Nashville hat shop owner tried to sell yellow stars in response to COVID-19 vaccinations

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

I don’t know who needs to hear this but it is never, ever a good idea to conflate the atrocities of the holocaust with your own political opinions. This never ends well, and it shouldn’t. One Nashville hat shop owner is learning this lesson the hard way.

It’s a lesson that keeps having to be relearned. The hat shop, hatWRKS, frequently uses its Instagram account to post political opinions. A quick look at the account finds posts that are not unlike those of many conservatives on the social media platform. That is until Friday. The shop advertised selling a yellow patch shaped like a Star of David with the words “not vaccinated” across it. The price was listed as $5.00. Less than 48 hours later, the hat shop is losing supplier contracts and many customers. As happens on social media, people are calling on companies to cancel their association with hatWRKS.

They have responded. Stetson, a legendary name in hats, has cut ties with the shop. (The photo above is one of Trump in a Stetson and standing with a Stetson representative.)

The shop is owned by 60-year-old Gigi Gaskins. At first, she defended her Instagram post. She explained the patches are in response to “tyranny” and the possibility of being asked for proof of vaccination.

“People are so outraged by my post? But are you outraged with the tyranny the world is experiencing? If you don’t understand what is happening, that is on you not me. I pay much more respect to history by standing up with the fallen than offering silence and compliance.”

Then she offered a post meant to “apologize for any insensitivity.”

“In no way did I intend to trivialize the Star of David or disrespect what happened to millions of people. That is not who I am & what I stand for. My intent was not to exploit or make a profit. My hope was to share my genuine concern & fear and to do all that I can to make sure that nothing like that ever happens again. I sincerely apologize for any insensitivity.”

She considers herself an activist, apparently, and ironically posted a quote in a past post by Elie Wiesel to explain why she “posts so much political stuff.” She used the quote to reply: “Always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor never the tormented.” Wiesel was a Romanian-born American writer, professor, political activist, Nobel laureate, and Holocaust survivor.

Though it received pressure from users to take down the shop’s account, Instagram said it looked into the complaints and did not find the shop’s post to go against its Community Guidelines.

It’s one thing to oppose COVID-19 vaccinations or entities asking for proof of vaccination. It is quite another thing to go off the deep end to make a political point. Whether she meant to be anti-Semitic or not, this is anti-Semitic behavior. She cheapened the murder of six million Jews, killed because of their religion, with the sale of the patches. She could have fought fascism, as she thinks she was doing, by using some other patch design. She used a holocaust reference, an extreme example, to gain attention. She got it. Now she can deal with it.

Earlier in May, a Republican lawmaker made a similar bone-headed mistake. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene called Nancy Pelosi “mentally ill” and the mask mandate that remains in place in the House as a “mandate to the Holocaust.” She went on to justify her bombastic remarks in an interview with an Arizona television station.

“You know, we can look back in a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star and they were definitely treated like second-class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany,” Greene said. “And this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about.”

Buono pushed back and asked the freshman congresswoman if she understood why people might find her comments offensive, to which Greene replied: “Well do you understand how people feel about being forced to wear masks or being forced to have to take a vaccine or even have to say that whether they’d taken it or not? These are just things that shouldn’t be happening in America. This is a free country, and it’s just ridiculous to have these kinds of conversations.”

“No one should be treated like a second-class citizen for saying ‘I don’t need to wear a mask,’ or saying that my medical records are my privacy based on my HIPAA rights, and so I stand by all of my statements,” Greene told Buono after an event she held with Rep. Matt Gaetz. “I said nothing wrong.”

“And I think any rational Jewish person didn’t like what happened in Nazi Germany, and any rational Jewish person doesn’t like what’s happening with overbearing mask mandates and overbearing vaccine policies,” Greene added.

Unlike Greene, Gaskins deleted her first Instagram post about the stars for sale. Protesters have gathered outside her business. Her timing was particularly bad, considering the current situation between Israel and Hamas and Palestine. Anti-semitic attacks are exploding in America. Holocaust survivors have asked that that horrific event not be compared to current events.

The photo was posted on the same day 50 Holocaust survivors who volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum penned an open letter asking Americans not compare current events to the horrors of the Holocaust.

“It is deeply painful for us to see our personal history—the systematic destruction of our families and communities and murder of six million Jewish men, women, and children—exploited in this way,” they wrote. “What we survived should be remembered, studied, and learned from, but never misused.”

Never again.