Cartoon lightning bolts or fascist insignias?
April 26, 2022 1:35 PM   Subscribe

If an electrician had visible double-lightning-bolt tattoos, would you hire him?

Taking advantage for the first time of the new, lavish "no-limit" AskMe policy. Feels good! And this question is way more interesting than the other one I asked today...

Yesterday, I received an estimate from a local electrician for an upgrade of my house's main panel. He was friendly, professional, courteous, punctual, helpful, amiable. I really enjoyed talking with him. But I am not sure I can hire him, because ...

... when I looked more closely at his tattoos, I was troubled. Below one eye, and on one of his forearms, he had tattoos of double lightning bolts - evocative of, but not identical to, the logo of the Nazi SS troops. The Nazi logo (I'm not going to link to it here) is a pair of rectilinear, nested, stylized 'S's on which the ends are blocky. The electrician's tattoos are a pair of jagged, nested, stylized 'S's; the ends were pointy, like cartoon lightning bolts. But, as I say, strongly evocative of the Nazi logo.

These lightning bolts, which also appear on his company's logo, are very plausibly explained as cartoon drawings of electrical energy. They look like little sparks from a comic strip. But maybe they cloak a deeper, more insidious meaning?

He certainly gave no indication of any racist behavior. As I say, he was thoroughly professional and pleasant. He also has, like, a thousand five-star reviews on Yelp and Google reviews, nearly all of which praise his professionalism, courtesy, fairness, etc. One lone review expresses anger and distaste about the tattoos; the rest are silent on the matter. His company, which has been around for decades, has an excellent local reputation, and not just on online boards.

Had I not noticed the tattoos, I would have been inclined to hire him (pending his estimate). Now, I'm not sure what to think. What do you think? What would you do?
posted by Dr. Wu to Human Relations (45 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Would you be up for saying, "Do people ever say your tattoos look like Nazi symbols?" and seeing how he responds?
posted by mskyle at 1:41 PM on April 26, 2022 [12 favorites]

I think he’s a nazi who is trying to (poorly) hide it by a tattoo that relates to his occupation. Like if he worked in the tile business and had a tile tattoo with a swastika hidden in the grout.
posted by sacrifix at 1:45 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

Unicode character #9889, 26A1 hex (⚡) is a symbol for electricity, or High Voltage, and is apparently used on Twitter for emphasis. People copy it from there, into Ukraine threads in the blue, sometimes. I also find its resemblance to the Nazi rune suspicious.
posted by Rash at 1:47 PM on April 26, 2022

Response by poster: mskyle, Yes, I did consider asking him directly. And I might still do that, though I think I'd ask it more neutrally, like, "Hey, I noticed you have some unusual tattoos. Could you tell me about them?" I should have done it yesterday but I was a little taken aback in the moment.

The other datapoint that I debated on whether to include is this:

A couple days ago, we cleaned out the garage, and there was a bunch of stuff lying around in plain view, including some stuff I am trying to give away so I can keep it out of the dump. I offered the electrician some motor oil and fluorescent lightbulbs, but he didn't want 'em. And then he noticed another thing lying around: a beat-up "Black Lives Matter" that my son adorably painted on a board as a socially-conscious four-year-old. It's falling apart and just hasn't made it into the bin yet.

So, after I offered him the other stuff, the electrician noticed this BLM sign, and asked me with a kind of wry smile, "Are you getting rid of that, too?"

I sort of moved the conversation along without answering. But I puzzled over his question. It was an ambiguous remark, which is why I wasn't sure to refer to it here. But now I have!
posted by Dr. Wu at 1:48 PM on April 26, 2022

There are a lot of things evocative of Nazi hate symbols. I've never seen the SS lightning bolts with anything other than flat (rather than pointy) tops and bottoms, so I'd say if this doesn't have it then it is "something else".

I mean, the guy *might* be white supremacist, but it's also possible that he isn't and saw it on the AC/DC band logo and thought "That's looks cool".

