On 11 August 2018, President Trump welcomed members of the “Bikers for Trump” group to the Trump National Golf Course in Bedminster, New Jersey. Shortly afterwards a supposed tweet from President Trump featuring an image of one of the “Bikers for Trump” bearing an apparent Nazi ‘SS’ tattoo started making its way around online:
The text shown above was taken from a tweet posted by President Trump, but that tweet did not include the photograph seen above.
The President posted four photographs from the Bedminster event, none of which (as far as we can tell) prominently featured a biker with a Nazi tattoo on his arm. Here’s a screenshot of President Trump’s actual tweet:
The biker photograph itself was snapped by Lauren Hudgins at the right-wing “Patriot Prayer” rally held in Portland, Oregon, a week before Trump’s Bedminster event:
— Lauren Hudgins (@lehudgins) August 5, 2018
It’s unknown exactly who first combined President Trump’s tweet with the photograph of the “Bikers for Trump” member bearing the apparent Nazi tattoo, but that idea was suggested by Twitter user @ASchmalbert shortly after Trump posted his message about the bikers’ visit to Bedminster (although that suggestion did not state that the resulting mash-up should necessarily be cast as something the President himself had tweeted in its entirety):
The pictured tattoo appears to be an SS Bolt, a white supremacist symbol derived from Schutzstaffel (SS) paramilitary organization in Nazi Germany. (Some social media users offered that the tattooed “SS” was just the latter part of a larger tattoo showing the KISS rock band’s somewhat similar logo. This argument doesn’t appear to be valid, however, as the SS symbol in the biker’s photograph does not appear to be preceded by the letter “I.”)
The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) noted that while SS Bolts are symbols commonly used by white supremacists and neo-Nazis, it’s difficult to determine a user’s intent based solely on a picture:
The SS bolts are typically used as a symbol of white supremacy, but there is one context in which this is not necessarily always so. Decades ago, some outlaw biker gangs appropriated several Nazi-related symbols, including the SS bolts, essentially as shock symbols or symbols of rebellion or non-conformity. Thus SS bolts in the context of the outlaw biker subculture does not necessarily denote actual adherence to white supremacy. However, because there are a number of racists and full-blown white supremacists within the outlaw biker subculture, sometimes it actually is used as a symbol of white supremacy. Often the intended use and meaning of the SS bolts in this context is quite ambiguous and difficult to determine.
The photograph of the “Bikers for Trump” member with an ‘SS’ tattoo on his arm was taken in Portland, Oregon, during a “Patriot Prayer” rally. That photograph was not shared by President Trump, nor did any other information suggest the same person was in attendance at the ‘Bikers for Trump’ rally in Bedminster, New Jersey.