Canadian music festival features rapper in swastika T-shirt

Organizers of Montreal’s Osheaga music festival have apologized after British rapper Slowthai performed while dressed in a T-shirt adorned with a swastika.

A Nazi armband with a swastika displayed in the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
A Nazi armband with a swastika displayed in the Deutsches Historisches Museum, Berlin, Germany
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

A number of Jewish groups have expressed outrage following images circulating of a British rapper performing at a Canadian music festival on Saturday wearing a T-shirt adorned with a swastika.

Organizers of Montreal's Osheaga music festival have since apologized for the 27-year-old British rapper who goes by the name "Slowthai" after he performed in a shirt depicting the word "destroy" above a swastika, local media reported. 

US-based Stop Antisemitism called the incident "atrocious" and asked why Osheaga staff didn't immediately remove the performer from the stage. 

Montreal City Hall (credit: Wikimedia Commons)Montreal City Hall (credit: Wikimedia Commons)

The Canadian chapter of Friends of Simon Wiesenthal Center tweeted: "While @slowthai’s intent at  @osheagamay have been to denounce Nazism, the message was very badly executed. This ambiguous display of the swastika was frightening for Jews and others and should never have made it to the stage." 

"The swastika is forever linked with the German National Socialist project to literally exterminate and erase the Jewish people," The Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) wrote in letters to the Slowthai, and the festival's organizer, Evenko’s Nick Farkas. "It is a symbol synonymous with antisemitism, a hatred that occupies a unique status in history with its culmination being the Holocaust. Nazi imagery is not a fashion statement. It should not be used as a stunt for attention or as a vehicle for publicity."

Claims of a 'misinterpreted' message 

In a follow-up tweet, Osheaga organizers apologized for "confusion" and claims the T-shirt "denounces the regime." 

"We sincerely apologize to anyone who may have misinterpreted this message and felt hurt," the tweet said.

The shirt's design featured a pink swastika in a red circle with an inverted graphic of Jesus on the cross. On the corner, there's an upsidedown image of Queen Elizabeth on a postage stamp.  

According to Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the design is a variation of "Destroy," a controversial look created in the 1970s by fashion artist and activist Vivienne Westwood in partnership with visual artist Malcolm McLaren.

"I want you to know I stand firmly against antisemitism and racism of any kind, something the T-shirt was meant to illustrate with the word 'destroy' above the symbol."

Slowthai

A statement released by Slowthai, whose legal name is Tyron Kaymone Frampton, apologized to "anyone who is offended by me wearing an anti-racist/anti-regime T-shirt and the use of the symbol it represents."

"I want you to know I stand firmly against antisemitism and racism of any kind, something the T-shirt was meant to illustrate with the word 'destroy' above the symbol," he said.

Antisemitism in Canada 

The music festival incident follows several antisemitic events the country has seen in recent months. In June, a suspect believed to be responsible for graffiti inciting to shoot Jews in the head and a series of other hate-motivated acts of vandalism in Toronto's York University area was arrested by police, according to statements by the NGO Stop Antisemitism and the Toronto Police.

The suspect was charged with eight counts of hate-motivated crimes – seven counts of mischief damage of property under $5000 and breaking and entering – in connection with a number of buildings that "were vandalized by writings in spray paint" with text that targeted race and religious communities between April and June, according to the police report.

Michael Starr contributed to this report.