Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect further reporting and analysis. The rating has been changed to inconclusive.
The claim: Trump campaign shirts feature imperial eagle, a Nazi symbol
President Donald Trump's campaign website recently unveiled a T-shirt that has come under fire because of perceived design similarities between its logo and a Nazi symbol.
The similarity was first noticed, according to Forward, by two Twitter accounts, Bend the Arc: Jewish Action, described as a Jewish progressive group, and the Lincoln Project, an anti-Trump group formed by Republicans.
"The President of the United States is campaigning for reelection with a Nazi symbol. Again," Bend the Arc tweeted on July 1.
Several Facebook posts have noted the perceived similarities, as well. One user noted, "Trump is now selling straight up nazi propaganda shirts."
Response from the Trump campaign
The Trump campaign pushed back hard on this claim.
“This is moronic. In Democrats’ America, Mount Rushmore glorifies white supremacy and the bald eagle with an American flag is a Nazi symbol. They have lost their minds," Tim Murtaugh, Trump 2020 communications director, said in an email to USA TODAY.
Murtaugh pointed out a similar situation with former House Speaker Paul Ryan. A BuzzFeed story notes that in January 2017, Twitter was abuzz with the idea that the speaker's logo resembled a similar Nazi eagle and swastika. But it also looks like the eagle-and-globe top of the silver mace of the House, "a symbol of the House's authority," according to the House website.
America's use of the eagle
The eagle is one of the most common animals to be used in design throughout history, having been used as a symbol of empire and royalty since the first recorded civilizations. Eagles have been especially common in Western countries, where the birds often appear on the coat of arms and official documents of various countries.
The bald eagle has been the national bird of the United States since 1782, according to the Library of Congress. The seal of the United States as well as the crests of many federal and state agencies frequently feature the eagle, often in consort with shields, crests and other objects.
“The Great Seal of America” was developed in 1782 and features a right-facing eagle, though the bird’s talons are spread, one holding arrows, the other holding an olive branch.
"Only one authorized Great Seal is in official use and is operated by the U.S. Department of State. The Great Seal is impressed upon official documents such as treaties and commissions. The Department of State affixes about 3,000 seals to official documents yearly," according to the State Department's website.
The president's seal and many Cabinet-level offices have official seals that also incorporate an eagle as the central design.
The Mace of the Republic, a ceremonial symbol of the House of Representatives, is another high-profile example of eagle iconography in the U.S. government. In December 2019, Speaker Nancy Pelosi wore a brooch of the mace during debate over impeachment. Pelosi has also worn the famous brooch on several other important political occasions including Trump's first State of the Union, the New York Times reported.
“The silver mace, symbol of the House’s authority, has been in use in the House since 1841 when the Members met in the old House Chamber … A silver globe with an eagle perched on it sits at the top of the mace, with the Western Hemisphere facing front,” an entry on the House of Representatives website reads.
Another famous example of the eagle in American culture is the Eagle, Globe and Anchor of the Marine Corps. The seal, which includes the Marines’ Latin motto “Semper Fidelis” meaning “Always faithful,” has been used in some form since the 1800s.
History of Germany's eagle
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.
The Reichsadler, which translates to “Imperial Eagle,” was derived from the Holy Roman Empire’s coat of arms.
"A regulation issued in 1936 defined a swastika framed by a wreath of oak leaves, topped by an open-winged and right-facing eagle, as the sovereign symbol of the Reich," according to the German parliament's website.
The coat of arms was changed after 1945 to remove the swastika and other adornments. It is still used in Germany today and referred to as the “Bundesadler,” or “Federal Eagle.”
The campaign T-shirt
The T-shirt for sale on the Trump campaign's website is called the "America First Tee." The design includes a left-facing eagle, holding a round emblem with the U.S. flag inside and "Trump 2020" in a banner underneath.
Forward also reported the eagle was a stock image, based on sleuthing from Twitter. The stock art linked in the Forward article has since been removed.
The President of the United States is campaigning for reelection with a Nazi symbol. Again.— Bend the Arc: Jewish Action (@jewishaction) July 1, 2020
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
Both birds hold another national symbol in their talons, wings outstretched, with the head facing to the right to the viewer, or the eagle's left.
But the designs have key differences. In Trump’s, the eagle holds the American flag up near its chest; the Nazi symbol holds the swastika lower. Trump’s design also features “Trump 2020” below it. The American eagle is also a bald eagle, whereas the Nazi eagle is depicted as an all-black bird.
Another Nazi symbol controversy
Trump’s campaign materials have featured symbols used by Nazis. In June, Facebook removed advertisements posted by the Trump campaign that showed an upside down triangle, a symbol used by Nazis to classify political prisoners during World War II.
The ads called on the president's supporters to sign a petition and “stand with President Trump against ANTIFA,” referring to the name for loosely affiliated, left-leaning anti-racist groups that the President has blamed for violence in recent nationwide protests against police brutality and racial discrimination.
Murtaugh defended the ad, saying the ad included a “symbol used by Antifa” and noted Facebook included a red triangle emoji.
“The image is also not included in the Anti-Defamation League’s database of symbols of hate. But it is ironic that it took a Trump ad to force the media to implicitly concede that Antifa is a hate group” Murtaugh wrote.
Our ruling: Inconclusive
The U.S. government has many uses of eagle imagery in its official seals and emblems including on the "Great Seal of America," on the presidential seal and on the mace of the U.S. House of Representatives. The Trump campaign's T-shirt includes the use of an eagle that some claim bears resemblance to a Nazi eagle.We rate the claim that the Trump campaign is using Nazi imagery as INCONCLUSIVE, based on our research.
Our fact-check sources:
- Anti-Defamation League's database of hate symbols, "Nazi Eagle"
- Germany's Parliament, "The federal eagle"
- Veterans Administration, "The American Bald Eagle"
- USA TODAY, "Facebook removes Trump campaign ads with symbol once used by Nazis"
- U.S. State Department, "The Great Seal"
- Forward, "Did Trump campaign slap a Nazi eagle on a T-shirt?"
- The Iris of the Getty Museum, "Eagle as Ideal Ruler from the Ancient World to the Founding Fathers"
- Library of Congress, "The Bald Eagle, Creature of Nature and an American Symbol"
- Library of Congress, "Designs for the Seal of the United States: The first seal, 1782 & the 2nd seal, 1841"
- JFK Presidential Library, "About the President's Seal"
- USA TODAY, "House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sports Mace of the Republic brooch during impeachment proceeding"
- U.S. House of Representatives, "Mace of the U.S. House of Representatives"
- New York Times, "Nancy Pelosi Went Dark for the House Debates. Her Pin Shined."
- BuzzFeed News, "No, Paul Ryan Is Not Using A Nazi Image In His Logo"
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Fact check: Trump 2020 campaign shirt criticized for design