TARGET: Retailing White Supremacy (Southern Poverty Law Center), Aug. 26, 2002

August 26, 2002 — Thanks to Target, the nationwide department-store chain, students across the country may be heading back to school in hip-looking white supremacist regalia. The retail giant is selling shorts and baseball caps splashed with “EIGHT EIGHT” and “88” – white-power code for “Heil Hitler,” because “h” is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

Target customer Joseph Rodriguez, a 51-year-old video producer/director at the University of California-Davis, discovered the products in the chain’s downtown Sacramento store when he went shopping in late July.

Rodriguez had been clued into the meaning of “EIGHT EIGHT” just a few days earlier, when he watched “Turn It Down,” a VHI documentary about the rise of racist rock music in America. When he saw the “Heil Hitler” code, quite popular among young neo-Nazis, Rodriguez “recognized it immediately.”
Target officials have not been so quick on the uptake. Rodriguez alerted the store manager in Sacramento, but was told that the store simply carries whatever the department-store giant’s headquarters ships.

After returning home, Rodriguez contacted Target headquarters through the company’s Web site.
“Speaking as a member of a minority targeted by hate groups,” he wrote, “I find something of this nature being sold by Target appalling!” He signed the note, “Joe Rodriguez, Potential Former Customer.”
Once again, Target’s response was disappointing.

“We recognize not all of our guests will agree with our decision to sell certain kinds of merchandise,” wrote a Guest Relations employee identified only as “Eileen.”

“However, we feel the final decision to purchase an item is always in the hands of individual guests.”
The apparent form letter went on to say that Rodriguez’ comments “will be directed to both our advertising and buying departments.”

After Rodriguez contacted, numerous attempts were made — over a period of weeks — to alert the company to the significance of “EIGHT EIGHT” (on the baseball caps, the numerals “88” are used) and to ask why Target was selling merchandise with white-power logos.

Another Guest Relations employee, “Brandon,” answered one inquiry by saying that “Your comments have been passed to our buyers for their review into this matter.”

Today, Aimee Sands, a media relations officer for the Target Corporation, declined to comment on the white power symbols being distributed by her employer. By phone, Ms. Sands said only that the company was unprepared to make a statement and that the matter would, once again, be referred to Target’s “buyers.”

If Target appears unconcerned about the “Heil Hitler” symbols, close observers of the white-power movement are anything but.

“White supremacists frequently use these kinds of codes as a way of communicating with each other under the radar screen of the public,” notes Mark Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project, which tracks white-power activities in the U.S.

But Target’s shorts and caps, which will appeal mostly to young buyers, bring those codes out into the open. And that, Potok says, can be dangerous.

“The noxious thing is when these symbols make their way into popular culture and gain widespread acceptance in the mainstream.”

Target products certainly reach the mainstream. The chain has more than 1,100 stores operating in 47 states. The company’s diversity policy, available online, says the company welcomes “all guests into our stores,” and strives “to make them comfortable in our shopping environment.”

Not everyone will be comfortable with merchandise that salutes Nazi Germany, says Jennifer Holladay, director of

“Unlike white-power symbols such as Confederate battle flags, it won’t be so easy for parents or teachers to catch the meaning of these shorts and caps,” Holladay says.

“If Target won’t pull these products from its shelves, we will work to educate people – especially the stores’ younger customers — about the awful message conveyed by ‘88’.”

E-mail Target and express your concern about the company’s role in distributing white power regalia.

Alert friends about the white power symbols being distributed at Target stores. Encourage associates to refrain from purchasing the “88” shorts and hats.

Learn more about “88” and other white supremacy symbols.

How should Target respond? How can parents and caregivers address issues like this with children and teens? Add your voice to our Forums!

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Religion News Blog posted this on Tuesday August 27, 2002.
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