Kentucky officials are apologizing after Nazi and white supremacist merchandise were made available for sale at a gun show held in a state-owned expo center in Louisville, Ky. for National Gun Day this past weekend.
Among the items photographed at the gun show by Courier-Journal columnist Joe Herth were Christmas ornaments featuring the Nazi version of the swastika symbol.
The vendor, Florida man Walter Kanzler, told the Courier-Journal that the Nazi-themed Christmas baubles were also available on his website for prices ranging from $50 to $750.
He said the items held historic value and assured, “I’m not into hate or anything like that.”
Also put up for a sale by Kanzler was a white tank top with a pair of horizontal, red stripes and a Nazi swastika prominently featured on the front.
The sale began on Saturday, Oct. 27, the same day that 11 people were gunned down at a synagogue in Pittsburgh by a gunman yelling “Kill all Jews.”
Not all of Kanzler’s offerings were Nazi-themed, however.
Some of the items held a more American-white-supremacist persuasion, such as this authentic Ku Klux Klan robe that Gerth indicated on Twitter was being sold for a whopping US$695.
Kanzler’s items were on display at the Kentucky Expo Center, which is run by the Kentucky State Board, members of which are appointed by the state’s governor.
The venue is located less than 15 kilometres from a Kroger supermarket where a white man was accused of killing two black shoppers on Oct. 24, at one point muttering “Whites don’t kill whites,” according to the son of an eyewitness.
A spokesperson for the fair board told the Courier-Journal that responsibility for the screening of merchandise sold at events like the National Gun Day exhibition rested with the managers of the show.
However, authorities said they would look into changing that at their next board meeting in two weeks’ time.
Fair board chairman Mark Lynn told NBC’s Louisville affiliate Wave 3 News that he was in favour of banning Nazi and white supremacist merchandise from being sold at the expo center.
“We’ve got to get beyond racism, we’ve got to get beyond hatred, and you hope that as a people, as a city, a town, a nation we can do that,” Lynn told Wave 3 News. “And by allowing items to be sold that specifically represent those type of things, in my opinion, that’s not a type of way that you can do that moving forward.”
Kentucky Venues, the fair board-run brand that operates the expo center, was in full-on damage control mode on Tuesday, telling several furious Twitter users that it “finds the sale of items representing racist ideology to be despicable and unacceptable.”
“In light of the recent event at the Kentucky Exposition Center where Nazi and white supremacy items were discovered to be for sale, the Chairman of the Kentucky State Fair board will propose strengthening existing exhibitor policies at the next board meeting on November 15,” Kentucky Venues said in a tweeted statement.
Democratic Rep. John Yarmuth said it was “horrifying” that KKK robes and Nazi-themed Christmas ornaments could be brazenly put up for sale at a public event.
“It’s symptomatic of what we’re dealing with now,” Yarmuth told the Courier-Journal. “It seems to be OK to publicly condone white supremacy.”
Kentucky’s Republican Gov. Matt Bevin, who has taken criticism for not denouncing the Kroger shooting as a hate crime, is yet to comment on the controversy.
Ron Dickson, promoter for National Gun Day, did not respond to requests for comment from the Courier-Journal or from Global News.
In a Wednesday opinion column, Gerth argued that the public display and sale of Nazi and KKK items was not a question of free expression, pointing out that they symbolized two of the most painful episodes of American history.
“One represents an evil we fought and defeated during World War II,” Gerth wrote.
“The other represents an evil that we fought within ourselves since the birth of our nation and still do to this very day.”
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