You are, of course, free to go with someone else if that makes you happier. I would not attempt to explain why. I don't see how suggesting that someone is a Nazi or might like Nazis could possibly end well.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:49 PM on April 26, 2022 [9 favorites]

Response by poster: Rash, yes, that's pretty close to the tattoo symbols. A single bolt wouldn't've thrown me. But the two parallel bolts is what gave me pause.
posted by Dr. Wu at 1:50 PM on April 26, 2022

A local sparky that I know is not a nazi also has the pointy lightening bolts on his promotional materials (and yes, I did a double-take when I first saw it because it *does* look nazi-esc.). I think it came more from either ignorance or perhaps a connection to biker culture (which for a wihle used the SS bolts for "shock" but weren't actually white supremists/nazis). I would be more suspcious of recently done tattoos.
posted by saucysault at 1:50 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

There's a history of the US Marine Corps scout sniper's using the symbol as well, with understandable controversy. It's mentioned in their wikipedia entry.
posted by ndfine at 1:52 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

If he were a Nazi I tend to doubt he'd have so many good reviews. I mean, assholes gonna asshole, and a full-blown fascist probably would've really pissed off and screwed over some customers. Do any of his reviewers look like POC?

He's probably OK, but just to be safe you might do a little Google stalking to see if he has a Facebook page or anything else where you can learn about his politics or interests. If he's stupid enough to have a Nazi tattoo he's probably stupid enough to post a lot of Nazi or Nazi-adjacent stuff online.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 1:53 PM on April 26, 2022 [7 favorites]

I think you have to consider the totality of the impression this guy gives when you decide on hiring him.

You write many positive things in your question, which are balanced by a couple things which are perhaps not positive, but could be a simple misunderstanding.

I would personally lean towards hiring him given how well-known his brand appears to be.
posted by Alensin at 1:54 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

One lone review expresses anger and distaste about the tattoos

Expresses their anger and distaste or the electrician's anger when confronted about them?

Honestly I would assume, based on his manner and the reviews, that he just likes lightning bolts or thought it was a cool idea and didn't do much research. But I doubt you'll be the first person to ask him what they mean, particularly if they're on his face (facial tattoos get a lot of comments, and as a man with a public-facing job, he's probably used to it). I imagine, if you have a good rapport, he won't mind answering, but be mindful of the fact that if they are a white supremacist symbol, he might not tell you the truth.

Obviously it's your house and you have every right to not want a possible fascist/neo-Nazi working for you, but if I encountered this dude (and as a Jewish person) I still would be inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. I would probably do the same research, but I'm disinclined to make such a strong judgement based on a few tattoos.
posted by fight or flight at 1:56 PM on April 26, 2022 [7 favorites]

Kat Von D has a lightning bolt tattoo under her eye. Pretty sure her greatest sin is being a (reformed) anti vaxer, not a Nazi as far as I can tell. You can't rely on a few stylized tattoos alone to know.

I would just straight up ask, but my personal risk tolerance allows for that.
posted by phunniemee at 2:04 PM on April 26, 2022

I would want a satisfactory answer about the tattoos prior to hiring him, or pick someone else if it wasn't possible to get an answer. If they are supposed to be a Nazi thing, it's honestly worse if he has such a great reputation and comes off so well whilst parading around with tattoos like that. And if they're not, well, probably it's time for him to find out the bad news about what they look like and maybe make some life choices.
posted by teremala at 2:20 PM on April 26, 2022

Some photos and context here:

The ADL says that in the context of Outlaw Motorcycle gang culture that tattoo might not be racist, but then again it's still just a different kind of asshole.
posted by tiamat at 2:41 PM on April 26, 2022

Yeah, since they are pointy-bolts (vs. flat top), I'd give him the benefit of the doubt (though I'd do a bit of research on him). I'm only partially Jewish but enough that wouldn't want a white nationalist in my house. I'm not sure I'd ask him directly, since like fight or flight points out, I doubt you'd learn much from it.
posted by coffeecat at 2:48 PM on April 26, 2022

You can browse the ADL hate symbols database (mentioned by tiamat above) to see if anything looks familiar. Here's what comings up in a search for "lightning." There are a lot of tattoo examples in there.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:50 PM on April 26, 2022

Looking up "electricity" and "symbols", nowhere does a double bolt show up. But looking up "electrician" and "logo," pairs do show up. I agree with what others have said; ask about the tattoo.
posted by Stuka at 3:05 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

I'd hire him, I think, without inquiring about his political or religious beliefs, even though it appears that he might wearing some of them on his face. Face tattoos used to be a red flag with me, but they are becoming more and more common, sadly.

