The owner of a Nashville hat shop that sparked outcry online for selling gold star-shaped patches reading “NOT VACCINATED” appears to have been in attendance at the Jan. 6 riots at the U.S capitol, according to posts on her social media accounts.
Gigi Gaskins, the 60-year-old owner of hatWRKS hat shop, stoked backlash this week when she posted a photo of herself on Instagram wearing the patch, which was reminiscent of the gold stars Jewish people were forced to wear during the Holocaust. The post was eventually deleted and replaced with a text post questioning why so many people were upset by the image but not by “the tyranny the world is experiencing.”
“There is a historical parallel to facism [sic] to be drawn,” a second follow-up post reads. “We can only fight back to not relive history.”
Gaskins apologized for the merchandise in a statement Saturday after Stetson, arguably the country’s best-known hat maker, cut her off.
Stetson had tweeted, “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.”
Two hours later, Gaskins responded on Instagram: “In NO WAY did I intend to trivialize the Star of David or disrespect what happened to millions of people… My hope was to share my genuine concern and fear… I sincerely apologize for any insensitivity.” Her prior post, shared just a day before and which she did not take down, said unvaccinated people “will be segregated from society.” Another Instagram post advertised “mask free shopping,” and others promoted coronavirus conspiracy theories.
The hatwrksnashville account is filled with posts criticizing the COVID-19 vaccine, mask wearing, and President Joe Biden. On Dec. 15, the day after the Electoral College deemed Biden the winner of the presidential election, the account warned ominously that “the election is not over and the war has begun.” Three weeks later, on Jan. 4, the account wrote: safe travels to everyone traveling to DC. we are making history.”
There are no Instagram posts from the day of the riots, but a photo posted two days later appears to show pro-Trump crowds gathered at the capitol. “Welcome to communist america. they keep taking this photo down,” the caption reads, indicating that the photo may have been posted earlier and removed. In a comment, the account added: “yes i took this picture and was proud to stand there!”
The person posting from the account does not identify themselves, but appears to be Gaskins, who owns and operates the shop. The posts are often written in first person, including stories about “when i first opened up [the store].”
Gaskins did not respond to text messages and emails seeking comment. Her name does not appear in the Justice Department’s database of more than 400 people charged in connection to the riots.
The photo of the star patch generated thousands of comments and spawned the hashtag #HateWorks before it was deleted. On Saturday, a group of protesters gathered outside the store with signs reading “No Nazis in Nashville” and “Proud Jew,” according to photos captured by local news station WKRN. Several hat companies whose products hatWRKS sells said they were aware of the situation and were investigating how to respond.
The photo was posted on the same day 50 Holocaust survivors who volunteer at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum penned an open letter asking Americans not compare current events to the horrors of the Holocaust.
“It is deeply painful for us to see our personal history—the systematic destruction of our families and communities and murder of six million Jewish men, women, and children—exploited in this way,” they wrote. “What we survived should be remembered, studied, and learned from, but never misused.”