September 20, 2018
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Surge in requests for Nazi, KKK ink prompts Maine tattoo shop to say ‘stop asking’

Lauren Abbate | BDN
Lauren Abbate | BDN
Siren Song Tattoo artists (from left) Justin Wheeler, Alison Wheeler and Cody Monroe.
By Lauren Abbate, BDN Staff
Updated:

It’s always been the policy of Rockland-based Siren Song Tattoo that the artists who work there won’t tattoo messages of hate, including Nazi and white supremacist imagery.

But it’s only recently that the business’s owners, Alison and Justin Wheeler, felt they needed to publicly state that they’re not in the business of making hateful sentiments permanent with body ink.

“So we wouldn’t normally do this but there have been an alarming amount of people wanting Nazi/KKK tattoos this year! So we are declaring now that we do not create images or recreate images that pertain to those parties and like parties,” a Dec. 23 post on the shop’s Facebook page read. “Get over it and stop asking us, we ain’t about that …”

The post came in response to a request Siren Song received that morning, Alison Wheeler said. The text, which Siren Song included a screenshot in their Facebook post, read, “Hey i want a nazi logo on my chest in a couple months. Would you do that for me?”

That inquiry was one of four or five requests for Nazi, Ku Klux Klan or white supremacy-related tattoos that the small shop received during the past year. That’s more than she has received in her entire career, Alison Wheeler said.

Nationally, the last year has seen an increase in people publicly expressing white nationalist and white supremacist beliefs. Perhaps the most notable instance was the Aug. 12 Unite the Right rally that left one counterpro te ster dead as white nationalists marched through the streets of Charlottesville, Virginia.

The Wheelers, a husband and wife duo, had a tattoo shop in Richmond, Virginia, before opening their Rockland shop about eight years ago. When they were in the South, Alison Wheeler said they would sometimes receive requests for KKK or Nazi tattoos, with people trying to use codes like “pinwheel tattoos” for images of swastikas. But even then, it was rare.

In the eight years that she and her husband have been in Maine, Alison Wheeler said she can’t remember receiving any requests for tattoos of this nature — until this year.

“I don’t know if there’s one exact thing [contributing to the rise],” she said. “I don’t know — maybe they’re getting braver.”

While Siren Song Tattoo might not be able to control or change what anyone thinks, the Wheelers want to be clear they’re not a place that tolerates hate.

“We have a lot of different clients from a lot of different groups of people and we protect all of them,” Alison Wheeler said. “We’re not going to help anyone be hateful.”

Because there is no overarching code of ethics to set uniform content standards for tattoo artists, the refusal to ink certain images can vary from shop to shop or even artist to artist, Alison Wheeler said.

Just down Route 1 from Siren Song Tattoo, Atlantic Tattoo Studios owner Seth Mathiau said his shop will not tattoo racist or hateful imagery, either. His shop hasn’t seen an increase this year in requests for these tattoos but has in the past fielded requests for Confederate flags, which he will not tattoo.

While some tattoo shops might not care and just do a tattoo for the money, Mathiau said the “majority of shops would probably say no.”

In recent decades, the culture around tattoos has changed. Justin Wheeler said that in the past racist imagery among tattoos might have been more prevalent, but that is no longer the case.

“The people who are tattooing, the artists,” are a big reason that has changed, he said.

Since they made their Facebook post, the Wheelers have been shocked at the outpouring of support they’ve gotten ― mainly because they feel refusing to tattoo hateful and racist imagery is common sense.

The post now has a long string of positive comments from patrons and others, applauding them for taking a public stance against hate.

“Y’all are epic and awesome and have permanently secured my business and constant applause. Good for you,” one commenter wrote.

But to the folks at Siren Song Tattoo, they’re not trying to “take a stand.” They’re just practicing basic humanity.

Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.

Correction: An earlier version of this report incorrectly stated that the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, happened on Oct. 6. It happened on Aug. 12.


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