In a “fact check” published on Saturday, USA Today claimed to “confirm” rumors that President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign was selling merchandise emblazoned with a “Nazi symbol,” the “Imperial Eagle.” By Sunday night, however, after being fully embarrassed on social media, the paper walked back their claims.
The “fact check” came in response to claims made by two Twitter accounts, Bend the Curve, a left-leaning anti-Semitism watchdog account, and The Lincoln Project, a Republican anti-Trump political action group. The two organizations both noted that Trump’s campaign was selling shirts featuring a design with a right-facing eagle, with outstretched wings, holding a medallion in its talons.
Both groups claimed the symbol was associated with the Nazi Party.
“The President of the United States is campaigning for reelection with a Nazi symbol. Again,” Bend the Arc tweeted.
The President of the United States is campaigning for reelection with a Nazi symbol. Again.
On the left: an official Trump/Pence “America First” tee.
On the right; the Iron Eagle, the official symbol of the Nazi party.
⁰It’s not an accident. Bigotry is their entire brand. pic.twitter.com/mSOBxwf7Wa
— Bend the Arc: Jewish Action (@jewishaction) July 1, 2020
In a Facebook post, a Trump critic added that Trump’s campaign was now “selling straight-up nazi propaganda shirts.”
The shirt, though, appears to actually reference the “Great Seal of America,” a symbol adopted in the 1780s to represent the American experiment, according to the State Department, and used liberally by the federal government across hundreds of departments. Most notably, it’s used in the official seal of the Office of the President — the office Donald Trump currently holds and hopes to retain in November.
“The eagle is widely used in American political imagery,” USA Today itself points out. “The office of the American president and many Cabinet-level offices have official seals that also incorporate an eagle as the central design.”
But, the paper notes, eagles are also associated with Nazi Germany.
“The Nazi eagle was developed by the German Nazi Party in Germany in the 1920s, and became a symbol of the government after the party took power. It was derived from the German coat of arms,” USA Today points out. “The Reichsadler, which translates to “Imperial Eagle,” was derived from the Holy Roman Empire’s coat of arms.”
That eagle is still used in the official seal of the German government but now without the swastika.
Ultimately, USA Today decided the Trump campaign was going for the Nazi eagle, not the American one.
“The claims that a Trump campaign T-shirt has come under criticism for using a symbol similar to a Nazi eagle is TRUE, based on our research.”
Social media users quickly fired back.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) compared the USA Today fact check to an article in the satirical news outlet, The Onion.
This “clarification” reads like The Onion.
USA Today calls the eagle a Nazi symbol, and then follows up:
“Worth noting, the eagle is a longtime US symbol, too.”
No kidding. https://t.co/6wucBbt22N
— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) July 12, 2020
Another user pointed out that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) should be called out for her own use of Nazi imagery.
Seems only fair that you guys write an article about Speaker Pelosi using the same symbol on her website. pic.twitter.com/XRDDJADIz0
— Matt Whitlock (@mattdizwhitlock) July 12, 2020
“Eagles are canceled, you guys,” noted Ricochet editor Jon Gabriel.
Eagles are canceled, you guys. https://t.co/aasTAq8NA4
— jon gabriel (@exjon) July 12, 2020
Federalist author Mollie Hemingway panicked that her coffee cup might be emblazoned with a hate symbol.
— Mollie (@MZHemingway) July 13, 2020
The paper later returned to social media to issue a clarification.
“Clarification: The claim that Trump 2020 has put out a T-shirt with a symbol similar to a Nazi eagle and is being criticized for it is true. Worth noting, the eagle is a longtime US symbol, too.”
That is, in fact, worth noting.