Donald Trump’s election campaign ran more than 80 Facebook ads featuring a large inverted red triangle, a symbol used by Nazis to label political prisoners, in its attack ads against “antifa” and “far-left mobs” that, the campaign claims, are “destroying” American cities.
The ads were posted on the president’s page, the Team Trump page, and vice president Mike Pence’s page.
Throughout June, the president’s re-election campaign has published hundreds of ads condemning “antifa” as millions protest police brutality in the wake of police killings of black Americans and violence against demonstrators.
The president and his allies have also threatened to label “antifa” a terrorist organisation, though there is no such organisation other than antifascist activists opposing right-wing violence. Protest-related arrests for federal crimes show no links to “antifa” despite US Attorney General William Barr’s threat to prosecute demonstrators as such.
Some of the ads remained online for more than a day before Facebook removed them. After they were posted on 17 June, the ads made hundreds of thousands of “impressions”, according to Facebook’s metrics that illustrate how many times the ads appeared on a user’s screen.
“We removed these posts and ads for violating our policy against organised hate,” a Facebook company spokesperson told The Independent. “Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group’s symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol.”
The triangle was first used in the 1930s to identify communists, socialists, anarchists, liberals, Freemasons and other political opposition to the Nazi regime, including people who aided in the rescue of Jews.
While the inverted pink triangle, used in concentration camps to identify LGBT+ or perceived LGBT+ people, has since been reclaimed as a symbol of LGBT+ pride, the same has not been applied to the inverted red triangle.
The campaign claimed that the inverted red triangle with a black outline refers to the upside-down red triangle emoji and is “widely used” by “antifa” – but, as other reporters and demonstrators have noted, it’s not. (In a message defending the ad, Team Trump’s Twitter account posted an illustration of the word “antifa” against a red triangle, though a reverse image search did not yield any results for the image or similar illustrations.)
Antifascist demonstrators have used red and black flags.
The campaign did not immediately respond to The Independent‘s request for comment.
Historian Jacob S Eder told The Washington Post that the ad is “a highly problematic use of a symbol that the Nazis used to identify their political enemies.”
“It’s hard to imagine it’s done on purpose, because I’m not sure if the vast majority of Americans know or understand the sign, but it’s very, very careless to say the least,” he said.
Jewish progressive group Bend the Arc said that “the president of the United States is campaigning for re-election using a Nazi concentration camp symbol” to “smear millions of protesters”.
“Their masks are off,” the group said on Twitter. “This isn’t just one post. This is dozens of carefully targeted ads ... All spreading lies and genocidal imagery.”
The administration and the president’s campaign have been repeatedly accused of signalling white nationalist dog whistles to supporters.
In 2016, Mr Trump posted an image to Twitter showing Hillary Clinton and a stack of $100 bills with a six-pointed Star of David. He deleted the post but insisted it was not antisemitic and that the star was a sheriff’s badge.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, said the campaign use of the red triangle symbol “to attack political opponents is highly offensive”.
The president’s campaign “needs to learn its history, as ignorance is no excuse for using Nazi-related symbols”, he said.
While other social media platforms have attempted to curb the president’s misinformation, Facebook has largely remained hands-off, including allowing a post from the president’s account that Twitter had flagged for violating its rules about messages “glorifying violence”.
Several Facebook employees have resigned from their jobs in protest after Mark Zuckerberg defended the company’s approach to the president’s posts.
“Facebook will keep moving the goalposts every time Trump escalates, finding excuse after excuse not to act on increasingly dangerous rhetoric,” said software engineer Timothy Aveni, who announced he was quitting his role on 1 June.
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