Everything is permissible for me

But not everything is beneficial. Take a look at this image, presented with no context whatsoever and tell me what immediately jumps to mind.


If you’re like me, you looked at that image and immediately thought of the Totenkopf, which is most commonly associated with the Nazi SS and/or the 3rd Panzer division during WW2. However, if you’re an employee of Smith Enterprises in Arizona, you thought “sweet skull bro, let’s put that on merch.” This brings us around to the title of the post. Smith Enterprises is absolutely free to put whatever logos they want on their merch. It’s their company after all. But that freedom doesn’t mean that what they’re doing is smart, or beneficial for the community at large.

The vast majority of people who see that logo will see a Nazi skull. They just will. Smith has responded to those criticisms with varying levels of butthurt and indignation, with their rebuttal summed up roughly as “nuh-uh!” That just reinforces the readily available negative stereotypes of gun owners all being closet racists, because if you’re putting a totenkopf on things and then defending it, you just look like a clown.

Smith Enterprises: they make some really cool products for M14 rifles. But in putting an obvious Nazi symbol on their merch and then responding to criticism by putting their hands over their ears and yelling “nyah nyah I can’t hear you” they’ve acted in a pretty foolish manner. I’m not calling for a boycott or anything silly like that, I just want to take this opportunity to point out bad behavior. We’re not the PC police, but at the same time there’s a certain amount of common sense that should go into stuff like that.

What do you guys think on this? Am I way off base here, or do you agree? Let me know in the comments, I’d like your feedback on this one.


    1. It’s the new “Che Gueverra”, or the new Soviet “red star”. All it signifies, is that a generational shift has occurred.

  1. This reminds me of a conversation I had with a hyper-intellectual kid who was trying to explain to me why the swastika was getting a bad rap. He pointed me to About.com and explained that “the swastika was used by many cultures throughout the past 3,000 years to represent life, sun, power, strength, and good luck”. My response to him was “Too bad. It will always and forever represent Hitler and the holocaust, and if you go around promoting how great it is, no amount of explaining will convince the average person that you’re not a Nazi.” Anyone who is so out of touch with the power of symbolic meaning (it completely overrides verbal in many cases) is destined to offend his audience, and will also probably blame them for their indignation at being offended.

    1. Why would you want to let a multi-millennial old symbol’s original meaning and power be corrupted and destroyed by the equivalent of the blink of an eye of time? To give the symbol to those who used it to do evil would be the final travesty of that war. Let those who would take it back for its original use and meaning do so, and close the chapter on the evil that usurped it. After all, are we not proponents of blaming the person and not the tools (or symbols) they use to do evil?

      1. Its not that I WANT to let it happen, I am suggesting that sometimes it makes more sense to acknowledge it already HAS happened. Often, the effort one would have to expend to “take the symbol back” would be much better invested in creating/using symbols without negative connotations to communicate clearly. Symbols create an instant transfer of meaning (the power of a great brand logo!), and you often don’t get an opportunity to dialogue about what you were trying to say with the symbol – the communication and connotation has instantly happened. If people want to rally to redeem the swastika, more power to them. They just have to live with the fact that most people will instantly identify them with Nazis because of the enduring power of the symbol. As a marketing consultant, I would suggest that they invent their own new symbol for their brand that they can infuse with their own meanings and connotations.

      2. Some acts are so evil they taint the doer and his emblems forever. It’s one thing for peoples, non European, with no connection to the Nazis to keep their ancestral symbols. But the swastika, totenkopf, and SS runes are forever tainted by association. They can never be cleansed. If native Americans, Indians or Orientals wish to keep the swastika, that’s one thing. And a skull in and of itself has no special meaning. Indeed, the Israeli Air Force’s 101 Squadron used a winged skull insignia. But the above symbol is too close to the Nazi death head, And the company’s 1/2 assed response indicates to me at least, they knew it from the start.

  2. “The vast majority of people who see that logo will see a Nazi skull.” I don’t know about that. In a society where tens of millions of can’t tell you who we fought the American revolution AGAINST, plenty will think “cool skull” or “Hells Angels”, but enough will know what the death’s head signifies so your point stands.

    Reminds me of the “White Power” morons wearing swastikas…oblivious to the fact that Hitler presided over the slaughter of more White people than anyone else in history.

    1. Who presided over the death of more red or brown skinned people? Does the skin color really matter?

      1. The point of the analogy was cognitive dissonance, not skin color, Appears to have gone over your head.

  3. “Because I want to…” is not an item that should go in the “pro” column of an autonomous competent adult deciding whether or not to do something, it is merely the reason for doing the calculation in the first place.

