It is a rare occasion when a UFO religion – a religious group with beliefs tied to UFOs and extraterrestrials – makes the mainstream news. Perhaps the most famous one was the Heaven’s Gate cult whose members followed founder Marshall Applewhite to commit mass suicide in 1997 as part of their belief it would take them to a spaceship hidden by the approaching Hale–Bopp comet. It is also rare that a mainstream celebrity get associated with a UFO religion – actress Michelle Pfieffer was once involved with a cult of “breatharians” who believe that spiritually advanced people can live without food or water … not exactly alien but it would come in handy for space travel. This week’s news saw occurrences of both – a celebrity became involved with a UFO religion when he used their controversial symbol and it got him kicked off of the world’s most controversial social media platform. The cult is the Raëlians, the symbol is one which resembles the Star of David with a swastika inside it, the social media platform is (no surprise here) Twitter and the celebrity is the hottest and most controversial one of the moment – Kanye West or Ye. How did all of these get tangled together?
Let’s start with the Raëlians. The so-called UFO religion was founded in 1974 by French race car driver Claude Vorilhon, who claims he was visited by members of the Elohim, an advanced extraterrestrial species he descried as being short, pale green with almond-shaped eyes and divided into seven different races. The Elohim allegedly created humanity and controlled it through 40 Elohim/human hybrid prophets – those prophets include Buddha, Jesus, Muhammad and Vorilhon, who changed his name to Raël and started the religion which claims to have 50,000 members worldwide. Those members may be attracted to the religion’s beliefs in world peace, non-violence, scientific advancement, the welcoming of extraterrestrials, gender fluidity and promotion of sexual experimentation and pleasure. Those beliefs (especially the last one) get the Raëlian movement plenty of positive publicity and help with recruitment, but its commitment to help build an ‘embassy’ for the next coming of the Elohim – complete with a landing pad for their spaceship – which has caught the attention of national governments as Raël has tried to get it built in Israel, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt and Hawaii. While no governments have agreed to host the alien embassy and space pad, one may eventually be attracted by the building fund – said to be over $20 million – that Raël has collected for the construction.
Along with the positive publicity and attraction to various groups by its various odd beliefs, the Raëlian UFO religion has been railed by the negative attention drawn to it by its symbol – a six-pointed star with a swastika in the center. Raël says he chose it because this was the symbol or emblem he saw on the hull of the Elohim's spaceship, and his followers defend it by calling it a “symbol of infinity” and claim wearing it on chains around their necks helps them in their attempts to telepathically contact with the Elohim. The symbol is so important that the United States Raelian Movement Corporation has trademarked it (Serial Number 85232504) for “Education; providing of training; entertainment; sporting and cultural activities.” The fact that it is trademarked does not protect the Raëlians from those who point out that the swastika was the symbol of the Nazi Party and now the neo-Nazis. The Raëlians also know that the word swastika comes from the Sanskrit “svastika” which means "conducive to well-being" and that other religions use it with the arms or wings facing in both directions. In some religions, the swastika symbolizes lightning bolts or Zeus, and it has even appeared in early Byzantine and Christian artwork long before its meaning was corrupted by the Nazis. The Raëlians are so sensitive to this that they tried to alter the symbol, replacing the central swastika with a swirling shape, in order to aid in negotiations with Israel for building the Extraterrestrial Embassy. However, Raël later decided to make the original symbol, the Star of David intertwined with a swastika, the only official symbol of the Raëlian Movement worldwide, which brings us to the current celebrity and social media controversy.
On December 2nd, Kanye ‘Ye’ West (@kanyewest) posted the Raëlian symbol on Twitter with the words “YE24 LOVE EVERYONE.” Since West is currently involved in highly visible antisemitic activities (you can research them on your own) and just hours before was quoted as praising Hitler, the equally controversial owner of Twitter, Elon Musk, issued his own tweet: “I tried my best. Despite that, he again violated our rule against incitement to violence. Account will be suspended.” It is unclear whether either party is aware of the connection between the symbol and the Raëlians, but that didn’t seem to matter as the UFO religion was immediately linked to West. The New York Post, Vanity Fair and other mainstream media sites picked up the story and made the connection for the uninformed. Snopes.com did its own investigation and confirmed that “Ye did post the symbol of a UFO-based religious movement containing both a swastika and a star of David, but he did so without any additional context, just hours after praising Adolf Hitler.” West likely didn’t know he was using a trademarked symbol, but that part is the least of the controversies that surround his action.
Do you think Kanye West intentionally posted the Raëlian symbol knowing it would offend the members of the UFO religion as well as many people? Probably not. Do you think he will apologize to Raël and the Raëlians? Definitely not. Do you think he might change his mind about apologizing if he new about the sex part of the religion? That’s a possibility. Do you think the Raëlians would accept Ye’s apology and let him join? They seem like good people and are open to all kinds of people, so that could happen … but no one would blame them if they politely – or impolitely – refused.
For a change, the Raëlians have come out of this one looking like the best people. Good for them.