Like many symbols, the swastika has a long and complex history that enables it to mean different things depending on where you are in the world.
However, in the West the swastika has been corrupted into a symbol representative of humanity at its most evil, an emblem of a regime that's legacy of hate lives on today.
The symbol and the ideology it represents to the Western world has had a notable resurgence under the Trump administration, and to combat the enlivened far-right, a man has applied to trademark the hateful symbol so bigots can't use it.
Steve Maynard, who filed the trademark application, told Forward the swastika "is a symbol that needs to be taken seriously, and not sold for $10 at a rally for everyone to have. They would have to buy them through us, and we would charge a high rate, and if they didn’t buy them through us, we would have the right to go in and confiscate merchandise and just frustrate their purpose.”
Maynard also wants to trademark the n-word with the "er" replaced with an "a" and print it on t-shirts sold by his company Snowflake Enterprises LLC, a name which originated in reference to a conservative attempt at insulting liberals and progressives. His unique act of social justice activism was motivated by the outcome of the fairly recent Supreme Court Case Matal v. Tam, in which Simon Tam of the band "The Slants" tried to trademark the name to "reclaim" the racial slur.
The court ruled that the Patent and Trademark Office's denial of his application on the basis that it was "disparaging" violated the First Amendment an amounts to viewpoint discrimination. Based on that ruling, Maynard felt he had an idea.
Former trademark examiner Ed Timberlake foresees Maynard will most likely be denied the trademark rights. The United States PTO only approves trademarks when there is evidence of an exclusive connection between the the company and their proposed product. Because the swastika is so infamous, Timberlake predicts that Maynard's application will be denied and his chances are heightened even more since the version of the symbol he submitted for review is the symbol at its most basic.
“He would have a hard time convincing a judge that his registration…just thereby changed the perception of everybody in the country so that now whenever they see a swastika flag, they think only of this guy’s company,” Timberlake told Forward. “That’s kind of backwards. The registration is supposed to reflect what people’s perceptions are. People’s perceptions aren’t determined by the registration.”
If Maynard's trademark application is approved, he plans to open a culinary school with the money he makes off bigots to serve students of color from impoverished backgrounds. He says that his somewhat odd goal is intended to “give hope to kids that wouldn’t have a chance otherwise.” While we can only take Maynard at his word that his intentions are good, his methods are severely problematic.
The swastika and the modified n-word are not commodities in origin. They have profound cultural and historical significance and resonate with millions in nuanced, often tragic ways. To trademark them, hence to commodify them, gives them a capitalist value that belittles their massive emotional value. While Maynard may not intend this, his actions show a disregard for the cultural weight of the symbols he is seeking to profit monetarily from, no matter how he says he will use said profit.
Furthermore, the swastika and the modified n-word simply and unequivocally do not belong to Steve Maynard.
Banner and thumbnail: Flickr user Elvert Barnes