Edward Helmore, The Guardian, January 7, 2020
Donald Trump Jr was criticised on Monday after posting to Instagram a picture in which he posed with an assault rifle bearing a heraldic Jerusalem or “five-fold” cross, as carried by medieval knights on crusades in the Holy Land.
“Nice day at the range,” the president’s son wrote. The picture showed Trump Jr holding up the weapon, safety-catch off and finger on the trigger. The magazine was decorated with an image of Hillary Clinton behind bars.
“Adding a little extra awesome to my AR . . . ” he added.
The provocative post came three days after Trump Jr’s father enflamed the Middle East by ordering the killing of the top Iranian general Qassem Suleimani.
“At its best, the cross is a symbol of self-sacrifice and divine love,” Robin Jensen, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, told the Washington Post. “It has many different resonances for people.
“This is not what you put on a gun unless you’re saying Christians have a right to kill people who aren’t one of us.”
Trump Jr’s spokesman, Andy Surabian, defended the Instagram post, saying symbols “depicting various historical warriors” are typical in gun culture.
“Don’s Instagram post was strictly about him using a famous meme to mock Hillary Clinton, as he and many others have done on numerous occasions and will surely do again in the future, so long as it continues triggering humourless liberals,” Surabian told the Post.
Trump Jr has published a book called Triggered and is a popular surrogate for his father. He has 2.2 million Instagram followers and a recent poll found that 29% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents would consider voting for him in 2024.
The Jerusalem cross symbolises many aspects of Christianity, including pilgrimage, but crusader imagery and the word “crusade” is regularly used in the US regarding the Middle East. In a speech to the nation after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, for example, President George W Bush said: “This crusade, this war on terrorism, is going to take a while.”
In strict usage, the word “crusade” describes a series of military expeditions mounted by European rulers, starting in 1095, to capture the Holy Land from Muslims. It is therefore a loaded term across the modern Middle East.
Speaking to the Post on Monday, the British historian Dan Jones noted that crusader symbolism is also common among white nationalists, as shown during the Charlottesville protests in 2017, and the Christchurch shooting in New Zealand in which 51 people were killed last year.
Anders Behring Breivik, who killed 77 people in Norway in 2011, claimed to be part of a crusade against multiculturalism in Europe.
“At a time when tensions in the Middle East are running high, it’s an inflammatory time to run around with a gun with a crusader image on it,” Jones said.