The scene in the garage is ambiguous. It's weird to be offering an electrician motor oil and fluorescent bulbs, and when you do weird stuff, weird responses are a lot more likely. If he doesn't spew racism or catechism or apologetics before you hire him to do the job, or while he is doing the job, and after the job he still hasn't revealed his politics or religion to you, what is your concern?

There's a timeshift with tattoos, as well: Maybe he doesn't feel that way anymore. You don't know without asking, and you're not in a context where his political beliefs have anything to do with the job.
posted by the Real Dan at 3:40 PM on April 26, 2022 [5 favorites]

A single bolt wouldn't've thrown me.

Note that the Hitler Youth used the single bolt.

But the two parallel bolts is what gave me pause.

You'll never convince me that a pair isn't being used as a dog-whistle.
posted by Rash at 5:23 PM on April 26, 2022 [9 favorites]

You're in a weird position because you didn't ask in the moment (I can relate to being somewhat paralyzed in the moment) but if hiring a nazi is a dealbreaker for you (and I hope it is!) I think the only thing you can do at this point is ask. I too would likely prefer a neutral and open-ended question, but given where you are in choosing to work with this guy or not, you may be stuck with asking directly. You could try something like, "Hi mike, thanks for the quote. I enjoyed meeting you. I noticed your tattoos, curious what they mean to you?" This would have to be on phone not email.

I would say the reviews and good reputation are pretty irrelevant, unless the reviews are posted by your local synagogue, LGBT org, multiple people of color, etc.

I think it's fair to say this person is not an active ANTI-nazi, or else they wouldn't have that tattoo or make the weird comment about the sign.
posted by latkes at 5:37 PM on April 26, 2022

As part of the electric company logo? Probably wouldn't worry me, though I would definitely notice. As a tattoo too? At that point I'd be getting quite leery. How many tradespeople have their company's logo as a tattoo? Absolutely could be nothing, but that's at the borderline point of starting to feel a little too coincidental, to me. I wouldn't be going around spreading hunch-based speculation about him, but I also probably would wrap up the business relationship for my own safety.

As for inquiring "Hey man, btw, are you a Nazi?"... to me, as a queer Jewish person, the idea of asking this to someone working in my home would be a NOPE of comical proportion, but I guess if your identity is such that your reaction is different, doing so might be a service to others tbh.
posted by dusty potato at 6:36 PM on April 26, 2022

I think you're better off finding out as much as you can before you hire him, rather than confronting him about it. If he's not a Nazi you could really offend him with the suggestion that his facial tattoos make him look like a fascist. If it is a Nazi thing... Well, then what do you say? Do you really want your negotiations over some electrical work to end up as a fistfight with a Nazi?

The more I think about it, the more it seems like a good idea to just hire somebody else. There are plenty of other electricians out there!

This sounds just like something from that Twitter where they come up with modern Seinfeld plots.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 7:06 PM on April 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

just to say I am also a queer Jewish person and for me I would probably be pretty likely to ask someone directly about their potentially nazi tattoos, depending on timing/context/thinking of the right question so this may be somewhat based on individual personality, personal history, or other factors, not just personal identity
posted by latkes at 7:11 PM on April 26, 2022

I don't have tattoos and don't know much about them but he decided to permanently put these symbols on his body not once but twice. I find it easier to believe that he knows it looks like a Nazi logo than the electrician, along with all of his friends and family, and the tattoo artist that worked with him, were all unaware of the resemblance. The whole timeshift thing doesn't wash either because if you find out your tattoo looks like a Nazi logo then you either get that covered or removed ASAP, you don't just say you made some bad choices when you were younger.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:24 PM on April 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

So I wouldn't hire him.
posted by any portmanteau in a storm at 7:25 PM on April 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

There is NO WAY anyone doesn’t know that lightning bolt tattoos are related to Nazi symbols. Tattoos are a choice. The artist may have used “the wrong font” and made pointy tips by mistake but nobody thinks double bolts are just a cute symbol. This man fully knows what his tattoos are. He’s not innocent, he chose them.

In hiring contexts, BIPOCs and queers “just weren’t the right fit” for generations... yet people will clamber to help a white man fit in with his Nazi face tattoos.

