason H. Kudos for standing up for rights.

    @ chasgoose said
    The fact is that the symbol was misappropriated by the Nazis and for 99% of the people in this world that is the first thing they think of when they see it.

    My prof said, you check and double check facts. That my friend is not a fact. Out of a world population of 6.7 billion, about 3.8 billion live in Asia. Heck India have over a billion people. So, by my calculations, over 56% of people in the world would treat that symbol as a Hindu symbol. So by your argument, Jews should be stopped from getting offened by it?
    Nazis deserve nothing but shame but I will be the one to say it. People who think like “Jonathan” above aren’t making alot of sense. Who are you Jonathan? A flag bearing member of KKK.
    If there is similar cult that comes up in future that uses “Cross” as a part of their symbol and commits attrocities against humans, then are you sure you want to go around telling people to stop wearing “Cross”.
    People like you indeed need help.

  47. Actually, @joe, you probably couldn’t spit on him in most US states as you would be committing the criminal act of assult. You could, however, stamp your feet in outrage.

  48. Aside from doing nothing, the only other appropriate and reasonable response would have been for the Purser to quietly take the man aside and inform him that display of that symbol is illegal in the FRG and, as a German airline, they are requesting that he cover it with a jacket, sweater or something similar.

  49. As a person of South Asian descent who was born and raised in the West, I can see the issue from both sides here. As such, it’s pretty clear that a bit more understanding is required from everyone, though. It’s unreasonable for people to estimate that in any Western country the swastika will be seen as anything but a Nazi symbol, and it’s hideously offensive for any person to display one in public, much less on their body. The only exception I could make to this would be inside a place of religious worship, where the meaning and its significance are clear.

    By contrast, if a Westerner travels to India or Southeast Asia, he shouldn’t be surprised or take offense at seeing the symbol (it looks quite different when used in a religious context rather than in the Nazi one) adorning the homes of many Hindu devotees, or even on the palm of the Buddha in temples. There’s a clear distinction in how you deploy the symbol, and it’s both unreasonable and unrealistic for anyone to ask one billion plus people to end a cultural dialogue that extends across millennia because of what happened in Europe over a period of twenty years.

    But I would generally agree that unless it’s fairly evident the person is a monk or clearly un-Westernized, it should be interpreted as a neo-Nazi symbol on a LH Europe-US flight. Hinduism and Buddhism aren’t religions that aim to convert or impose their values on others, but rather seek to bring about human understanding and peace; at this stage, it would run contrary to those goals to display this symbol overtly in the West.

  50. Sorry about my hasty words and language, and thanks to deuxcentimes for saying it in a much nicer way. I was appalled that so many people would assume that this guy is a monk, when the most like scenario,flight germany to us, is nazi. Have you heard of the zebra theory? If you go to a farm and you start hearing hoofs, you’re better off assuming horse, not zebra. I have been to india and japan, and know to put it in cultural context, in germany and the us, the context is nazi. Would I have any issue with him displaying it on the national mall in dc with a protest sign? No, free speech, go ahead. for those fending defending the first amendment, our laws don’t apply in germany, it is a sovereign nation. A company has a right to refuse service, have you seen the show airline? They refused service for drunkenness, verbal abuse of employees, behavior on the plane. If I wore a shirt with hardcore sex on to the plain, as a personal protest to censorship onto the plane, would you all break out your copy of the first amendment, or do you think it would be fair for the airline to deny me boarding until I change my shirt, knowing it will offend passengers? What joe and I get, is branches of our own family tree were erased by use of ovens, gas, etc. what you read in history books pales in comparison to what your grandfather tells you. So have a little f’ing sympathy and stop telling me he is a zebra.

  51. @Jonathan

    Not sure anyone is disputing a private airline’s right to serve whomever it chooses.

    The issue at hand (at least for me) is Lucky’s automatic assumption the individual is a neo-nazi when there are quite a few other (not that unlikely) possibilities. Life is generally quite a bit more pleasant when you give people the benefit of the doubt.

