Tom Steyer showed up to the CNN-hosted Democratic presidential debate on Tuesday night sporting a design on his hand that the network has previously investigated as a potential “hate symbol.”
Many social media users wondered after the debate about the meaning of what looked like a series of crosses and boxes on Steyer’s hand.
The Independent on Wednesday provided an answer, noting that Steyer, a devout Christian, had been marking himself with the symbol for years.
Known as the Jerusalem or Crusader’s Cross, the symbol is usually associated with 13th Century European Christian crusaders, although its use predates their conquest campaigns into Muslim lands.
In a profile on Steyer published in August of last year, CNN briefly noted that Steyer writes the “Jerusalem Cross” on his hand before every interview as a reminder to stay humble and tell the truth.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Steyer’s practice regarding the “Jerusalem Cross” didn’t kick up much controversy.
The same cannot be said of Donald Trump Jr.’s use of the symbol.
After Trump Jr. posted photos of an AR-15 to social media earlier in the month, CNN and other leading news outlets turned to activists and researchers to declare the weapon a right-wing “hate symbol.”
Trump is seen in the Instagram post showcasing the semi-automatic rifle, which features Crusader-inspired stylings. The magazine of the gun is decorated with an image of Hillary Clinton behind bars.
“Nice day at the range,” Trump wrote in the caption. “[A]dding a little extra awesome to my AR and that mag…”
Supporters of Trump, and his father, the president, expressed amusement at the familiar shot at “Crooked Hillary” and admiration for the AR-15. But over on Liberal Twitter, some users condemned Trump and his post as dangerously hateful.
The problem with Donald Trump Jr. and his AR-15
Meanwhile, CNN producer David Shortell and Washington Post religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey called up experts to explain in greater detail why Trump’s Instagram post is so problematic. Their reports focused less on any insult to Clinton than on the AR-15’s Christian iconography.
Of particular concern was the same symbol favored by Steyer: the Jerusalem cross on the gun’s magazine well.
Both journalists acknowledged that people could theoretically care about the Crusades as a historical event and Christianity as a religion. But none of the experts they interviewed thought that was the reality.
Shortell quoted the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League as warning that the “far right” has “seized upon” Crusader symbols “to represent an anti-Muslim ideology.”
“The adoption of these symbols is meant largely as a way of signaling anti-Muslim sentiment in particular, but also this notion that Christianity needs to retake western civilization,” SPLC analyst Howard Graves informed him.
Robin Jensen, a theology professor at the University of Notre Dame who studies Christian art, told Bailey that the cross can be “a symbol of self-sacrifice and divine love.” But she continued, “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.”
Dan Jones, a U.K.-based historian who wrote a book published last year on the Crusades, said invoking the Crusades was particularly inappropriate given that President Donald Trump is currently clashing with the Islamic Republic of Iran in the Middle East.
“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.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said that while he could see nothing explicitly anti-Muslim about Trump’s gun, it still “sends the wrong message.”
“A cross doesn’t offend me. It’s the context. It’s on a weapon,” Hooper said. “It’s a weapon that is similar to ones used in mass killings. The whole package sends the wrong message.”
Taking a shot of her own, Bailey added that Trump is “an avid hunter.”
“Last year, he shot endangered sheep in Mongolia before he had approval from the government there,” she reported.