A Nashville hat store has apologized for using Star of David-style “Not Vaccinated” patches in a recent Instagram post, after several major brands pulled their products off its shelves.
The store, Hatwrks, initially touted the patches for $5 on Instagram before deleting them amid a slew of backlash on Friday. Many had accused the store of anti-Semitism, sparking a weekend of protests outside the Tennessee shop, CNN reports.
The patches appeared to compare anti-vaxxer beliefs to the persecution suffered by Jewish people during the Second World War, when the Nazis forced them to wear yellow six-pointed stars to signal their ethnicity. That policy later escalated into the mass killing of millions of Jews in the Holocaust.
Similar policies were forced upon Jewish people throughout Europe at various points over the last several centuries, according to the Holocaust Memorial Center.
Hatwrks complained about the backlash in a follow-up Instagram post later on Friday. “People are so outraged by my post? But are you outraged with the tyranny the world is experiencing?” the post read. “If you don’t understand what is happening, this is on you, not me.”
Hat-maker Stetson denounced the posts and halted distribution of its products to the store on Saturday.
“Along with our distribution partners, Stetson condemns anti-Semitism and discrimination of any kind,” it said in a statement.
Tula Hats, Goorin Bros. and Kangol later joined Stetson in cutting ties with the store. Kangol said it gave the store a “chance to change” but Hatwrks’ subsequent post showed that the owner is “not sincere in her apology.”
Goorin Bros. said it was “horrified” that the store would “make a mockery of the Holocaust in any form.”
Store owner Gig Gaskins apologized for the post in a follow-up statement on Instagram Sunday.
“In NO WAY did I intend to trivialize the star of David or disrespect what happens to millions of people,” she wrote. “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.”
Later that same day, she claimed that she was targeted by a “mob” and blamed Instagram for not blocking her initial post. She also claimed she was standing up to “tyranny.”
Vaccinations have helped the U.S. curb the spread of COVID-19 in recent months. The country has begun to re-open and hospitalization and death rates have dropped with the rollout of the vaccines.
More than half of the country’s citizens have received at least one dose to date, and U.S. President Joe Biden hopes that number will hit 70 per cent by the Fourth of July. However, vaccination rates have slowed as the U.S. struggles to reach anti-vaxxers and doubters who have resisted the advice of public health experts.
Some of those anti-vaxxers have embraced extreme rhetoric — such as comparing themselves to Jewish people in Nazi Germany — to argue their point.
Americans are not being forced to get vaccinated, but those who do choose to be vaccinated have been allowed to resume many activities that were previously considered unsafe due to the coronavirus.
“You do need to get vaccinated,” Biden said from the White House earlier this month. “Even if your chance of getting seriously ill is low, why take the risk? It could save your life or the lives of somebody you love.”
— With files from The Associated Press