If you just scanned your social-media feeds after a long holiday weekend and were left with the impression that Donald Trump accused Microsoft Word of discriminating against Jewish people, allow us to assure you that’s not the case — though the Trump camp’s explanation for its latest blunder is almost that absurd.
It all started on Saturday, when the presumptive GOP presidential nominee tweeted, then deleted, an image that criticized opponent Hillary Clinton and highlighted her supposed corruption within a Star of David appearing over a pile of money.
He later retweeted a less anti-Semitic version, which as some eagle-eyed observers noted, just had a new circular “most-corrupt” badge affixed over the star, the tiny end points of which are still barely visible:
Needless to say, using the well-known Jewish symbol in this fashion did not go unnoticed. Many, such as Clinton’s economic-policy adviser Michael Shapiro, called it an obvious “dog whistle.”
Furthermore, Mic reported that one of the places the original graphic seems to have first appeared was a white-supremacist internet group:
[We] discovered that Donald Trump’s Twitter wasn’t the first place the meme appeared. The image was previously featured on /pol/ — an Internet message board for the alt-right, a digital movement of neo-Nazis, anti-Semites, and white supremacists newly emboldened by the success of Donald Trump’s rhetoric — as early as June 22, 2016, over a week before Donald Trump’s team tweeted it.
However, they also noted that the first known use of the image seems to have been via a Twitter user who regularly tweets, and possibly creates, racist memes. Mic thus provided the following caveat:
It is currently unclear as to whether Trump’s team found this image from @FishBoneHead1’s Twitter account, from /pol/ or from another digital repository for racist, xenophobic and violent imagery. When Trump’s team sources memes, images and other forms of media from Twitter, the team has a longstanding pattern of attributing the account from which they found it. Among the many benefits of this practice of attribution is that it creates a desirable distance between the presidential candidate and the images he tweets. This distance can — and has — proven beneficial when the account tweets something inflammatory and racist.
If Trump’s team found the controversial meme from Twitter, and not a website like /pol/, it is unclear why the Trump campaign would choose its distribution of this image on Twitter to rupture from its longstanding pattern of attributing Twitter users — just when the campaign would seem to need it most.
Speaking with CNN on Sunday, Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, remarked that “it just boggles the mind” that the campaign would use the image, adding that, “I get tweeted pictures like this all the time from anti-Semites and racists and white supremacists. The imagery is the classic trope of Jews and money implying that she’s raising Jewish money, or something along those lines.” Neo-Nazi bloggers sure didn’t miss the connection.
And, as The Guardian’s Jamiles Lartey observed, even the corrected tweet contained a dash of anti-Semitism:
Unlike the original graphic, the updated image contained the text “America First”, a phrase the Anti-Defamation League has previously asked Trump to stop using because of antisemitic connotations. The phrase gained currency in the 1930s with Americans who wanted the US to avoid involvement in the second world war; most prominent among them was Charles Lindbergh. The American pilot was welcomed in Nazi Germany several times before the war and in 1939 wrote that “racial strength is vital”.
Trump has a tendency to tweet things that white supremacists like, though it should be noted that his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, is an Orthodox Jew, and Trump’s daughter, Ivanka, converted before marrying him. According to a New York Times profile published Monday, “Mr. Kushner believes that his father-in-law’s respect for his Jewish faith is sincere, his friends said, and that the issue is not worth addressing.”
Former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski — now a CNN contributor who is legally unable to say anything negative about Trump — came to his former boss’s defense as well, arguing the controversy is an example of “political correctness run amok” within the mainstream media, since the six-point star is also the symbol of a sheriff’s badge:
Unsurprisingly, Trump was all for blaming the media:
That only angered the Clinton campaign further. “Donald Trump’s use of a blatantly anti-Semitic image from racist websites to promote his campaign would be disturbing enough, but the fact that it’s a part of a pattern should give voters major cause for concern,” said Sarah Bard, the Clinton campaign’s director of Jewish outreach. “Now, not only won’t he apologize for it, he’s peddling lies and blaming others.”
On Monday night, Dan Scavino, the Trump campaign’s social-media director, offered a more detailed explanation in a statement posted on Facebook:
The social media graphic used this weekend was not created by the campaign nor was it sourced from an anti-Semitic site. It was lifted from an anti-Hillary Twitter user where countless images appear.
The sheriff’s badge — which is available under Microsoft’s “shapes” — fit with the theme of corrupt Hillary and that is why I selected it.
As the Social Media Director for the campaign, I would never offend anyone and therefore chose to remove the image.
As Gawker notes, the “anti-Hillary Twitter user” also posted this gem before deleting their account:
But according to Scavino’s logic, that image can’t be anti-Semitic either, as the swastika is made up of a bunch of lines — and lines just happen to be featured in Microsoft Word’s shapes menu, too!
This post has been updated throughout.