A mystery was afoot in the leagues of conservative Washington this week after an audiovisual snafu made for an unexpected jab at President Trump. Let us set the scene.
The venue: a Washington hotel where Turning Point USA, the conservative youth organization, was hosting a conference for high school students, where Mr. Trump spoke on Tuesday.
The décor: the presidential seal appeared on the screen onstage, a fitting background for a speech by the president of the United States.
The problem: The presidential seal was not, in fact, the presidential seal at all, as The Washington Post reported. Instead of the customary bald eagle, the altered image showed a double-headed eagle, similar to that featured in Russia’s national emblem. Instead of arrows, the eagle clutches a set of golf clubs in a talon. It appeared onscreen as the president emerged onstage.
The fake seal’s appearance at the event seemed to catch everyone off guard. Turning Point USA initially said it had no idea how the image ended up onstage. Was it a simple mistake by the audiovisual team, who perhaps pulled the wrong image off the internet? Or was it an intentional prank, perhaps by someone who hoped to make a statement?
“It was a last-minute A/V mistake — and I can’t figure out where the breakdown was,” a spokesman for Turning Point USA told The Washington Post on Wednesday. “I can’t figure out who did it yet.”
A White House spokesman told The New York Times that officials did not review the image before it appeared onscreen and referred additional questions to Turning Point USA, which did not respond to several interview requests on Thursday.
The doctored image quickly became a talking point among liberals and conservatives alike. Online, some delighted in the dig and called it “brilliant trolling.” Others denounced the switch as an offense worthy of dismissal.
The alterations were subtle enough.
The traditional presidential seal contains the image of an eagle, which holds arrows representing war in one talon and olive branches representing peace in the other. A banner above its head bears the motto “E Pluribus Unum,” Latin for “Out of Many, One.”
The eagle in the altered image had two heads, a symbol featured on the national emblem of Russia and the flags of several other countries. (A logo for the Trump Turnberry golf course in Scotland also happens to feature a double-headed bird.) The symbol is often associated with power and empire.
The doctored seal appeared to be the same as one used to sell anti-Trump merchandise in an online store, The Washington Post reported, based on a reader tip. (Requests for comment sent to the store’s social media accounts were not immediately answered.)
In that seal, the eagle clutches golf clubs and what appears to be a wad of money in its talons. The banner above its head reads “45 Es un Títere,” Spanish for “45 Is a Puppet.” And a shield across the eagle’s chest features five instances of the hammer and sickle, a Communist symbol associated with the Russian Revolution.
The event was an unlikely setting for criticism, and it is unclear if the president was aware of the fake seal. He spoke for nearly 80 minutes in front of a supportive audience. The real presidential seal appeared on the lectern and on another part of the screen.