As symbols that represent the worst of humanity go, the Nazi swastika is hard to beat, but members of a UFO group want everyone to look past the dark history.
Before Adolf Hitler's Nazis embraced it, making it the ultimate symbol of hatred, the swastika for thousands of years appeared on Hindu and Buddhist temples, in Native American artwork and even in Jewish synagogues in Israel.
Now, a UFO enthusiast group known as the Raelians wants to return the swastika to its original meaning, which in Sanskrit literally means "to be good." The Raelians have declared June 23 "World Swastika Rehabilitation Day," and members plan demonstrations worldwide, including Los Angeles, Chicago, Vancouver, Miami, Houston and New York. The goal is to show that the swastika originally had nothing to do with the Nazis or the Holocaust.
It's the third annual swastika rehab day, and no more than a few dozen attendees are expected at each event. However, spokesman Thomas Kaenzig is hoping Buddhists, Hindus and other spiritual groups using the swastika will show up to demonstrate their support. Other cities with demonstrations include Melbourne and Sydney, Australia, Mexico City and Tel Aviv, Israel.
Along with booths filled with explanations and flyers, some supporters will roll around inside a giant transparent ball featuring different types of swastikas. Planes with banners equating swastikas with peace and love will fly over the New York and Los Angeles rallies.
To many, the Raelians are best known for the international stir they caused back in 2002, when they claimed they had cloned a human baby, which was never confirmed. The group's theory of creation, far different from that of any mainstream religion, is that humans were created by advanced scientists known as the Elohim, symbolized by the swastika.
"The swastika is one of the best traces left by those who created us, and the attempt to bury it as a symbol of violence and hatred only gives credit to the horrible Nazi ideology," Kaenzig told The Huffington Post. "Some people associate the swastika with something negative, but you don't stop using the cross just because of the Ku Klux Klan."
At the turn of the 20th century, Americans used the swastikas on postcards to express congratulations, said Kaenzig. They have also symbolized good luck, harmony and well-being at different times.
Scott Selby, author of the forthcoming "The Axmann Conspiracy: The Nazi Plan for a Fourth Reich and How the U.S. Army Defeated It" (Penguin) agrees that swastikas' original meaning has been abused, but he's against trying to rehabilitate its image.
"Some things are so debased that they can't be redeemed," Selby told The Huffington Post.
Selby, who is also a trademark attorney, said that a comparison can be made between what the Raelians are proposing and African-Americans taking back the "N-word," but only to a point.
"The use of the 'N-word' in that community has been very controversial," he pointed out. "In this case, if a group of Holocaust survivors decided to take back the swastika, it would be wrong. In the case of these people, it's offensive and wrong.
Menachem Wecker, who blogs about art and religion for the Houston Chronicle, understands why the event may cause a furor.
"The swastika has longstanding meaning as a symbol of peace, and nothing the Nazis did can change that," Wecker told The Huffington Post by email. "The reality is, however, that it also carries Nazi baggage now, and anyone who thinks they're going to 'take it back' or 'own it' by holding some kind of public forum without offending a lot of people is deeply mistaken.
"Regardless how careful and intellectually honest the hosts of a 'Swastika Rehabilitation Day' are, it's very hard to imagine that not offending a lot of people."