On Tuesday night, Tom Steyer was seen at the Democratic presidential debate with a design drawn on his hand. To many, it seemed like the same symbol that CNN - the same network hosting the debate - had investigated as a ‘hate symbol.’
A number of people took to social media to inquire about the meaning of the drawing on Steyer’s hand.
On Wednesday, The Independent clarified that Steyer, a devout Christian, had been drawing the symbol on himself for years.
The drawing featured the Crusader’s Cross, also known as the Jerusalem Cross. The symbol is commonly associated with the 13th Century European Christian crusaders. However, the symbol had been in use prior to the crusader’s conquest campaigns into Muslim territories.
In August, CNN had published a profile of Steyer, which noted that he always wrote the “Crusader’s Cross” on his hand prior to any interview. It was Steyer’s personal reminder to remain humble and speak the truth.
Steyer’s practice involving the Crusader’s Cross has never created controversy, but the same could not be said about Don Jr.’s use of the same symbol.
When Don Jr. uploaded a post on Instagram showcasing his Crusader stylized semi-automatic rifle, CNN and other news outlets were quick to call on activists to call the cross a right-wing “hate symbol.” The gun also featured a picture of Hillary Clinton behind bars on the magazine.
The caption read, “Nice day at the range. [A]dding a little extra awesome to my AR and that mag…”
CNN producer David Shortell, and Washington Post religion reporter Sarah Pulliam Bailey reached out to experts, asking them to explain why Don Jr.’s Instagram post was particularly problematic. The focus of the reports was on the Christian iconography present on the AR-15.
Shortell referenced the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League’s warning that the “far right” had “seized upon” the Crusader symbols “to represent an anti-Muslim ideology.”
SPLC analyst Howard Graves told Shortell, “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.”
A theology professor at the University of Notre Dame, Robin Jensen, told Bailey: the cross can be “a symbol of self-sacrifice and divine love,” but, “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 historian based in the U.K. and author of a book on the Crusades, said: “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.”
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, maintained that Don Jr.’s gun “sends the wrong message.”
“A cross doesn’t offend me. It’s the context. It’s on a weapon. It’s a weapon that is similar to ones used in mass killings. The whole package sends the wrong message,” Hooper said.