From The Wild Hunt to liberal Twitter, both Pagan and Democratic-pundit social media has been abuzz with discussion of the shape of the stage at CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. (Our esteemed colleague and neighbor John Beckett is among those posting their reactions.).
According to many commentators, the shape of the stage resembles the rune known as “Odal” or “Othala”. While many heathens have used this rune — traditionally associated with ideas like “inheritance” or “lineage” — for perfectly legitimate purposes, it has also been used by Nazis and neo-Nazi groups.
Let me be clear that I am ill-inclined to let Nazi punks steal sacred symbols, and I support efforts to keep the rune in its proper context and deny it to white supremacist fuckwits. (I try to keep the language here at TZP family friendly, but parents, teach your kids that if there’s ever a time to drop an f-bomb, it’s to express contempt for white supremacists.) So I’ve been keeping an eye on stories about the use of this rune for a few years now.
And I have to admit that I was taken in for a moment by the accusations, sharing the story from The Wild Hunt on Facebook and Twitter, and shooting down claims from conservative friends that “no one has ever heard of this obscure Nazi symbol before” — in fact, the US neo-Nazi group the National Socialist Movement adopted it as a replacement for the swastika a few years ago, and it’s been seen on flags and banners at protests since.
But I was cautious enough to add the disclaimer “I don’t want to make too firm a conclusion from one photo at one angle.”
And as I’ve looked at this situation some more, it appears to be a case of apophenia from people who have already concluded that all conservatives are thinly-disguised Nazis.
Let me make my own biases clear: my politics are best described as left-libertarian. There’s nothing at CPAC that aligns with my values or preferences. CPAC conservatives’ embrace of Donald Trump, a man who has shown a gleeful willingness to pander to racists, is downright execrable.
But I’m also skeptical of the liberal/Democratic Party/blue tribe line of discourse and its partisan inaccuracies, its willingness to throw absurd accusations at anyone who does not toe the line.
This is not a defense of CPAC, it’s a defense of getting the facts straight.
The Wild Hunt’s editorial included a photo which they labeled “here is the design outlined in green”:
But they have left out the walkway in front of the center screen! They have also left out the entrances/wings.
(And they’ve also skipped over the fact that from the audience’s perspective, it’s upside-down.)
The design they outline is neither the design of the elevated stage itself, nor the design of the area with exposed blue carpeting. (I’m not sure if the red and white carpeting is laid on top of the blue, or is inset flush.)
It’s entirely possible that the shape of the elevated stage was determined by one person, and the carpeting on the main square was decided by someone else. So it is worth looking at both cases.
Outlined here (in magenta and using a different photo, to contrast with The Wild Hunt’s photo) is the design of the elevated stage, extrapolated behind the side screens:
That’s obviously not an Odal rune. It’s a square stage set at 45 degrees, with two walkways to it (for that dynamic motion of two speakers entering at the same time), and three large video screens on risers as a backdrop.
Outlined here is the design of the blue carpeted area:
The way that the blue-carpeted area extends in front of the main screen — omitted from The Wild Hunt’s diagram — and into the wings/entrances, is entirely different from the shape of the rune. Even if we ignore the wings/entrances, that additional line segment in front of the center screen makes it not the rune.
To claim that this is a variant of the Odal rune, is like claiming this:is actually a swastika, you just have to remove a few line segments. (Or that the word “PUCK” is actually an f-bomb, you just have to remove part of one letter.)
Simple geometric patterns crop up in many places. As I’ve been considering this today, I realized that if we’re determined to see Odal, we can find it on the bumpers of millions of American automobiles: the “ribbon” logo, used for everything from yellow ribbons for veterans to jigsaw-puzzle-patterned ribbons for autism awareness, is the same fundamental shape as the version of Odal used by the neo-Nazi National Socialist Movement.
So either we are surrounded by a conspiracy of white supremacists…or we need to turn down the gain on our pattern matching, and be careful of our preconceptions.
Addendum, March 3:
Design Foundry, a reputable stage design firm based in Hyattsville (a DC suburb in Maryland), designed the stage; it was not designed by CPAC.
An FEC search shows that Design Foundry employees gave overwhelmingly to Democratic candidates over Republican ones, and that its CEO gave $2100 to Democratic campaigns in 2020. According to one conservative Twitter commentator whose claims I have not independently verified, their other clients include a variety of Democratic candidates and progressive causes.
These facts put a stake through the heart of the paranoid conspiracy theories; but as Q Anon has shown us, PCTs are more resilient than vampires.