Please everyone, stretch this hard to bring in someone from a historically excluded community next time your workplace is hiring a manager. Let’s start excluding the people who selected and paid for Nazi face tats.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:25 PM on April 26, 2022 [18 favorites]

I'm just an old rando on MeFi, but my first reaction is the same as @any portmanteau and @nouvelle-personne's: it is impossible that he has not at some point in his life been made aware of the resemblance of his tattoo to the SS insignia.
posted by StrawberryPie at 8:48 PM on April 26, 2022 [3 favorites]

Also, after googling "double lightning bolt tattoo", I'm more convinced than ever.
posted by StrawberryPie at 8:56 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

One lightning bolt, fine. Two, no way.
posted by I claim sanctuary at 10:21 PM on April 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

I’m pretty laidback but I wouldn’t hire him without asking.
And his (practiced) answer would really need to sway me.
posted by artdrectr at 10:54 PM on April 26, 2022

You'll know better than I but in context, was he maybe asking if you were giving away the BLM sign? Like, because he wanted one? That's how I read the exchange you described.
posted by Lady Li at 12:36 AM on April 27, 2022


The idea that this guy didn’t know what he was doing when he got these tattoos seems mind blowing to me. At the absolute best, the guy is so far from giving a damn about racism that he simply didn’t care if people “interpreted” his lightning bolts to suggest he was a Nazi. And on that alone, I wouldn’t hire him.

Here is a recent story where an entire television production team in the UK ignored an 88 tattoo on a reality show contestant’s face. When they aired promotional clips people were pretty shocked by the wilful ignorance of the production team. They had uncritically accepted the reassurance of the contestant that the tattoo was a commemoration of his beloved father who died in 1988. His father was alive and kicking and was happy to talk to the press about that fact.

It's easy to say “No thank you” to Nazi electricians or potentially Nazi electricians. It is also not too hard to make some effort to find and hire people from under-represented social groups in the trades more generally.
posted by spibeldrokkit at 2:40 AM on April 27, 2022 [2 favorites]

Re: tattoo reference in the review. My brother in law is an electrician, and he's heavily tattooed (more like vomiting dead rat vibes than Nazi symbolism). Because of that, and only that, he works on commercial projects rather than domestic, as little old ladies sometimes feel threatened by a big size with sleeves. He's actually a complete sweetheart.
posted by socky_puppy at 2:44 AM on April 27, 2022

Wait, I just reread, on his face...?! I think if you have enough doubt here to make you uncomfortable, just get another quote.
posted by socky_puppy at 2:46 AM on April 27, 2022

If the only question is pointy ends vs square ends, then the link by bluedaisy is pretty conclusive
posted by McNulty at 3:15 AM on April 27, 2022

I don't have an opinion on what you should do, but it's naïve to think you'll find out more by asking. The way dog whistles work is, if someone says "hey man, is that tattoo a Nazi thing," you say "no."

(If someone takes it as encouragement to dog-whistle back, or to straight-up say or do overtly racist shit, that's when a dog-whistler shows their cards a little more. Not that I'm recommending you do that, just describing how the game is played.)
posted by nebulawindphone at 5:21 AM on April 27, 2022 [5 favorites]

Personally, I think face tattoos in general are a warning sign of something, but...

As a small data point, I have some lightning bolts tattooed on my arm, that I got when I was very young (and ignorant). I also happen to have blonde hair and blue eyes. This has led to a number of very awkward conversations with folks over the years, at least some of whom seemed potentially violent towards me! However, at the time I got the tattoo I didn't even realize how this might look to others. I was a kid and just wanted (what I perceived to be) a cool looking tattoo. Also, as an adult, I damn sure make sure that thing is covered by a sleeve in any kind of professional setting.

So, while I'm not taking an actual stance on the person you're dealing with, I would just like to say it's possible to have a somewhat offensive looking tattoo just because you're a dumbass.
posted by SystematicAbuse at 5:47 AM on April 27, 2022 [3 favorites]

I stand by not necessarily judging someone based on tattoos alone, but given the FB evidence above.. yeah, I'd consider someone else.

