In the wake of the Charlottesville demonstrations, many calls to impeach President Trump have been accompanied by a powerful image: the number “45” rendered like a Swastika behind the international “No” symbol. It’s already appearing on homemade signs carried by protesters, it has flooded Twitter, Facebook, an Instagram, and it is quickly becoming an emblem of who Trump really is.
The person behind the symbol is the Austin-based artist Mike Mitchell. He’s no stranger to activist artwork, but this symbol, which so evocatively represents President Trump’s sanctioning of white supremacy, has quickly become face of a renewed and united resistance movement. “When something really pisses me off, I get a little extra inspired,” Mitchell tells Co.Design via email. The Pussyhat was January 2017. This is August 2017.
Branded imagery has played an especially important and memorable role in politics over the past few years, including Trump’s red MAGA hat, the knitted pink pussy hats from the Womens’ March, and the #BlackLivesMatter slogan and black-and-yellow logo. In our social media-driven era, images galvanize movements. The most successful ones communicate a forcible message, and are easy to replicate and distribute. Mitchell’s symbol is exactly that.
The story of the icon goes back to February, when Mitchell started exploring a few ideas around the number 45 since it was something so closely associated with how Trump defines his term. “I knew I wanted to take on 45, a number he was clearly proud of as he put it on his dumb red USA hat,” Mitchell says. “I definitely wanted to try and tarnish it.”
He noticed that the “45” rendered in blocky sans-serif type already looked like a Swastika, then moved the digits closer together and tilted them 45 degrees to amp up the association.
Mitchell originally posted the design to his social channels in February–but it took off after the Charlottesville demonstrations, which included Nazi chants and imagery. “Perhaps [the connection between Trump and Nazis] wasn’t as clear in February, but it’s clear now, which is why I think it really took off,” Mitchell says. “[The symbol] seemed fitting in February, is fitting in August.”
On August 14, GQ political correspondent Keith Olbermann retweeted a Mitchell’s May 10 tweet of the symbol–and the icon took off. One of Mitchell’s tweets earned nearly 25,000 likes and over 12,000 retweets after Olbermann picked it up, and it’s been shared through a countless accounts. (The first time I saw it was through New York magazine’s influential art critic, Jerry Saltz.)
Simplicity itself. https://t.co/j3mCOhXL14
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) August 14, 2017
The 45th President must go. pic.twitter.com/ruZrpPGfL9
— Jerry Saltz (@jerrysaltz) August 14, 2017
So, does Mitchell make any money on the work, which has been shared so many times? He uploaded a high-res image of the symbol and granted permission for anyone to use it personally for free. But for those who want to support his work or simply want something readymade, you can also buy T-shirts, sweatshirts, mugs, and journals emblazoned with the symbol through Threadless.
“I really just want to spread the image as much as possible and cement it in history,” Mitchell says. “In all honesty, the amount I’ve made from my Threadless shop so far is still less than my hourly rate, so I don’t really see it as a big deal. If you look at my Twitter, half the replies are people wanting to know where they can buy a shirt. Threadless is happy to help them out with that, and so I’m happy to let that happen.”
Now that the symbol has flooded our streets and our timelines, Mitchell just has one request: “Impeach this idiot already,” he says.