Packer was arrested in Virginia Wednesday, January 13, 2021, and charged with knowingly entering or remaining in any restricted building or grounds without lawful authority and violent entry or disorderly conduct on Capitol grounds according to the U.S. Department of Justice. The shirt references the largest Nazi concentration camp, opened in 1940 in occupied Poland, where 1.1 million people died, according to History. The shirt included the words, “Work brings freedom,” the English translation of the message, “Arbeit macht frei,” that prisoners saw as they were entering the camp in southern Poland. The back of the shirt said “Staff,” according to the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. A Source Described Packer as an Extremist & Another Said He Had Frustrations With the Government
A rioter who stormed the US Capitol Wednesday wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the phrase "Camp Auschwitz" has been identified as Robert Keith Packer of Virginia. https://t.co/Z7YK4gMll6
— Yashar Ali 🐘 (@yashar) January 10, 2021
Three sources spoke to CNN when they identified Packer as the man in the “Camp Auschwitz” hooded sweatshirt at the U.S. Capitol building. They declined to be identified, citing “the sensitivity of the matter.”
One Virginia resident told CNN Packer had a history of extremism.
“He’s been always extreme and very vocal about his beliefs,” the person said.
Another person who said they knew Packer described him as “off-beat.” That person said Packer has talked about frustrations with the government, but did not recall any conversations about President Donald Trump or allegations of voter fraud.
Packer previously worked as a welder and a pipe-fitter, another source told the news outlet.
Almost physically sick at the sight of this guy in a "Camp Auschwitz" sweatshirt. Today he is walking free, after entering the Capitol to overturn a democratic vote, being allowed to leave without sanction or arrest, and being told "We love you" by the President… pic.twitter.com/A3bR4rTSGE
— Dave Haslam (@Mr_Dave_Haslam) January 7, 2021
One person wrote on Twitter about his reaction to seeing the shirt.
“Almost physically sick at the sight of this guy in a ‘Camp Auschwitz’ sweatshirt,” he wrote. “Today he is walking free, after entering the Capitol to overturn a democratic vote, being allowed to leave without sanction or arrest, and being told ‘We love you’ by the President…”
A witness called FBI agents, and reported recognizing the “Camp Auschwitz” shirt from a store he frequents in Newport News and provided a photo of him, according to the affidavit of probable cause filed in his case.
2. At Least 1 Company Removed “Camp Auschwitz” Merchandise From Its Websites as the Photo Circulated Online
“We love you, you’re very special. Particularly the ones with the cable ties for hostages and the ‘Camp Auschwitz’ and ‘6 Million Wasn’t Enough’ T-shirts and the racist flag”#terroristsnotprotestors pic.twitter.com/9B5uUqSxcI
— David Schneider (@davidschneider) January 7, 2021
Companies that distributed custom merchandise like T-shirts, hooded sweatshirts and other products, were distributing products with the “Camp Auschwitz” message. At least one company, TeeChip, responded to complaints and removed the products, saying they were removed from the site and “taken down for content reasons” on January 7, 2021, according to Newsweek. The company provides a platform that allows designers to sell custom merchandise online, according to its website. It was not clear whether Packer purchased the shirt through TeeChip or another company.
Medical historian and television presenter Dr. Lindsey Fitzharris bashed TeeChip on Twitter for selling the merchandise. They later informed her that the products were removed.
— Lindsey Fitzharris (@DrLindseyFitz) January 7, 2021
“Hi Lindsey, @AuschwitzMuseum, this content has been taken down, as we do not tolerate hatred messages on our website. The seller has been banned. We’ll continue moderating to prevent similar content to be uploaded,” they wrote.
“RESULT!!!” Fitzharris wrote on Twitter, sharing TeeChip’s message to her. “Thanks to everyone who sent complaints about ‘Camp Auschwitz’ merchandize on TeeChip. Now, to root out other outlets that sell similar products.”
3. Packer Has a Criminal History Including a Felony Conviction, Online Records Show
Better look at the guy with the 'Camp Auschwitz' hoodie from yesterday. Not only does it feature the SS 'totenkopf', but an English translation of 'Arbeit Macht Frei'. No wiggle room, no joking here. This is who these people are. (via @MrTAchilles) pic.twitter.com/i6zjuIAQbx
— Mike Stuchbery 💀🍷 (@MikeStuchbery_) January 7, 2021
CNN reported Packer has a criminal history in Virginia, which included three convictions for driving under the influence and one felony conviction for forging public records. He was charged with trespass in 2016, but that case was dismissed. One of the sources who spoke to CNN said he had previous “run-ins with the law.”
