Over the weekend pictures started flying around social media: the stage at CPAC was in the shape of the Odal rune. And while there is nothing nefarious about runes – they are sacred to Heathens and to many other people – as always, context matters.
And the context here screams “Nazis.”
CPAC is the Conservative Political Action Conference, an annual convention hosted by the American Conservative Union. It began in 1974 – Ronald Reagan gave the first keynote address. Whatever it may have been in its earlier years, it’s now an event where Republicans who want to run for President go to try to form an emotional attachment with the far right. This year’s speakers included Ted Cruz, Josh Hawley, Mike Pompeo, and Donald Trump, in his first speech since leaving the White House.
Themes included repetition of the lie that the election was stolen, attacking moderate Republicans like Mitt Romney and Liz Cheney, and wallowing in victimhood.
And it included a golden statue of Donald Trump.
This is what passes for a conservative movement these days. William F. Buckley is spinning in his grave.
But there are lines that even far right populists cannot cross, at least not if they want to get elected to national office. And openly embracing Naziism is one of those lines. For now, anyway.
The head of the American Conservative Union denied the connection, saying “stage design conspiracies are outrageous and slanderous.”
Still, the stage at CPAC is in the shape of a Nazi symbol. Who put it there, and why?
Norse runes do not belong to Nazis
Historically, runes began as a system of writing among Germanic peoples in the early centuries of the common era. Mythically, the runes were a gift from Odin, who hung himself on the World Tree for nine nights in order to gain their wisdom.
The Nazis appropriated the runes in their attempt to build a strong national identity. They were used as insignias by the SS (the Schutzstaffel – literally “protection squad” – the Nazi-est of the Nazis) for several of their divisions.
At a high level, the Odal rune represents ancestors and kinship. In recent years it’s been appropriated by white supremacists, in part to support their claim of “European heritage” and in part because they can’t get away with using the swastika.
The swastika is a sacred symbol in several religions and cultures, but it is lost to us for at least another hundred years. It’s connection with Naziism and the Holocaust may mean it’s lost to us forever. Those who attempt to reclaim it (almost always in the context of “you can’t tell me what to do”) ignore the evil it represents and the harm it brings to Jews and many others.
Odal and the other runes are not yet so associated with Nazis and white supremacists that they are unusable in the mainstream world. Those of us in the Pagan movement – whether we are Heathen or not – have an obligation to put these sacred symbols in their proper context and to educate the general public on their historical origins and uses.
The CPAC version of the Odal rune is only found in Naziism
The picture below is from Denton CUUPS 2018 Gleichentag Circle. We made an Odal rune and placed it on our altar as a symbol of our connections to our ancestors. We also explained its misuse so our participants would understand why this is different from its misuse by white supremacists.
This is the historical shape of the Odal rune. The version on the CPAC stage includes serifs – “wings” or “feet.” The Odal rune was never written like that in a historical or mythical setting – it is only found in Nazi insignia.
So the stage isn’t a Norse rune or a Heathen rune or an ancient rune. It’s a Nazi rune.
The odds this was an accident are incredibly long
The Wild Hunt had a very good piece on this on Saturday, including more pictures – I encourage you to read it. Here are two key quotes:
The wings of the CPAC stage lead nowhere … The red triangle toward the rear of the stage similarly serves no apparent functional use. This means that the set was intentionally designed this way, not for its utility, but for its visual appeal – an image that looks, unquestionably, like the odal rune.
It beggars belief that the design went through approval and construction without anybody realizing what it looked like – and how it has been used, in the past and in the modern-day.
Jumping to conclusions is one way conspiracy theories get started, and I hate conspiracy theories. At the same time, I see no way this was an accident. Someone intentionally designed this stage in the shape of a Nazi symbol. Who was it?
I see three possibilities.
A resistance troll?
The people who built that stage did not design it. They had a plan, and that plan was drawn by someone, based on a design by someone else. It would be a fairly simple thing trace it back to its ultimate origin. I do not expect that will happen. I expect the connection will either continue to be denied, or it will be blamed on someone not part of CPAC.
There’s a whole industry built up around conventions and large events – it’s entirely possible that stage design was contracted out to a third party with no apparent political affiliations. And it’s also possible that the designer given this job said “let’s show the whole world that you people are Nazis and Nazi sympathizers.”
But while that’s possible, designers do not have final say on any design. Ultimately someone – likely many someones – at CPAC approved the stage layout. As The Wild Hunt said, it beggars belief that no one noticed this.
