Skip
Current Issue
This Month's Print Issue

Follow Fast Company

We’ll come to you.

4 minute read

The Deplorable History Behind Donald Trump Jr.'s Skittles Meme

Please avoid using Nazi propaganda in U.S. presidential campaigns.

[Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images]

It's not official, yet, but the evidence keeps piling up that the "poisonous Skittles in this very American bowl are refugees" meme shared by Donald Trump Jr. might be the most toxic moment in a campaign of toxicity.

There are a truly incredible number of reasons the meme is so bad: For starters, the photo Trump Jr. used was actually taken by a refugee, copyrighted, and used without permission. There's also the whole bit about it being a bad analogy—obviously, as Skittles vice president of corporate affairs said, "Skittles are candy. Refugees are people." But also, the refugee risk factor in Trump Jr.'s meme is overstated to the nth degree.

The Washington Post's Philip Bump explains:

"The risk to an American of being killed by a refugee in a terror attack is 1 in 3.64 billion, as Huffington Post's Elise Foley noted on Twitter. [...] In other words, for every 10.92 billion years that Americans live—one Skittle, if you will—refugees will kill an American in a terror attack in three."

In other words, for an accurate statistical metaphor (definitely not what Trump was going for), Trump Jr.'s bowl of Skittles would need to have more than 10 billion pieces of candy in it.

Many Americans, indeed, saw the meme, shook their heads, and concluded without necessary investigation that it was nothing more than scaremongering—par for the Trump-campaign course. But make no mistake: Many other Americans were definitely familiar with the analogy and nodded their heads in agreement.

This meme—at least the message behind it—is not new. Beyond the copy, which was lifted almost verbatim (without credit, of course, no honor among racist tweets) from a tweet sent in August by former congressman and conservative radio host Joe Walsh (who also happened to threaten President Obama this summer), its origins go way back.

Back, back into Nazi Germany.

"The concept dates back at least to 1938 and a children’s book called Der Giftpilz, or The Toadstool, in which a mother explains to her son that it only takes one Jew to destroy an entire people," as Naomi LaChance of The Intercept explained.

"However they disguise themselves, or however friendly they try to be, affirming a thousand times their good intentions to us, one must not believe them," a mother tells her son. "Jews they are and Jews they remain. For our Volk they are poison."

"Like the poisonous mushroom!" says the boy.

"Yes, my child! Just as a single poisonous mushrooms can kill a whole family, so a solitary Jew can destroy a whole village, a whole city, even an entire Volk."

The book's author, Julius Streicher, the founder and publisher of an anti-Semitic newspaper, was convicted of crimes against humanity during the Nuremberg trials in 1946 and hanged.

The tale of the poisonous mushroom didn't die with Streicher. It was adopted by white supremacists in the United States, who simplified the story into a meme in the dark recesses of the alt-right internet, including the white nationalist and neo-Nazi website Stormfront. Here, M&Ms took the place of toadstools (presumably because race-baiting internet trolls aren't eating a lot of chantrelles) and African-Americans took the place of Jews.

The poisonous M&Ms-in-a-bowl memes persisted until 2012. Then, after George Zimmerman shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin, the M&Ms became Skittles—the 17-year-old's candy of choice.

That's some of the twisted history behind the meme. And it's not the first time in history that Trump Jr. has made reference to Holocaust imagery. Last week, he said that the media would be "warming up the gas chamber right now" if Republicans lied as much as Democrats, a comment Trump Jr. attempted to clarify after the fact.

In the process, while also retweeting anti-Semitic writers and using the "Pepe the Frog" symbol that has also been adopted by white supremacists over the course of the campaign, Media Matters reports that Donald Trump Jr. has become a "hero to neo-Nazi websites."

On Tuesday afternoon, the Trump campaign released a statement in defense of the presidential candidate's eldest son:

"Don Jr. has been a tremendous asset to the campaign.

"America has become less safe under Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and Clinton's planned 550% increase in Syrian refugees is a dangerous proposal that will put American lives at risk. Speaking the truth might upset those who would rather be politically correct than safe, but the American people want a change, and only Donald Trump will do what's needed to protect us."

America is weak, the campaign trumpets. Only Big Don can fix it, it claims. "Believe me," the candidate so often says, but the facts show that just 15% of what comes out of his mouth is true.

This meme and its official defense serve as another reminder to the American people that the Trump campaign is happy—if not eager—to use literal Nazi propaganda. That might not make you a neo-Nazi yourself, but it's certainly deplorable.

Have something to say about this article? You can email us and let us know. If it's interesting and thoughtful, we may publish your response.

loading