St. Michael’s Cross, despite its name, is not a traditional Christian symbol but rather a fascist symbol designed by Corneliu Codreanu (1899-1938), a Romanian right-wing extremist who led the Iron Guard/Legion of St. Michael movement (also known as the Legion of the Archangel Michael) in the 1920s and 1930s. This symbol became the Iron Guard’s logo until the movement was destroyed during World War II.
The Iron Guard combined fascism, nationalism, Eastern Orthodox Christianity and anti-Semitism. Its symbol, St. Michael’s Cross, consists of three vertical lines and three horizontal lines arranged in a hashtag-like pattern. The design was intended to resemble both a cross as well as stylized prison bars; Codreanu was allegedly inspired by either an icon or a vision of St. Michael during his time in prison in the 1920s. The color green is also often associated with the Iron Guard, because of the green uniforms worn by its members (sometimes called “Green Shirts”).
After the end of World War II, right-wing extremists in Western Europe resurrected many of the symbols of fascist movements of the interwar era; following the collapse of communism in Eastern Europe, a similar process occurred in that region. In Romania, right-wing extremists revived St. Michael’s Cross.
Unlike many other fascist or Nazi symbols originating in Europe, the St. Michael’s Cross symbol did not spread much overseas. In the late 2010s, however, some American white supremacists—most notably Matthew Heimbach, who headed a short-lived neo-Nazi group called the Traditionalist Worker Party—“discovered” Codreanu and the Iron Guard, as well as its symbology. Like Codreanu, Heimbach was an avowed adherent of Eastern Orthodox Christianity. A few other American white supremacists trying to blend traditional Christianity with their racist and anti-Semitic beliefs also discovered Codreanu, whose memoirs had been translated into English.
The St. Michael’s Cross symbol received more attention in 2019 following Australian white supremacist Brenton Tarrant’s deadly shooting spree targeting two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. Tarrant had painted white supremacist and anti-Muslim symbols and references on various firearms and ammo magazines that he brought with him on his rampage; one of the firearms featured a version of St. Michael’s Cross.