Target pulls neo-Nazi hatewear

San Francisco Examiner/August 29, 2002
By David Kiefer

Target stores have inadvertently been selling neo-Nazi merchandise and ordered it off the shelves only after being pressured by an anti-hate advocacy group.

Joseph Rodriguez, a 51-year-old UC Davis video director and producer, realized that the "88" on a pair of red shorts he bought in an Elk Grove store in June actually was a neo-Nazi symbol for "Heil Hitler."

Rodriguez had recently seen a documentary about the rise of racist rock music in America and quickly identified the significance of 88. The letter H is the eighth in the alphabet.

Rodriguez took the shorts to the store's manager. But after being told the store just sells what is shipped, he took his complaint to Target's corporate office, where he said he was "blown off."

"It's like selling a T-shirt with a swastika on it," Rodriguez said. "Or a Ku Klux Klan shirt.

"If they didn't believe me, all they had to do was go online and they could have found thousands of sites that explain what 88 means."

It wasn't until Wednesday that Target finally contacted its stores and ordered the merchandise off the shelves, but only with a kick from the Southern Poverty Law Center, an Alabama-based anti-hate nonprofit.

"Nobody knew what it meant," said Target spokeswoman Carolyn Brookter.

"We certainly apologize that this was out there. We would not have any white supremacist symbols out selling as merchandise," she said.

Target managers around the Bay Area received e-mails from corporate headquarters, but most didn't understand.

"Target apologizes for any discomfort that may have been caused by baseball caps and shorts carrying the insignia 88," stated the message distributed to its 1,100 stores and to media outlets. "Target is a family oriented store and company and it is not our intent to carry any merchandise that promotes hate."

Said one manager: "I'm supposed to read this, but I don't know what it means."

But Rodriguez said it shouldn't have been a secret.

"They're treating it as a PR problem," he said. "I was disappointed then, and I'm even more disappointed now."

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