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For a story that broke over Fourth of July weekend, the controversy over an allegedly anti-Semitic image tweeted by Donald Trump attracted quite a lot of attention. In case you weren’t plugged in over the holiday weekend, here’s what you missed.
The original Trump tweet, its deletion, and the revised tweet
At 9:37 am on Saturday, July 2, Trump tweeted an image to his roughly 9.5 million followers. It jabbed his presidential opponent, Hillary Clinton, amid criticism for a 30-minute meeting sought by her husband, former President Bill Clinton, with Attorney General Loretta Lynch, who heads the Justice Department, which is investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of State Department email on a personal server. Observers across the ideological spectrum criticized Bill Clinton’s decision to seek a meeting, saying it could be perceived as an effort to pressure Lynch on the email case.
Trump’s tweet featured a picture of Hillary Clinton set against a background of U.S. currency, with the headline, "History Made." A band across the bottom read, "Fox News Poll." The element that quickly caught the eye of some was the inclusion of a red, six-pointed star with the legend, "Most corrupt candidate ever!"
Soon after Trump tweeted the image, some social media users began question whether the use of a six-pointed star to slam Clinton -- particularly when combined with piles of money -- amounted to the use of anti-Semitic imagery and age-old stereotypes.
Such concerns had arisen in response to previous Trump tweets. For instance, Trump twice retweeted from the feed of the Twitter account @WhiteGenocideTM, which claims to be located in "Jewmerica" and regularly posts anti-Semitic material, and once from the now-defunct account @cheesedbrit, which had an account page that featured Swastika art and said in part, "we Should have listened to the Austrian chap with the little moustache" -- that is, Adolf Hitler. And Trump also attracted criticism when he initially said he didn’t know who former KKK leader David Duke was.
At 11:19 am, less than two hours after the original tweet, the Trump account sent out a new image -- one that was identical except that the words "Most corrupt candidate ever!" were placed in a red circle rather than a star. The original tweet was deleted some time during that roughly two-hour period.
Details emerge about sourcing, and the Trump campaign’s initial responses
As criticism over the initial tweet mounted on July 2 and 3, the Trump campaign had no official response. But more details emerged about where the image had come from.
On July 3, mic.com, an online publication geared towards millennials, published an article that tracked the image to its source. According to mic.com:
"The image was previously featured on 8chan's /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 Trump's rhetoric — as early as June 22, over a week before Trump's team tweeted it. Though the thread where the meme was featured no longer exists, you can find it by searching the URL in Archive.is, a "time capsule of the internet" that saves unalterable text and graphic of web pages. Doing so allows you to see the thread on /pol/ as it originally existed."
It later emerged that a Twitter user, @FishBoneHead1, had used the original image as early as June 15. That account, now defunct, "regularly tweeted out anti-Clinton and right-leaning messages and images," according to the Associated Press, including several cited by mic.com that most people would consider racist or anti-Semitic. Here’s a screen capture of the June 15 tweet.
These revelations prompted a new round of criticism on social media. Eventually, at 9:42 am on July 4, Trump tweeted, "Dishonest media is trying their absolute best to depict a star in a tweet as the Star of David rather than a Sheriff's Star, or plain star!"
His campaign also released a statement at 5:35 pm on July 4 that said in part, "These false attacks by Hillary Clinton trying to link the Star of David with a basic star, often used by sheriffs who deal with criminals and criminal behavior, showing an inscription that says ‘Crooked Hillary is the most corrupt candidate ever’ with anti-Semitism is ridiculous. Clinton, through her surrogates, is just trying to divert attention from the dishonest behavior of herself and her husband." He also posted the statement on Facebook.
By July 4, the Clinton campaign had also gotten directly involved. The campaign’s Jewish outreach director, Sarah Bard, issued a statement criticizing the tweet that read in part, "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," Bard wrote in part. "Now, not only won't he apologize for it, he's peddling lies and blaming others. Trump should be condemning hate, not offering more campaign behavior and rhetoric that engages extremists."
And the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, a leading group that opposes anti-Semitism and other types of prejudice, added its voice to the criticism of Trump’s handling of the issue.
"Donald Trump should stop playing the blame game and accept that his campaign tweeted an image with obvious anti-Semitic overtones and that, reportedly, was lifted from a white supremacist website," Jonathan A. Greenblatt, the group’s CEO said in a statement released on the evening of July 4. "It's long past time for Trump to unequivocally reject the hate-filled extremists orbiting around his campaign and take a stand against anti-Semitism, bigotry and hate."
The back and forth continues
On the evening of July 4, Daniel Scavino Jr., the Trump campaign’s social media director, further addressed the issue.
"The social media graphic used this weekend was not created by the campaign nor was it sourced from an anti-Semitic site," Scavino posted to Trump’s Facebook page. "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."
The next day Scavino added in a tweet, "For the MSM (mainstream media) to suggest that I am antisemite is AWFUL. I proudly celebrate holidays w/ my wife's amazing Jewish family for the past 16 years."
However, criticism continued, even from Trump’s fellow Republicans.
On July 5, House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., told Milwaukee radio station WTMJ, "Anti-semitic images — they’ve got no place in (a) presidential campaign. Candidates should know that."
Based on the evidence available, it seems unlikely that the Trump campaign intended to put out a Star of David image. In fact, the campaign moved to replace the star with a circle when the image gained attention.
Having said that, this seems to be yet another a case of Trump using social media to broadcast material that comes from sources with a history of spreading racism, anti-Semitism or white supremacy. It is unusual to see a presidential campaign operate with such a lack of message discipline.
Donald Trump, tweet, July 2, 2016
Donald Trump, tweet, July 4, 2016
Donald Trump, Facebook post, July 4, 2016
Dan Scavino Jr., tweet, July 5, 2016
Mic.com, "Donald Trump's ‘Star of David’ Hillary Clinton Meme Was Created by White Supremacists," July 3, 2016
Associated Press, "Trump's Star Tweet Appeared on a White Supremacist Site," July 3, 2016
CNN, "Donald Trump's 'Star of David' tweet controversy, explained," July 5, 2016
Washington Times, "Paul Ryan on Donald Trump’s star tweet: ‘He’s got to clean this up,’ " July 5, 2016
Snopes.com, "History Made," July 5, 2016
Jonathan Greenblatt, tweet, July 4, 2016
Talking Points Memo, "Donald Trump Retweets ‘WhiteGenocideTM’ Account—Again," Feb. 11, 2016
PolitiFact, "Donald Trump's absurd claim that he knows nothing about former KKK leader David Duke," March 2, 2016