Perhaps it is for the shock value. Perhaps it is to cause a stir. Perhaps it is to make an artistic statement, or a political one. Sometimes, it is all just a misunderstanding, or so they claim. For whatever reasons, since the 1960’s, a wide variety of celebrities have seen fit to dress in Nazi uniforms or hats, or display swastika armbands. Usually, they succeed in creating a stir, although sometimes the reaction isn’t what they had anticipated. Overt Nazi imagery seems to find a home among musicians more than any other category of celebrity, however it also rears its head in some unpredictable places. Here are some celebrities whose lapses in judgment will forever yield eternities of photographic reminders such as this one, dear reader.
We might as well begin with one of the biggest blunders of them all. Even if Harry is not destined to be King of England (that would be William, his brother), it still doesn’t look good to see a member of the Royal family engaged in debauchery while wearing a swastika. What would Churchill have thought? Or even his own grandmother, the Queen? Harry selected his costume prior to attending a party with the theme of “colonials and natives” (see what we mean when we say debauchery?) in 2005. When the notorious British tabloid The Sun got hold of the pics, they had a field day, adding ammunition to factions in England that would be happy to do away with the monarchy altogether, which is still seen as a relatively fringe notion in the U.K. In addition to the swastika, he is wearing an approximation of German General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps uniform. A contrite prince apologized to the nation shortly thereafter, admitting that it was a “poor choice of costume” and that he regretted any offense that anybody may have taken at his attire. Harry, who was always up for a party in his early twenties, seems to have toned it down somewhat lately. The British have largely forgiven him; a 2012 poll named him the third most popular Royal, behind Queen Elizabeth II and his brother William.
Guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Brian Jones, founding member of the Rolling Stones, found himself in hot water in January 1967 after posing for a series of photographs dressed in a Nazi SS uniform and trampling a doll. Also present in most of the photos was his then-girlfriend Anita Pallenberg, who had lined up the photo shoot in the first place with Børge, a Danish magazine. When the pics came out, Jones had to go into damage control mode: “The recent pictures of me taken in Nazi uniform were a put-down. Really, I mean with all that long hair in a Nazi uniform, couldn’t people see that it was a satirical thing? How can anyone be offended when I’m on their side? I’m not a Nazi sympathiser.” The storm blew over relatively quickly as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were arrested in an infamous drug bust in February 1967, followed by Jones himself getting arrested in May for marijuana possession (still a big deal at that time). The good news for Jones was that everybody forgot the Nazi pics. The bad news was that he was entering a downward spiral that would claim his life two years later.
Scott Weiland, late lead singer for Stone Temple Pilots and Velvet Revolver, made German record executives queasy when they learned that he had become fond of wearing a German SS officer’s hat in his concerts. While this is arguably in poor taste anywhere, it is literally illegal to do so in Germany, and the record company sent him a missive to inform him of this fact. A letter sent from the German offices of Sony/BMG in 2005 stated, “We absolutely don’t want to interfere in how our artists dress [but] any kind of wearing/presenting Nazi symbols in public is strictly forbidden by law in Germany and can lead to getting arrested!” Weiland offered an unapologetic reply, which stated, “The Nazi SS hat that I wear in fact symbolizes the loss of democracy and the shift to totalitarianism…one could make an argument that indeed the government of the U.S. is evolving into, or is already, a fascist police state, hiding under the guise of a republic.” While we think he was stretching here, we also note that he continued to wear the hat off and on until his death in 2015.
From June 1970 through July 1971, Charles Manson and three of his female followers stood trial for their roles in the notorious Tate/LaBianca murders in Los Angeles in August of 1969. On the first day of testimony, Manson arrived in court with an X carved into his forehead, above the bridge of his nose. His co-defendants and a number of his female followers who faithfully waited outside of the courthouse daily, followed suit. Manson, who was not permitted to ac as his own counsel or call his own witnesses, had carved the X in protest, stating that it was in response to being “considered inadequate and incompetent to speak or defend [him]self” that he had “X’d [him]self from [the establishment’s] world.” Long after the trial had ended with convictions for all, Manson changed the X into a swastika, which he eventually had tattooed on, and which remains plainly visible to this day. While Manson himself never seemed especially interested in the Nazis (The Bible, Scientology, and The Beatles were his main bags), a lot of the bikers he ran with were.
