Protest Erupts as Vendor on USC Campus Sells Shirts with Swastikas

There were two shirts depicting the symbol, which many found to be offensive

After a student discovered that a vendor on Trousdale Parkway on USC's campus was selling shirts with swastikas on Wednesday, a protest formed against the vendor.

The vendor was selling two shirts with the symbol: one with a chart of different versions of the symbol with "Friends of the Swastika" printed on top and one with a smiling, singing swastika in the center of the shirt. The seller packed away both shirts early in the day.

In the mid-afternoon, the vendor packed up the stand, with DPS officers watching.

USC Hillel released a statement that said they were "deeply concerned" about the swastikas and "other Nazi imagery" on the shirts.

"These items are anti-Semitic and trivialize the Holocaust, an incredibly dark period in history in which more than six million Jews perished," said USC Hillel in the statement. "They have no place on our campus."

The "Friends of the Swastika" shirt originally garnered attention on a Facebook post by USC student Ilana Spiegel. The post shortly became inundated with comments from alt-right trolls, who appeared to be directed from external websites and alt-right Facebook pages.

“I want to understand why this man was allowed to sell his wares on my campus in the first place,” Spiegel said.

Around 12:30 p.m., a crowd formed around a student, Claire Hill, who was defending the vendor’s right to sell the shirts.

"I don't really think that having a t-shirt up at a place of private business where it is his choice to sell what he would like to is affecting anyone," said Hill. She argued that the vendor's right to sell the shirts was part of their right to free speech.

John Aes-Nihil, who was working for the vendor, defended the shirts by saying that the use of the swastika was in an attempt to reclaim the symbol.

The images on the shirts were "by this Canadian artist who is trying to make it a positive symbol again," said Aes-Nihil.

Spiegel, however, maintains the stance that any use of the symbol is offensive.

“You can’t erase the connotation to evil and destruction and death that this symbol has,” she said. “There’s no way to reclaim it.”

Student Zach Larkin agreed with Spiegel. “A swastika or hate symbol of any kind, it is in itself an oppressive entity,” he said. “Seeing a swastika as a Jew, as someone with relatives that died in the Holocaust, is appalling and shocking.”

The vendor, Gordon McGinnis, was apologetic about the controversy that the symbolism on the shirts caused. “I definitely didn’t want to offend anybody or promote racism,” he said. “I hate racism.”

USC's Trojan Event Services, the organization in charge of vendor approval, declined to comment. DPS could not be reached for comment.

Reach News Editor Sharon Zhang here, or follow her on Twitter here.

Staff Reporters Jake Ingrassia, Rachel Ramos, and Katie Christy contributed to this report.

This story was originally posted at 12:45 p.m. PST on 02/15/17 and was last updated at 6:45 p.m. PST on Feb. 17 with quotes from those involved.