Plus, I find it difficult to believe that CPAC didn’t thoroughly vet their contractors for political purity. The events industry is suffering heavily from the Covid pandemic – CPAC had their pick of anyone.
So while this is possible, unless someone with receipts to back it up takes credit for it, I think it’s highly unlikely.
An anti-Semitic dog whistle?
The far right is not monolithic. Some speak of a “Judeo-Christian heritage” and think of Jews as allies in their war against Muslims and atheists (and Pagans, if there were enough of us to matter to them). The Evangelical right believes a strong Israel is a prerequisite for the second coming of Jesus. They support Jews (or at least, certain kinds of Jews) as they attempt to bring about the end of the world – after which they think all the “good Jews” will convert to Christianity and the rest will burn in Hell.
Others on the far right are openly anti-Semitic. Let’s not forget the “very fine people” in Charlottesville who were chanting “Jews will not replace us.” Let’s not forget the Capitol insurrectionists who wore shirts saying “Camp Auschwitz” and “6MWE” – 6 million wasn’t enough.
The head of CPAC may very well have been telling the truth when he said “CPAC proudly stands with our Jewish allies.” But not everybody in his movement shares his feelings.
It is entirely possible that an actual Nazi somewhere in the CPAC organization designed this stage to say “as soon as we take over, my side is coming for the Jews.”
If this is true we will never know it. The far right is purging itself of people who aren’t sufficiently loyal to Donald Trump, not people who support genocide.
Historians disagree on the extent to which the Thule Gesellschaft practiced magic in support of Hitler’s regime. I suspect much of that disagreement has to do with the historians’ own thoughts on magic. Still, we know there were several serious magicians and occultists in high Nazi circles. Aleister Crowley claimed he fought them with magic. And Operation Cone of Power was almost certainly a historical event, to one degree or another.
The vast majority of Pagans, witches, and other magicians are politically liberal. A significant minority are conservative. Some are openly fascists and/or gleeful Trump supporters. There can be no doubt that some people are working magic to support the philosophies, policies, and personalities advocated at CPAC.
This was the first place my mind went when I saw the CPAC stage – this is a magical working.
Because it is elevated, the layout of the stage would not be obvious to those in attendance… and few in attendance would be likely to recognize the Odal rune in any case. It takes a different, literally higher perspective to see what’s there. But the speakers would be standing on it, a connection to the “glorious past” of white supremacy and the “interrupted vision” of Hitler and the Nazis. Pictures of the stage would carry this connection and its message far and wide… and they are.
That’s why Thorn Coyle and others put a red “no” circle over the image before sharing.
Is there a MAGA version of the Thule Gesellschaft? I’d be shocked if there weren’t a least a few groups styling themselves as such. I have a hard time thinking any of them are big enough and powerful enough to dictate the stage design to the American Conservative Union… though that may be wishful thinking on my part.
But it is entirely possible that one such individual is in a key position at CPAC. And given the facts as we know them at the moment, I think that’s most likely.
There are more important issues than the shape of the stage
It is unlikely we will ever know the truth of how the CPAC stage was built in the shape of a Nazi rune. And as concerned as I am with the possibility that people with some competency in magic have this kind of influence and access, I’m more concerned with the Trumpism being preached from the stage.
Numerous CPAC speakers insisted “we aren’t going anywhere.” We should believe them. 75 million people voted for Donald Trump even after seeing how he governed for four years – how many would vote for someone with similar ideas but a smoother delivery?
And while we’re at it, we need to hold our current less-worse President accountable. I’m willing to give him some time to deliver on his campaign promises, but bombing Middle Eastern countries is only going to make things worse.
Ultimately, we will defeat Trumpism only if we can show the largely unideological center that we have a better way.
Runes are the gift of Odin to the people – they do not belong to Nazis, white supremacists, or Trump worshippers. This misuse, this appropriation, does not change that, no matter where it came from.
For good, academically-sound information on the runes, see Futhark – the International Journal of Runic Studies. And also The Rune Cast, a podcast about runes and the people who read and wrote them.
On March 3, the design firm that created the CPAC stage said they “had no idea that the design resembled any symbol, nor was there any intention to create something that did.”
I take them at their word. It’s possible the designer had seen the Odal rune and forgotten about it, but the shape remained in their memory. As a writer, I know that happens with words all the time. It’s also possible the designer drew this randomly – convergent evolution does happen from time to time.
Still, the stage design is in the shape of the Odal rune, Tom Swiss’ very rational argument to the contrary notwithstanding. And in any case, the biggest problem at CPAC wasn’t the shape of the stage, it was the Trumpism being preached from the stage.