Googling around also lead me to the Yelp reviews in question and the one that mentions his tattoos also points out that she has friends who had experiences with him where he was "clearly racist" and that her friends are worried about mentioning this publicly as he knows where they live. Yikes.
posted by fight or flight at 7:24 AM on April 27, 2022

If an electrician had visible double-lightning-bolt tattoos, would you hire him?
Hmmm... would I hire him? I sometimes ponder where to draw the line regarding moral obligation; in other words, what makes me complicit.
Should I live in a country in which a Nazi lives, and whose taxes support services I use (such as road repair, etc.) or do I have a moral obligation to move to a different country?
Should I work for, and thus be paid by, a company that might have a Nazi on their payroll, or do I have a moral obligation to find another job?
Should I shop at a store where one of the cashiers is a Nazi, or do I have a moral obligation to shop somewhere else, instead?
Personally, as long as I didn't feel unsafe around him or didn't feel like I just couldn't stand him, and was confident in the quality of his electrical skills, I would probably go ahead and hire him, and I would continue to fight Nazism in a broader way. And, on a less-broad level, who knows ... assuming he is a Nazi, his exposure to your Black Lives Matter sign and his interaction with a person like you might open his mind and his world a tad bit - it may a long-shot, but you never know.
posted by SageTrail at 8:57 AM on April 27, 2022

After some thought, I will add that if this person did not have a tattoo, and it was just their business logo that was cause for concern, I would not think twice about advising you to ignore it and hire them based on their sterling professional reputation. Unfortuntately, this person has felt the need to get this suspect tattoo which is visible. If a tattoo can be seen, then it must be meant to be seen. So this person is making their business your business.
posted by Stuka at 9:31 AM on April 27, 2022

Here’s a look at the actual SS tattoo symbols and a bit about how they could just mean biker gangs, FWIW
posted by knownassociate at 11:05 AM on April 27, 2022

Response by poster: Thank you all for this conversation. It's been fascinating and enlightening for me.

While I don't love singling out "best answers" to any but the most direct, factual questions, I did want to thank, in particular, Rash, latkes, and any portmanteau in a storm for their insights and research.

I also found nouvelle-personne's and spibeldrokkit's perspectives especially valuable. n-p, you're absolutely right: let's not make more excuses for those who hate. Period. That's a point that we would all do well to remind ourselves of on a regular basis.

spibeldrokkit, your point about people willing themselves toward ignorance is such an important idea. For that film crew, getting paid for their jobs was clearly more important than taking action; for all those Yelp reviewers of this electrician, paying reasonable sums for reliable electrical work was presumably more important than taking action to point out or fight hate.

On that topic:
I will not be hiring this electrician. I have decided to go with a bid from a local, LatinX-owned business. That company's electrician was as professional, communicative, and personable as the man in question - possibly more so. As well, the bid was reasonable and the manager is helpful and direct.

My wife and I have been talking A LOT about this matter, and she floated the idea of somehow alerting the local business community (and/or our city at large) about the hate in our midst. Not necessarily calling out this electrician (about whose attitudes I still don't have conclusive evidence), but somehow informing consumers about such things as hidden hate symbols. Because I take nouvelle-personne's point seriously: If you're not actively anti-racist, then there's still work to be done.

So, to piggyback on my own question in this lively thread: If anyone has any opinions on whether that is a good idea -- and, if it is, how we might go about it -- I'm open to your ideas.

Thank you all, again.
posted by Dr. Wu at 11:21 AM on April 27, 2022 [9 favorites]

If someone has a visible tattoo they probably expect that people will ask about it. I don't understand why you wouldn't just ask what it means instead of assuming the worst about them as a person.
posted by bendy at 4:44 AM on April 30, 2022

I don't understand why you wouldn't just ask what it means

There are so many possible reasons. Just a few off the top of my head: (1) racial differences, (2) past life experiences (e.g., having gotten into a heated argument from asking a question), (3) different personal thresholds for confrontations, (4) different cognitive capacities for gauging when a question may cause an unpredictable reaction, and more.

To be clear, I have no idea whether these reasons or others are behind the OP's question, but there are plenty of reasons why they may ask for advice instead of simply asking a likely Nazi whether the possible Nazi symbol tattooed on their face means anything.
posted by StrawberryPie at 10:26 AM on May 1, 2022

My wife and I have been talking A LOT about this matter, and she floated the idea of somehow alerting the local business community (and/or our city at large) about the hate in our midst. Not necessarily calling out this electrician (about whose attitudes I still don't have conclusive evidence), but somehow informing consumers about such things as hidden hate symbols. Because I take nouvelle-personne's point seriously: If you're not actively anti-racist, then there's still work to be done.

Do not under any circumstances publicly call out the electrician. You do not know for sure, at all, that this electrician is a Nazi. If you try to ruin someone's reputation over a possible misunderstanding, don't be surprised if it comes back around to you.
posted by cakelite at 12:55 PM on May 2, 2022 [1 favorite]

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