Supanova Under Fire After Vendor Sells Merchandise Featuring Swastikas At Sydney Show (Update, Supanova Apologises)

Supanova Under Fire After Vendor Sells Merchandise Featuring Swastikas At Sydney Show (Update, Supanova Apologises)

Fans are threatening to boycott the Supanova pop-culture convention, where a vendor openly displayed fascist flags and merchandise at Supanova’s most recent Sydney show.

Multiple attendees posted on Supanova’s own Facebook page, and confirmed to Kotaku Australia separately, that they had reported the booth’s merchandise to Supanova staff from Friday, when vendors began setting up for the following day’s opening.

The material included flags and T-shirts featuring swastikas and ultra-nationalist iconography, including one flag sporting the text “Pink Fascism” and a bloody knuckle with a swastika in the fingernail.

A shot of one of the flags in question. Image: Supplied

The term “pink fascism” is rooted in a debunked conspiracy theory that homosexuals were a prominent factor in, or identified with, the Nazi party. It has gained prominence in recent years among arch-conservative movements worldwide, despite the clear and established history of Nazi Germany’s prosecution of homosexuals and associated organisations.

Other shirts and merchandise at the stand included a shirt saying “Just Hunting Bolsheviks”, another reading “Christian, Australian, Heterosexual, Pro Gun, Conservative, Any Questions,” and flags with the Japanese rising sun. A Eureka flag was also prominently displayed, which has been recently co-opted as the logo of the anti-immigration Australia First Party, although it has also been historically used by unions and other Australian protest groups in the past.

Image: Supplied

Another shirt promoted a comic called Captain Kelly: Sky Commando, an Australian comic featuring a Ned Kelly-like figure who fights “Zombie Nazis for Allah”.

The booth, operating under the name Celtic Panzer according to reports and the official Supanova exhibitor list, has exhibited at Supanova Sydney before. The official Supanova schedule for 2018 and 2019 shows Celtic Panzer had a spot in the show’s Indie Press Zone both years, although Kotaku Australia makes no claims or assertions about what the vendor displayed in either of those years.

Photos and reports of the booth began circulating late Friday night, both on Supanova’s own page and other social media channels. Supanova responded to criticism by Saturday, and by Sunday morning announced on Facebook that the exhibitor had been “ejected” from the event. “This is in progress now with security present, and we are aiming for this to be completed prior to opening; though it is possible that this will still be underway after 10am,” Supanova wrote.

Image: Supanova (Facebook)
Supanova’s response on Twitter. Image: Twitter

Supanova did not respond to questions from attendees asking why the exhibitors were not removed sooner. Posts on social media show that Supanova publicly responded on Saturday to investigate “as soon as possible”, but more than 10 hours later the booth had not been ejected.

One attendee, who we are not naming to protect them from further online retribution, also told Kotaku Australia that Supanova staff asked the booth to remove the Rising Sun flag and material featuring swastikas on the Saturday, but the booth was permitted to continue operating. One user on social media reported being told by Supanova staff on Friday — the day before the convention opened to the public — that the vendor had “been banned already,” even though the booth remained throughout the Saturday.

Image: Supplied

Kotaku Australia has contacted Supanova for comment multiple times asking for a clarification on what background checks are done on vendors; what Supanova staff did upon receiving complaints on the Friday; why the vendor was allowed to continue exhibiting throughout Saturday despite displaying material featuring swastikas; whether the vendor received a refund on their booth fee and if they would be allowed to exhibit in the future; and how a Supanova vendor is able to display such merchandise at a family-friendly show. Supanova’s social media team responded on Sunday afternoon saying “this is a very busy time” and that they would “reply in full as soon as we are physically able”. The organisers, however, did not respond to a request for comment on Monday, nor Tuesday morning.

It’s not the first time Supanova has found itself in controversy. A few years ago Daniel Zachariou, the founder and event director of Supanova, was heavily criticised for posting a petition on their Facebook page calling for the cancellation of transgender education in schools. It immediately sparked a backlash among Australia’s pop culture and cosplay communities — which are traditionally openly LGBTQIA+ friendly — and former high profile guests of Supanova called for a boycott.

