Backlash for Trump Jr. over Skittles tweet

New York Times News Service

Donald Trump Jr. is facing intense backlash on social media after he posted a message on Twitter on Monday night that compared Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles sprinkled with a few that “would kill you.”

Trump, a top adviser in his father’s presidential campaign, appeared to suggest that the nation was faced with a blind selection process in which a few potentially poisoned pieces would be lurking among the thousands of Syrians fleeing a brutal 5-year-old civil war.

The post, shared widely on Twitter, drew swift condemnation and comparisons to white supremacist memes. Social-media users, including President Barack Obama’s chief speechwriter, Jon Favreau, shared images of bombing victims in the region, including Omran Daqneesh, the bloodstained, dust-coated boy who was shown sitting in an ambulance after an airstrike and who became a symbol of the suffering in Aleppo, Syria.

The post said: “If I had a bowl of skittles and I told you just three would kill you. Would you take a handful? That's our Syrian refugee problem.” And Donald Trump Jr. wrote on the post: “This image says it all. Let's end the politically correct agenda that doesn't put America first.”

The post also spurred a strong response from Wrigley, the owner of Skittles:

“Skittles are candy. Refugees are people. We don’t feel it’s an appropriate analogy. We will respectfully refrain from further commentary as anything we say could be misinterpreted as marketing,” the company said in an emailed statement from a spokeswoman, initially reported by The Hollywood Reporter.

It also drew criticism from a spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, which is providing aid to Syrians.

“Syrian refugees are fellow human beings who have left their country to escape war and terrorism,” Melissa Fleming, the spokeswoman, said in an email on Tuesday. “Depictions like these are dehumanizing, demeaning and dangerous.”

Emails sent to the campaign of Donald Trump, the Republican presidential nominee, were not immediately answered Tuesday.

FILE -- Donald Trump, Jr., son of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, at the Quicken Loans Arena on the second day of the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, July 19, 2016. Trump Jr. has received intense backlash on social media after he posted a message on Twitter on Sept. 19 that compared Syrian refugees to a bowl of Skittles sprinkled with a few that Òwould kill you.Ó (Sam Hodgson/The New York Times)

But Trump’s running mate, Gov. Mike Pence of Indiana, criticized the blowback in an interview on MSNBC.

“It is remarkable to me to see the level of outrage about a metaphor used by Don Jr.,” he said, adding, “All the while our FBI and public-safety officials tell us that we can’t know for sure who those people are coming into this country.”

The war in Syria has killed more than 400,000 people and has uprooted nearly 5 million. Last month, the United States said it had met its goal for the year, welcoming its 10,000th Syrian refugee. State Department statistics say that fewer than 20 of the 785,000 refugees settled in the United States since the Sept. 11 attacks have been arrested on terrorism charges.

On the campaign trail, Trump has likened the influx of Syrian refugees to infiltrators in a Trojan horse and said he would like to “build a safe zone in Syria, build a big, beautiful safe zone, and you have whatever it is, so they can live.”

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The Skittles meme, using the stark white bowl brimming with multicolored candy, generated accusations of insensitivity. One Twitter user, using the name Jason Sparks, posted: “10s of thousands of Syrian children have been killed in the war. They aren't Skittles. They're children. Like yours.”

Trump was also accused of plagiarism after Joe Walsh, a conservative radio talk show host and former Illinois congressman known for his tea party views, took credit for making the exact analogy last month. Others noted that the meme dated to at least 2014, when a bowl of M&M’s was invoked.

Others saw a clear link to white supremacist themes and to Trayvon Martin, the black teenager who went out to buy Skittles in 2012 and was fatally shot by George Zimmerman in Florida.

The younger Trump was criticized this month for evoking Holocaust imagery in criticisms about the news media after he posted an image of Pepe the Frog, a popular alt-right symbol.

In this latest flare-up, some noted that the Skittles message was posted on Twitter from an iPhone, made by Apple, which was co-founded by Steve Jobs, the son of a Syrian immigrant.