Why Does Donald Trump’s Staff Wear This Mysterious Pin?

Emblem experts say it's reminiscent of gay pride logos and Star Trek badges

(Illustration: R. A. Di Ieso)
Mar 23, 2016 at 5:06 PM ET

There’s one easy way to tell if someone at a Donald Trump rally is one of the Republican frontrunner’s aides. It’s not whether they’re assaulting journalists or standing next to a table filled with defunct Trump products. No, you can distinguish a man who is on the Trump campaign payroll by looking at their lapel to see if they’re wearing an emblematic pin.

You can’t mistake it. The small badge is an upside-down, triple overlapping, half purple and half gold triangle. Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski has been photographed sporting the insignia the most often, and wears it in his Twitter profile photo, but several other aides have also been captured with the pin.

Vocativ dug through photos of Trump staffers from media appearances and events since the campaign began. Our earliest sighting was on December 1, 2015, when Lewandowski wore the pin to a meeting with black pastors.

So what does the emblem mean? Hope Hicks, Trump’s campaign communication director, told Vocativ neither she nor Lewandowski would explain why aides wear the pin. Huffington Post reporter Eliot Nelson, who called out the pin in a recent tweet, suggested the image might help secret service identify Trump staffers. But even if that’s true, why use an icon reminiscent of triangle images associated with secret societies?

David Graham, a professor emeritus at Concordia University and editor of the International Society for Emblem Studies newsletter, told Vocativ he couldn’t tell what the emblem means, but did say it reminded him of something. “The use of a pink triangle badge by the Nazis to identify homosexuals, as one of several differently colored badges worn by prisoners in camps, is well known, of course, but that hardly seems likely to be the source of this pin.”

Another emblem expert immediately made the same comparison, but also dismissed the connection. Sabine Mödersheim, a University of Wisconsin professor who also serves on the executive committee of the International Society for Emblem Studies. “Quite obviously, there couldn’t be a connection to the pink triangle that homosexual prisoners were forced to wear in World War II concentration camps and that was used in Act Up and gay pride logos, given Lewandowski’s background.”

While Lewandowski reportedly assaulted journalist Michelle Fields, there is no evidence proving he has personally disparaged anyone in the LGBT community. But Mödersheim said she was referring to Lewandowski’s prior association with the Americans for Prosperity, a conservative advocacy organization, which has funded the campaigns of several politicians who actively oppose gay rights. 

Upon a closer inspection, Mödersheim pointed out the color scheme. “Split colors… are common in heraldry, sometimes signifying the union of two lines or families. As to the choice of colors, my guess would be that they tried to allude to the Trump gold logos and some vague association with wealth and royalty in the purple,” she said.

But she also thinks it could be an homage to more recent iconography. “Vaughn and McCallum’s U.N.C.L.E. badges were way cooler. Even the Star Trek Ensign badge. I’m wondering, could there be some collective memory at work, perhaps unconsciously,” she said. “It just looks like a bad piece of ’80s geometric junk jewelry.”