  52. Being that Lucky is the one that is relaying the story, there are other possible clues that he left out of the story, but made it evident to him or his mother that the man had bigoted beliefs… shaved head? Attire? ‘Hitler was right’ bumper sticker? Everyone else assumes that it was a random emblem. I’m surprised nobody has tried to suggest it might be a birthmark. ‘Not that unlikely’ once again, he is not a zebra. If he was outside burning a cross, I feel like this field or readers would suggest he was cold and out of fire wood. Wearing a white outfit and hood?… clearly trying out his scary ghost Holloween costume. Am I taking crazy pills? How is it only the Jewish readers seem to understand that he is a Nazi… Lucky did tell the story in English, right, not Yiddish? I’m pretty sure other people could read it. Is there some sort of Hindu mecca that they make to the holy sites of Aushwitz that I don’t know about? For those people that think Nazi is a mythological, or just a historic figure, Nazis still exist both in the US and Germany. So next time someone spray paints a swatztika on a synagogue, please don’t be an idiot and tell them that if they look on wikipedia, it might have been the work on a Hindu who was wishing them good luck.

  53. @Jonathan

    No one suggests that spraying a swastika on a synagogue is anything but hate speech. The Supreme Court ruled in Virginia v Black (2003) that when speech is “targeted at individuals for the purposes of criminal intimidation, freedom of speech would not protect [the speaker].” But the line is very fine and in this case dealt specifically with the KKK burning crosses on the lawns of African-Americans. However, the very ruling does not prevent the KKK from having a parade in Greenville, SC (which they do by the way) since they are not directly targeting a group by the action of walking down the street.

    In RAV v City of St Paul (1992) the high court invalidated an ordinance “that attempt[s] to regulate or ban “hate speech,” which is defined as utterances, displays, or expressions of racial, religious, or sexual bias.” The difference is in saying it versus creating an intimidating action.

    It might seem a blurry line, but it is an important one. Right now the yardstick for obscene material is the “Miller test” from Miller v California (1973). The test shows “that material is obscene if (1) the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would find that it appeals to shameful or morbid sexual interests; (2) it depicts or describes patently offensive sexual conduct; and (3) it lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.” Not the perfect test for hate speech, but it is the one that the judicial precedent has created.

    Again, this is only in the US. Being that this was a German originating flight on a German carrier the US laws don’t apply. No one should think otherwise. But that doesn’t prevent someone from politely asking the individual to cover it up. That would be the proper way to handle something like this if you were upset by it. Anything but compliance to a crewmember’s directive would be grounds for removal from the flight.

  54. Of course the guy was a neo nazi – nobody else would display this symbol in this manner. And overwhelmingly it is ex-con prison gang members that favor such tats. This is fact, not speculation like we see from the many apologiests here.

    The question remains as to what LH should do in this situation. Alas LH doesn’t get background info on its F passengers when they buy tickets. But a dress code might solve this problem (though would create other ones). Most airlines reserve the right to refuse service though it’s tough to kick someone out at 35k feet.

  55. Let me see if I can recap the major themes here

    Group A says that we shouldn’t assume that the swastika on the flyer’s arm is a Nazi symbol. They point out that both from a cultural perspective (Hindus, Native Americans, and others have had said swastika as a symbol for thousands of years) and a personal perspective (started a conversation around a swastika and it turned out not to be a Nazi symbol) that we should not rush to judgment on the symbol.

    Group B is of the school of thought that while there is often room for doubt and often misunderstandings in life, the circumstances of doubt here are unreasonable. Group B states that because the flyer is 1. American 2. Flying from Germany 3. Tatooed in a way that is common for Neo-Nazis and 4. prominantly displaying the symbol that we can assume he is a Neo-Nazi. Group B goes on to suggest that by making the assumptions that flyer is not a Neo-Nazi, we create an environment where Neo-Nazis are not held accountable for their deplorable views.

    As many arguments go, there is no right or wrong answer. As people, we come to conclusions based on observations out of our own personal experiences. Because we all come from a unique perspective, how can we possibly come to one agreed perspective on an issue such as this?

    On the other hand, even though we do all have unique backgrounds, there has to be some common ground. This is an apple. That is a dog…etc…


  56. @ Chas

    The PAX can’t plead ignorance, even if it only resembled a “huge swastika tattoo”. Let’s humor your “benefit of the doubt” and assume, in the 4th dimension, that he was some kind of neo-American Hindu who for some reason decided to order the steak… The passenger still knew what he was doing! You can’t blame someone for hate unless there was intent. With short sleeves and the origin of flight, the intent is clear.

    If it was determined that the tat was indeed Nazi influenced ink, the police should have been called and the passenger removed/arrested in accordance with German law.