“As much as I want to support events for gamers throughout Australia, there’s no way I’m going to do that when those running it post transphobic asshattery,” Liam Esler, one of the co-founders of the former queer-friendly gaming and pop culture convention GX Australia, said at the time.

Zachariou posted an apology afterwards, saying a new diversity panel would be introduced to Supanova shows and that he did not intend to promote any offensive views. “Both I and the team of Supanova are committed to ensuring it remains a welcoming, enjoyable and inclusive environment for all just as it’s always been,” Zachariou wrote.

Separately to this, Supanova also announced that their upcoming Perth show — originally scheduled across June 26 and 27 — has been postponed. The decision was forced upon the organisers, after the West Australian government closed their borders in response to the growing COVID-19 cluster in NSW. With Supanova’s staff currently in NSW after this weekend’s event, the timing meant there was no way for staff, or many of the scheduled guests, to get back into West Australia in time for the show.

Update: Rebecca Borkman, the MC for Supanova Sydney and a regular host for Supanova’s events, announced on Twitter that she would no longer be hosting events for Supanova.

“It has become very clear to me that my ideals do not align with the views and actions demonstrated by higher management,” Borkman wrote.

When contacted by Kotaku Australia, Borkman added that she would “not be MC’ing for Supanova at all in the future”.

I’ve got a huge amount of respect for the team who work behind the scenes at Supanova, and would be overjoyed to work with them on other projects — but not under this banner and not under this event director,” she said.

Update #2, 24/6, 2:30PM AEST: A second recurring host, guest and cosplayer at Supanova, Scott Driscoll, has announced they will no longer be supporting Supanova following the handling of the Sydney event. “I shall not be returning as either MC or attendee,” Driscoll posted on Twitter and Facebook.

“Given the events of the weekend at Supanova Sydney and the reported reticence by management to get rid of a very offensive stall that made the event significantly less than safe or indeed family friendly, I could not continue to support the event in any manner,” Driscoll wrote.

“It’s been a fun 18 years with many fond memories. For this to be the end fills me with sadness.”

David A. Quinn, the head of MCs for Supanova, also announced on Facebook that they would no longer work with the event. “What should have been the simplest decision in the world, based on any metric of “what a superhero would do?” was prevaricated on, questioned and blocked. As a result, the public was exposed to hate, bigotry and harassment for far too long,” Quinn wrote.

For too many years, the wonderful, generous people working within Supanova have been caught up in scandal after scandal, none of them of their own making. Always due to bad management decisions and compounded by a failure by upper management to listen to the expert advice of the people on the team.

Each scandal also alienated or hurt members of the team, until bit by bit so many of them stepped down for their position. Worst of all, for each of these scandals that has blown up, every previous one is dredged back up again to remind those of us left, how many times it’s gone wrong and who has been hurt.

“As we walk on there are less and less footsteps and they get deeper and deeper as the burden became more and more. But sometimes there are no footsteps,” Quinn said.

Update #3, 24/6, 3:00PM AEST: Supanova has officially posted an apology on their Facebook page, saying “this should have been published immediately” and that they delayed so they could “take the time to write a sincere and genuine response to the situation”.

“What occurred over the weekend with the Exhibitor in question was, despite our team’s best efforts, a significant deviation from what we stand for. While we responded to complaints as they arose, removing offensive material from the Exhibitor’s stand prior to opening on Saturday, and ultimately ejecting them from the event before doors opened on Sunday in response to attendee reports overnight, the processes we have in place were evidently too slow to protect our community from the distress this situation has created.”

The post goes on to say that “none of this should have happened”, and that Supanova will be adding “more vigorous screening measures to improve our Exhibitor and Alley applications” to prevent such scenarios in the future.

To date, Supanova has still not responded for comment as to how the vendor was allowed into the show, whether their merchandise was checked and why the exhibitor was allowed to remain on the show floor throughout Saturday — even though Supanova security removed offensive material from the stand “prior to opening on Saturday”.

Kotaku Australia has also seen internal Supanova communications stating that Celtic Panzer, the booth responsible for selling the material above, has been banned from all future Supanova events. The vendor would also be “getting their money back”.

“Oh yeah, last thing, cancel culture really sucks,” the message from Supanova’s founder Daniel Zachariou added.

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