The late Motörhead mainstay Lemmy Kilmister frequently wore an SS hat with an Iron Cross pendant, but such were the trappings of many metal bands of the era. What made Lemmy special was that he was also a fervent collector of Nazi memorabilia. In 2009, he had brought a Rolling Stone journalist to his home, which was filled with objects from his collection. He said afterwards, “It was quite funny, because I brought [the journalist] around to my house, which looks like a shrine to Nazism. But it’s just my collection. I mean, you can’t put it all in the cupboard; it won’t fit. I only collect the stuff. I didn’t collect the ideas.”
Former Ashley Madison pitch-woman Michelle McGee, who also was involved with an affair with Jesse James while he was still married to Sandra Bullock, got herself into some trouble back in 2010 after a photo shoot in which she posed wearing a swastika. McGee, who is perhaps the least articulate name on this list, has a history of making very weird and unsolicited pronouncements on race that leave most onlookers dizzy. Her initial response to interviewer Elaine Lui about the photo shoot was, “I don’t believe it’s racism at all. Anti-Semitism? Yes. If that was the intention of putting the costume on.” When Lui suggested that anti-Semitism was a form of racism too, McGee replied, “That’s your view on that. I don’t see it that way.” McGee last made the news in 2015, when she slammed her former employer, Ashley Madison, for being a complete scam and rip-off.
The late Sex Pistols bassist, Sid Vicious, was well known for frequently dressing in swastikas. In the early British punk era of 1976-1977, such symbolism was used by many punk musicians as a confrontational means of extracting shock value. However, some punk groups adhered to decidedly Nazi sympathizing beliefs about race and culture as well, and a handful were overtly racist. The Sex Pistols were not especially concerned with race themselves, and the famously simple-minded and inarticulate Sid probably wasn’t either. Vicious was a late addition to the band, after original bassist Glen Matlock had been kicked out after it was discovered he was a closet Beatles fan. Sid had always been more of a fashion statement than a musician; he could barely play his instrument, but he looked so quintessentially punk. He never really got around to discussing his Nazi thoughts in depth, if he had any, before he died of an overdose in 1979.
Silent film star Clara Bow, one of the very few actresses who successfully transitioned from silent films to sound films, was not a Nazi or Nazi sympathizer. She may be decked out in swastikas, but in this case it really is innocent, and doesn’t even qualify as a “mistake”. This photo was taken in the 1920’s, before the Nazi party had been formed and before anyone had heard of Hitler. In the 1920’s, the swastika was actually not an uncommon adornment to clothing; Bow described it as a “good luck” symbol, which is how most people would have described it in the 1920’s. The symbol itself had existed for many centuries in many countries and cultures before it was appropriated by the Nazis. It is present in cultures as diverse as Africa, China, Japan, and India and it is a motif in diverse religions such as Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism. However, it has now acquired a taint that will always be associated with it. And Clara Bow has unfairly been called a Nazi on the basis of this photograph for years.
Television personality Tia Tequila, however, is another story. She actually posted this image of herself to Facebook in 2013 all on her own. There she is, standing on the tracks to Auschwitz, holding a gun and wearing Mickey Mouse ears. Around her arm is a Swastika armband. Navel is exposed, and the heavens above seem to be opening up behind her. One naturally would assume that this can only be the moronic fantasy of an imbecile, too stupid to understand what is offensive about it, and therefore not guilty on some level of idiocy. However, she also posted her thoughts, which included gems like Hitler was a “special and sweet kid” who was rejected by art schools and later “bullied.” She claimed that this had parallels in her own life, in which, she claims, she was “mocked and rejected”. When furor arose, she did herself no favors by replying to her critics, “I never said I hated anyone, but just because I feel sympathy, compassion, and forgiveness for others such as Hitler means I am now a monster? All for trying to open your eyes to the truth that Hitler was NOT as bad as he was painted out to be?”
Legendary Who drummer Keith Moon was a drunk. He could be a funny drunk or a charming drunk. However, he usually preferred to be an outrageous drunk. So if he had a Rolls Royce, why not drive it into a swimming pool? If he was stuck in a hotel room, why not dismantle the furniture? Moon liked to dress up as General Rommel for special nights on the town; it wasn’t just a one-time occurrence. On some of these occasions, he was joined by drinking buddies Viv Stanshall and ‘Legs’ Larry Smith of The Bonzo Dog Doo-Dah Band, both of whom also had their own Nazi formal attire. Moon never voiced any particular love for the Nazis, nor was he known to have a political bone in his body. With Moon, it was all about being outrageous, disrupting the norms, getting attention. While the attention his Nazi uniforms got him was universally negative, he never formally swore off them or offered any apologies either. However, as the 70’s wore on and he became more out of shape, he stopped dressing up like he used to.