Social media users were quick to criticize Packer.
“Better look at the guy with the ‘Camp Auschwitz’ hoodie from yesterday,” one person wrote. “Not only does it feature the SS ‘totenkopf’, but an English translation of ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’. No wiggle room, no joking here. This is who these people are.”
When I was a little girl, I asked my Grandma – Why do you watch all the Holocaust documentaries again and again, every year?
“Maybe I’ll see someone from my family”, she said. “They all died in Camp Auschwitz.”
Thinking of you Safta. pic.twitter.com/mY6kcsi1fZ
— Alma Har'el🌪 עלמה (@Almaharel) January 7, 2021
Another person shared a story about her grandmother on Twitter. She said she would watch Holocaust documentaries, hoping to find a family member.
“When I was a little girl, I asked my Grandma – Why do you watch all the Holocaust documentaries again and again, every year? ‘Maybe I’ll see someone from my family’, she said. ‘They all died in Camp Auschwitz.’ Thinking of you Safta,” the tweet said.
4. A Historian Advised Twitter Users to Learn the Stories of Auschwitz Survivors & Those Who Died There
Someone not only wore this sweatshirt, but some company made it. We historians have a lot of work to do, it seems.
— Lindsey Fitzharris (@DrLindseyFitz) January 7, 2021
Fitzharris shared the photo of the man identified as Packer on Twitter in the hours after the siege on the Capitol. She suggested that Twitter users follow the Auschwitz Museum website and learn about the travesties that occurred there.
“Someone not only wore this sweatshirt, but some company made it. We historians have a lot of work to do, it seems,” she wrote. “Let’s start with this: follow @AuschwitzMuseum. Read their stories about those who died in the Holocaust. Learn about the past. Learn *from* the past.”
She added, “Undoubtedly, this man knew what his sweatshirt was implying. But I want everyone who might casually glimpse it – and not recognize it for what it is – to understand the history.”
Thank you Lindsey. I lost many members of my family in ‘that place’. I’d like to meet this man and tell him the story of my dad’s cousin Anselm – the youngest to be murdered there, aged just 6. He died holding his daddy’s hand in a Zyklon B shower. This was them in happier times. pic.twitter.com/lnFhCbmS9A
— S J Hammerschmidt 💙 #StopRacism ✋🏿♥️🤚🏻 (@sjhammerschmidt) January 7, 2021
One person shared a personal story on Twitter, along with a family photo.
“Thank you Lindsey,” he wrote. “I lost many members of my family in ‘that place’. I’d like to meet this man and tell him the story of my dad’s cousin Anselm – the youngest to be murdered there, aged just 6. He died holding his daddy’s hand in a Zyklon B shower. This was them in happier times.”
5. Other Hateful Symbols Also Invoked Anti-Semitism at the Capitol Siege
BREAKING: Trump supporters have breached the Capitol building, tearing down 4 layers of security fencing and are attempting to occupy the building — fighting federal police who are overrun
This is the craziest thing I’ve ever seen in my life. Thousands, police can’t stop them pic.twitter.com/VVdTUwV5YN
— ELIJAH SCHAFFER (@ElijahSchaffer) January 6, 2021
The “Camp Auschwitz” shirt was not the only neo-Nazi symbol on display at the siege of the Capitol. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency analyzed the symbols worn by protesters, which included hate-filled messages to many groups of people.
The news outlet reported:
Prominent Holocaust deniers and neo-Nazis were part of the Capitol mob. A far-right activist known as Baked Alaska livestreamed from inside House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office. Another extremist, Nick Fuentes, a white nationalist who leads the far-right Groyper Army, was said to be in the room with him. Fuentes denies this but was outside the Capitol on Wednesday.
The Neo-Nazi group NSC-131 also joined the insurrection, according to reporter Hilary Sargent. NSC stands for Nationalist Social Club and has small regional chapters in the United States and abroad. The 131 division is from New England.
The JTA reported that other extremist symbols at the siege included QAnon slogans, Confederate flags, nooses, “anti-government militia symbols,” Proud Boys slogans, white nationalist “Kek” flags, crusader crosses and more.
Oren Segal, vice president of the Anti-Defamation League’s Center on Extremism, told The Times of Israel he could identify members of the New Jersey European Heritage Association, a white supremacist group, and the Nationalist Social Club, a neo-Nazi group, in images of Trump rallies in Washington, D.C., on January 5 and 6.
Some said a swastika can be seen on a flag in a video posted online, but it is not clear what image is on the flag because it cannot be fully seen on the video.