Media

Missing the Biggest Story about Trump’s Twitter Images

It's no accident that Trump's social media feeds keep using neo-Nazi imagery; he's actively courting hate.

Missing the Biggest Story about Trump’s Twitter Images

The latest dog-whistle images from Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's Twitter feed. The original image is on the left; the one that replaced it is on the right. (Twitter via CNN)

Over the holiday weekend, major media rightly piled on about Donald Trump’s recent recycling of neo-Nazi imagery — in particular his Hillary-hating blast featuring a six-point star affixed onto a heap of $100 bills. As both The New York Times and The Washington Post prominently reported, Trump cut and pasted neo-Nazi images from the internet when he unleashed the latest round of his Twitter barrage at Hillary Clinton as “most corrupt candidate ever.”

The Times’ Alan Rappeport was judicious, perhaps too much so:

While the six-pointed star is used in other contexts, including as a symbol of many Sheriff’s Departments, it has deep meaning in Judaism and the image was overlaid atop a pile of money. It appeared to play into the stereotype of Jews being obsessed with finances. After being derided on social media, Mr. Trump deleted the post and replaced it with one that had a circle instead of the star shape.

Connoisseurs of Nazi regalia should note that, according to Bryce Covert at ThinkProgress, “Sheriff’s stars nearly always have circles on the ends of the points or one large circle around the outside of the star.” Google Images agrees.

In any event, The Times missed the more unnerving part of the story. The Washington Post’s David Weigel got closer:

The image that Trump chose to illustrate his point, which portrayed a red Star of David shape slapped onto a bed of $100 bills, had origins in the online white-supremacist movement. For at least the fifth time, Trump’s Twitter account had shared a meme from the racist “alt-right” and offered no explanation why.

And there’s more. Ben Kharakh and Dan Primack, at Fortune.com, nailed the “yuge” revelation coiled in the core of this disgusting business: Throughout his campaign, Trump has been blithely recycling tweets from neo-Nazis and white supremacists who revel in the phrase “white Genocide.” They use those tweets, copy them and reuse them. Thus, consciously or not, they flash signals to the Make America White Again crowd — come on board. As one prominent neo-Nazi put it, Trump is “giving us the old wink-wink.”

Kharakh and Primack are scrupulous. They write:

It is possible that Trump ― who, according to the campaign, does almost all of his own tweeting — is unfamiliar with the term “white genocide” and doesn’t do even basic vetting of those whose tweets he amplifies to his 7 million followers. But the reality is that there are dozens of tweets mentioning @realDonaldTrump each minute, and he has an uncanny ability to surface ones that come from accounts that proudly proclaim their white supremacist leanings….

Since the start of his campaign, Donald Trump has retweeted at least 75 users who follow at least three of the top 50 [most influential] #WhiteGenocide influencers.

In other words, the hardest core of racist America.

Trump has said before that he doesn’t pay attention to the source of his tweet material. He sees what he likes and retweets it. Asked by Kharakh and Primack for more detail about his Twitter practice, his spokesperson Hope Hicks “declined to explain how Trump searches through his Twitter feed. Hicks also declined (repeatedly) to answer Fortune’s question as to whether or not Trump believes that white genocide is a legitimate concern.”

Meanwhile, CBS News’ Sopan Deb has noted that Trump’s social media director ducked the key question about the graphic’s origins thusly, declaring disingenuously that the graphic “was lifted from an anti-Hillary Twitter user where countless images appear.” As Sarah Kendzior pointed out on Twitter, one of those “countless images” featured a swastika (later deleted) made out of images of Hillary’s face.

Trump’s Twitter pattern tells you a lot about the crowd he or his Twitter-reading staff hang out with.

Here’s the point: Trump’s Twitter pattern tells you a lot about the crowd he or his Twitter-reading staff hang out with. If you look at my Facebook page, for example, you’ll get a pretty good approximation of the sort of stuff I read online, since I post links to a lot of pieces I read from various sites, often singling out quotes and inserting remarks. It won’t be a perfect replica, and actually I do read quite a lot offline too, thank you very much, but my links alone will give you a fair idea of my everyday reading habits.

If you believe that Trump or his top lieutenants just happened to stumble on these racist tweets — singled them out from among the vast universe of possible source materials, perhaps because neo-Nazi design ideas are so “interesting” — then I’ll order you a lifetime supply of Trump steaks, and if you hurry, I’ll throw in a special taco bowl each year on Hitler’s birthday.

The great big story is not just that Trump lies. It’s not only that Trump and his campaigners court Americans who want to make America white and Christian again. It’s not only the vicious and lunatic legions who creep out from under the rocks at his signals. It’s not even that CNN’s brand-new legally gagged political commentator, Corey Lewandowski, thinks that the uproar about the six-pointed star shows that “political correctness” has “run amok.”

The big story is that a slime-pit of Jew-hatred and race-hatred is the intellectual universe where Trump and his movement live.

Todd Gitlin

Todd Gitlin is a professor of journalism and sociology and chair of the Ph.D. program in communications at Columbia University. He is the author of 16 books, including several on journalism and politics. His next book is a novel, The Opposition. Follow him on Twitter: @toddgitlin.