    My preference is to weight all the downsides, potential and concrete, at full value while only assigning full value to the -concrete- upsides. That counters the tendency for my emotional desires and preferences to put their thumb on the scale of what should be as pure a rational decision as I can manage.

    In the case of using the Totenkopf, the “Pro” column, business-wise, consists of nothing -but- emotion, “Man, that’s badass!”, while the “Con” column goes on for miles.

    Thus the defensive response; they don’t have a -rational- argument except for the somewhat infantile (albeit true) position that “It’s my right!!!!”; which is ideologically pure libertarianism but doesn’t play here in the really-real world.

    In the real world, when you take a pure ideological position you don’t defend it, you state it and move on, ignoring those with whom you disagree. Defensiveness indicates weakness in one’s belief in one’s own righteousness.

  4. Honestly, the first thing I thought of was “pirates”. While I was aware of the Totenkopf connection, it was only the second one on my list. It’s probably not one of the more obvious ones for most people without an interest in WWII history. Just one of those glittery badges lost among the other glittery badges on the Nazi uniforms.

  5. For me it signified two things immediately, death and poison. Upon research of the symbolism mentioned here, I understand the usage of the manufacturer, as here is supposedly what the intended meaning for it’s use was: “The Skull is the reminder that you shall always be willing to put your self at stake for the life of the whole community.” Now, is that not what we all stand for?

    We can continue on in life, seeing only the negative aspects of everything and dwelling on them as if it will change history; it will not. History is locked in place, but we can formulate the future differently from the past, it is our choice.

    1. A company that will only sell a few thousands of units of anything is never going to outweigh that historical association with millions of deaths and enshrined in history. You can’t “reformulate” that, like the swastika that ship has forever sailed.

  6. I always associated the insignia with the SS branch which ran the extermination camps, not the Waffen SS. Now I see they both used it.

    And yeah, I wouldn’t pass a law about it, but it’s a stupid thing to put on product you want to market to Americans whose ancestors fought in WW2.

  7. Well, hey the freedom to do and say what you want is just that. The freedom to do and say what you want.

    It does not mean the freedom from the consequences that you reap from doing and saying what you want.

  8. Between the US Army and the USMC, they had to look to the Bastard Nazi’s to find a symbol?
    Lame, lame, lame!

    1. Oh for goodness sake don’t bring up the Scout-Sniper logo kerfuffle. 🙂

        1. Wha? google harder. The Scout-Snipers had been using the -actual- lightning bolt SS device, which was badass, but absurdly tone-deaf, for years.

          The EGA with crossed lightning bolts and separated round “S”‘s logo was a response to that criticism.

          I did like the EGA riff on the Afrika Corps palm tree, but it was poisoned by Nazi association as well. Those evil bastards did have a flair for style.

          1. I suspect the Scout-Sniper community’s long flirtation with Nazi iconography has been allowed to exist in part due to the Corps relative lack of combat in the European Theatre. If the Imperial Japanese had iconography worth swiping, I can imagine that the first Scout-Sniper who tried to use it in an admiring fashion would have been invited to donate his teeth and blood to the bar room floor by a grizzled veteran of the Old Corps.

        2. So, the Nazis predated the Roman Legions? And then “Germany” adopted it around AD 800 during Charlemange’s reign. Are you being sarcastic or just incorrect.

          1. SD3: The fact that the swastika is an ancient symbol of pre Christian origin, and is world wide, does not keep it, in western culture, being associated almost exclusively with the Nazis. The ‘Third Reich’ that symbol represents was true evil.

  9. Could it be that Smith’s booths have been waaay to close to that creepy guy with the Nazi merch far too often?

  10. Haven’t been in the market for M14/M1A stuff so I’d never heard of Smith Enterprises. Of course I also haven’t had more than a passing interest in Nazi Germany, so I wasn’t familiar with the skull and crossbones thing. It appears to be slightly different. When I see skulls, I think pirates! Argh!

    1. you have summed the whole conversation up elegantly in a single stroke – thanks to video – and thanks to God who gives us a sense of humor to cope with the horrors of this fallen world. Beautiful! I hope everyone watches this.

  11. Yes, that’s a stylized Totemkopf. Yes, using it is totally a matter of personal choice. And yes, they-and by extension, all pro-gun people-look like complete asshats to the public. And seeing this logo on a part I was otherwise willing to attach to one of my firearms would stop me. We don’t need this kind of attention.

