Stetson has said it will stop selling its products through a hat store in Nashville, Tennessee which advertised anti-vaccination patches in the style of a Star of David, the badge which Jewish people were made to wear by the Nazis.
“We take this matter seriously and are investigating in order to take the necessary and appropriate next steps. Along with our distribution partners, Stetson condemns antisemitism and discrimination of any kind.
“As a result of the offensive content and opinions shared by hatWRKS in Nashville, Stetson and our distribution partners will cease the sale of all Stetson products [through the store].”
The White House said this week that 50% of US adults have been fully vaccinated against Covid-19, which has killed nearly 600,000 in the US since early last year.
But the hatWRKS controversy is just the latest concerning resistance to vaccination, mask mandates and other public health measures, particularly among conservatives. It echoed remarks by Marjorie Taylor Greene, a far-right Georgia Republican in Congress.
A hatWRKS Instagram post that was deleted showed a smiling woman touching the front of her shirt, where a “Not Vaccinated” patch was affixed. The caption read: “Patches are here!! They turned out great.”
It said the patches cost $5 and had a “strong adhesive back”, and that the shop would be “offering trucker caps soon”.
Amid outrage online, Ivo Daalder, a former US ambassador to Nato, tweeted: “As a young schoolgirl in Holland, my mother was forced to wear a yellow star by the Nazis to identify her as a Jew. It’s beyond grotesque to sell this evil symbol to proclaim one [is] not vaccinated. Where does this end?”
On Saturday, protesters outside the store held signs including “no Nazis in Nashville” and “Sell hats not hate”.
A message posted to the store Instagram account, which has also promoted vaccine conspiracy theories and touted the chance to shop without wearing a mask, said “people are so outraged by my post” but asked: “Are you outraged with the tyranny the world is experiencing?”
Conservative opposition to so-called vaccine passports, measures to allow entrance to shops and entertainment venues for those inoculated against Covid, has influenced lawmakers in Republican states.
In Tennessee, the Republican governor, Bill Lee, this week signed a law which forbids local government requiring businesses to verify that customers have been vaccinated.
Another post on the hatWRKS Instagram account said: “In NO WAY did I intend to trivialise the Star of David or disrespect what happened to millions of people. That is not who I am and what I stand for.
“My intent was not to exploit or to make a profit. My hope was to share my genuine concern and fear, and to do all that I can to make sure nothing like that ever happens again. I sincerely apologise for any insensitivity.”