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President Donald Trump shared a “Keep America Great’ campaign video on Wednesday containing a logo of a lion that’s been used in the past by a fascistic vigilante group that idolizes Mussolini and a white nationalist website.
The logo, a picture of a lion painted in red, white, and blue, is closely associated with Lion Guard, a group of pro-Trump vigilantes who monitor anti-MAGA activity online, and VDARE, a white nationalist website that shared the image in April 2016 when Trump won the Republican primary.
This isn’t the first time the administration has flirted with VDARE. Only last week, the Justice Department found itself in hot water when Buzzfeed reported that internal department newsletters occasionally included links to VDARE blog posts. The site was also recently booted off YouTube for violating the video-sharing platform’s policies against white nationalism. The 2016 Republican National Convention was also criticized for prominently displaying a tweet by VDARE during Trump’s acceptance of the party’s nomination.
The former managing editor from the fact-checking site Snopes first noticed the logo and researched its origins.
The Trump campaign dismissed the idea that the video was dog-whistling extremist ideologies.
“The president shared an independently-produced video that highlighted the strengths of the economy his policies have created,” said Tim Murtaugh, communications director for the Trump 2020 campaign, told VICE News in an email. “Any conspiracy connected to white supremacy exists only in the fevered minds of reporters who will believe anything negative about the president.”
The video was created by a pro-Trump meme-maker “@some3thingwicked,” who explained on Twitter why they included the logo.
The logo has been printed on t-shirts, phone cases, bumper-stickers and notebooks since 2016, when Lion Guard formed in response to protests at Trump campaign events. Much like “Bikers for Trump,” Lion Guard sees themselves as an “informal civilian group dedicated to the safety and security of #Trump supporters by exposing far-Left rioters,” according to their website. Their motto — “Better to be a lion for a day, than a lamb for eternity” — is a direct reference to a famous radio broadcast by Italian dictator Benito Mussolini. Trump, quoting a Twitter user called “ilduce2016,” also shared a similar version of that quote in Feb. 2016.
“The dissemination of the Lion Guard logo, integrated at the end of the video Trump tweeted out, is disturbing but also indicative of the normalization of a modern fascism in the United States,” said Jean Dean Valencia-García, assistant professor of digital history at Texas State University and an expert in modern neo-fascist movements.
Online sleuths used Tin-Eye, a reverse image search engine, to figure out the first time that the image was shared on the internet. A similar VICE News search confirmed that the logo was first used by a Dutch white supremacist on twitter in March 2016. (The tweet has since been deleted.) Trump was widely criticized for retweeting that same Dutch white supremacist a year earlier, whose bio at that time read “#KekSec/Stop #WhiteGenocide/White Preservist/Programmer/Dutch Patriot/Race War when?”
Cover image: President Donald Trump listens to a question during a press conference on the third and final day of the G-7 summit in Biarritz, France Monday, Aug. 26, 2019. (AP Photo/Markus Schreiber)
This article originally appeared on VICE US.