  12. @SD3 – I hope you were joking, or did you not ever hear of the Roman Legions? (& Mussolini’s boys in WW2)…
    As for the swastika, the nazi version was flipped and tilted vs. the many ancient versions and such used in architecture (and basketball teams) here in the USA. I know of several buildings that incorporate it that were built in the 1900’s through the 30’s. The Sorinji monks of Japan still use it on their fighting uniforms (“Gi”) even today…

  13. Bad form. I agree with you, Caleb. Sure, they are free to use it if they want to, but it’s tasteless. I certainly wouldn’t want to be associated with them.

  14. Can someone please tell me what keeps a skull and crossbones from being a “pirate” thing instead of a “nazi” thing?

    1. Not being the exact same in every detail skull and bones used by the SS would be the first distinguishing trait.

      Answer me this, why are so many folks insisting on being so deliberately dense and/or historically ignorant as to make themselves appear to be helmet wearing window lickers on this topic?

      1. Many folks don’t insist on being either. Caleb said, “The vast majority of people who see that logo will see a Nazi skull.” I’d bet that the vast majority of people would see a skull and crossbones and think of Pirates of the Caribbean before they’d think of Nazis. The iron cross screams “nazi” far louder than a skull and crossbones to most people but I haven’t heard anybody complain about Noveske yet.

        1. Actually the Iron Cross predates Nazi Germany by a loooooong time!!

          The Origin dates back to the 1200’s and it was first awarded in Germany in 1813….

          1. I don’t have a dog in this fight, so I honestly don’t care, but this one design is VERY close if not IDENTICAL to the SS Symbol.

            And my point is that we don’t need any more bad press!!

            And when the Shamestream Media gets hold of this, they will use it against us!!

            I’m willing to put money on it!!

    2. The skull initially shown is the SS style. Most skulls are clearly not. And the Iron Cross is not so tied to the Nazis. Unfortunately the swastika is. Unless you are of a tradition that uses it predating the Nazis (Native Americans, Finns, East/South Asians) the only reason to display it is support of the twisted ideals of this symbol of hate.

  15. Here’s a test.
    1) Put this symbol on a t-shirt
    2) Wear it around Tel-Aviv
    3) Try to explain that this is representitive of pirates
    4) Maybe the whole “prefigured the Nazis” thing might work…
    5) Learn firsthand about the quality of emergency medicine in Israel

  16. I already saw this in some other pics and thought “of all the ways they could have depicted a skull with crossbones they picked that?!” Bad, bad idea.

  17. In the early stages of SIG’s new brand campaign (which resulted in the stylized SIG circle), their brand manager showed a group of us a design that was then the front runner — two stylized Ss (for SIG Sauer) overlaid on one another. Only one person in the room caught the similarity to a swastika, but that’s all it took for the rest of us to see it. It’s possible Smith didn’t realize the connection, but that’s why you do focus groups before launch. Gun people are notoriously stubborn, and need to learn that sensitivity does not mean you’re a milquetoast.

    Nice shout out to Paul and the Corinthians, too.

    1. Yet Sig instantly recognized the problem. Smith seems to be giving the finger to those offended.

  18. TOTALLY OFF BASE….bordering on senility.
    You realize that you’re bitching about a supposed NAZI symbol and how people will immediately associate it with HITLER in country where the VAST majority of people can’t name the VICE PRESIDENT. VERY FEW college age people even KNOW about CONCENTRATION CAMPS let alone your reference to their skull symbol.
    I would bet you every firearm I own that if you went to the local mall, or stood on the busiest highway intersection and asked every person that crossed your path to pick out a TOTENKOPH from 3 different pictures, less than 10% would actually KNOW and be able to do it. Those that did get it right would be because they GUESSED it. I have serious doubts that the people you would ask could even tell you what NAZI meant or who ADOLF HITLER was.

    1. While I expect you are absolutely right, you’re targeting the wrong audience. Try it at a gun show. Or gun shop. Most gun “nuts” are also history “nuts”. Guarantee most of them can tell Nazi emblems from not. Can tell you quite a lot about WW 2, and the Nazis.

    2. How about this then…

      The symbol is recognizable and repellent to anyone with the intelligence and education to have an opinion that -matters-.

      By definition no one has to care what puerile morons don’t know that they don’t know. The tyranny of low expectations doesn’t excuse Smith from being moronic in their choice of logo and asinine in their resulting defense of that choice.

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