NATIONAL HARBOR, MARYLAND—When President Donald Trump took the stage Friday at the Conservative Political Action Conference, he was greeted with cheers, chants of “USA,” and dozens of Russian flags.
Two young, progressive activists from DC, Jason Charter and Ryan Clayton with the group Americans Take Action, purchased tickets to the conference, and handed out nearly 1,000 flags to attendees as a prank. After they were thrown out of the conference, they told TPM they wanted to “shed light on an important issue”—namely, the drip of revelations of backchannel communications between the Russian government and the Trump campaign—and allow people to “get a laugh out of their day.”
Charter, 22, told TPM by phone that he and Clayton organized the prank in order to “honor Trump’s relationship with Putin.” He said almost no one at CPAC seemed to realize the flag he handed them bore the horizontal red, white, and blue stripes of the Russian Federation underneath Trump’s name.
“I asked people if they wanted a Trump flag and they took it,” Charter said. “Many Trump supporters were proudly waving their Russian Trump flag.”
“I think it says a lot about Donald Trump’s base and their education level,” he added. “I don’t want to insult anyone, but I think you should know what the Russian flag is. They are one of the world’s major powers, and it’s a pretty easily recognized flag.”
CPAC staff quickly confiscated the flags, but not before the embarrassing image went viral on social media.
Crowd at CPAC waving these little pro-Trump flags that look exactly like the Russian flag. Staffers quickly come around to confiscate them. pic.twitter.com/YhPpkwFCNc
— Peter Hamby (@PeterHamby) February 24, 2017
In an additional protest, Charter got to his feet while Trump was speaking and yelled, “Fascist!” He and Clayton were removed from the premises by security and told they were barred from returning.
CPAC communications director Ian Walters declined to comment to TPM on the flag incident or the removal of the two pranksters.
Charter, who also organized protests on Inauguration Day that involved shouting passages from the Constitution during Trump’s first speech as commander in chief, said he hoped the action pushes Republicans to pay more attention to lingering questions about Trump and former national security adviser Mike Flynn’s conversations with the Russian government.
“If Hillary Clinton’s senior advisor had to resign due to connections with, say, Chinese diplomats, and had conversations off the record, there would be a major investigation going on,” Charter said.