  57. Long story short: I don’t know many/any devout Hindus or Buddhists who would *tattoo* the swakstika on themselves. Perhaps some Western hipsters might do it to be edgy or for the shock effect, but I can’t recall having ever seen the swakstika worn on the body, even as a pendant on a chain. Really, the fact that this person tattooed the symbol onto himself (and not even on his hand) makes it pretty clear that he’s not a monk, and makes it thus highly unlikely that he didn’t know any better.

  58. Even if it was not a Nazi at all, I think most peace-loving Hindus would respect a gentle request to wear sleaves for the limited duration of a flight.

  59. If post WWI Germany had had our U.S. Constitution and all the rights we enjoy, all these posts might have been non-existent.

  60. Anyone with a swastika tattoo knows exactly what this symbol is associated with in the West – and even more so in Germany!

    Whatever you mean with it, you have to be careful.

    If you wear a swastika tattoo as a sign of your religion / philosophy, you would still cover it up in and around German plane.

    “Fuck everybody else. I don’t care what they think, I’m showing my tattoo no matter what!!” is no Buddhist thought.

    Eastern religions are about harmony and community. Proudly showing your swastika tattoo is a sign of ignorance.

    Anyway, although uncomfortable, I don’t think there’s much your mom could do. Some people are assholes and that’s just something we all have to deal with :-).

  61. I definitely would have made a comment to an employee… That is completely offensive and quite scary!

  62. regardless of my previous posts, most times if it quacks like a duck etc, it probably is.

    i can understand why some just dont give a crap about shades of grey when it comes to swastikas, cause there arent any from their perspective.

    i think LH should have done something if it was a swastika as the safety and comfort of their passengers is their responsibility.

  63. @Joe, #58:

    If you spit on him, you should be asked to leave the flight for assaulting him.

    @StarGoldUA, #59:

    “Cross” cult already exists and has already done just what you’ve described.

  64. Let this serve as a reminder that anti-Semitism and neo-nazis do still exist today. A commercial airliner is no place to display ones bigoted despicable opinions and this passenger is totally out of line. I believe LH should have talked to the passenger and you can be certain if I was on this flight I would have said.

    As for the posters above demanding sensitivity, tolerance, etc-how about you respect the sensitivity of this matter to Jews and other individuals subjected to nazi persecution? Just because something may not be offensive to your eyes/ears does not mean it isn’t for someone else. I’m sick of being told what I can and can’t/should and shouldn’t be offended by.

  65. For those suggesting that even Hindus wouldn’t get a swastika tattoo, it seems it’s not that uncommon for non-Nazis to have them. See, for instance, And

    (A little bit OT, but there’s a recent short story in The New Yorker that includes a character with neo-Nazi tattoos, which he is ashamed of:

  66. @Joe #58

    All the “heroes” who say they would spit, punch etc … why don’t they?

    Keyboard warriors say a lot and do little, like the majority of this pathetic thread.

    I have my nazi tattoos on show, had a few people say something, never had anyone want to say anything else.

    Like many other neo-nazis, I earn well into 6 figures and enjoy life a lot. It should not surprise anyone that neo-nazis are highly intelligent given that Hitler’s regime was surrounded by the highest intellectuals in Germany at the time.

  67. Good to know you people all support Nazi freedom of expression. There was someone on another website with a swastika symbol and I asked about it, whether is was affiliation with Nazism or an Easter religion. He was a neo-Nazi who said horrible degrading things about me being a Jewish girl. It was awful and make me feel guilty about being Jewish. Try to understand how that feels.

  68. Ohh, you’re offened? Thanks for letting everyone know you can’t controll your own emotions…

  69. It is only illegal in Austria and Germany!! and even in those countries it is under the using of religion allowed. So he has the right to sit in the Airplane.

  70. Why not change this around. What if a Palestinian was in 1st class and he/she observes a Jew with a big Star of David, Israeli flag tattooed on his arm. He/She becomes quite offended since Israeli’s bulldozed his/her home. Displaced his/her entire family and IDF soldiers had shot and murdered his/her 2 younger siblings for throwing stones in protest at the hog tanks and bulldozers making way for more Jewish settlers. What recourse should he/she have?

    Of course the Israeli would deny any of that had ever happened but don’t you think the “Neo Nazi” would deny any Genocide of the National Socialist era?

    Should only people holding your political points of view be allowed to fly in your presence? The man according to you had done nothing. What about a big Hammer and Sickle tattoo? I believe communism has been responsible for 100-200 million deaths throughout time. That symbol could offend any number of nationalities but I doubt you’d think twice about that.

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