The streetlights illuminated her golden hair, almost like a halo. But that’s where similarities to the divine end.
Her fingers pressed together tightly and her arm reached out toward the sky. A young man stared down at her, in what looked like disbelief. Through her wire-rimmed glasses, she met his gaze. She seemed to smirk.
An elderly woman, decked out in Donald Trump campaign swag, was giving a Nazi salute.
Her name, according to The Chicago Tribune, is Birgitt Peterson, of Yorkville, Illinois. Her photo immediately went viral—a distillation of these strange, sad times.
But Trump apologists and fans, as has become their custom, refused to believe what they were seeing could be true.
They began circulating a rumor, on social media, that the woman pictured was not Birgitt Peterson of Yorkville, but Portia Boulger, a former Hillary Clinton supporter and current Bernie Sanders activist from Chillicothe, Ohio.
Twitter user @new_debis, who uses the hashtag #AlwaysTrump, posted Boulger’s picture. “It appears Portia works for Bernie. Promoting violence at Trump Rally,” she said.
Another user, @brassidio, wrote, “Hitler was a National Socialist. It’s unsurprising to see a Socialist giving a Nazi salute. #PortiaBoulger #trump.”
Boulger is 63 and a union carpenter by trade, though she says she now works part time as a teacher for at-risk children when she’s not volunteering on behalf of Sanders. According to a public records search, Peterson is 69. A call placed to the number listed for her was not answered, and the answering machine suggested it was outdated anyway.
I reached Boulger by phone on Saturday morning, a few minutes after Donald Trump Jr. tweeted her photo with the caption, “Big surprise. However, the media will never run with this.” The New Republic's Jeet Heer, pointing to what he said were numerous "racist, sexist and transphobic" comments, reported that the user who Trump Jr. got the photo from, @voxday, is a white supremacist. (Update: @voxday, for his part, denies that he is a white supremacist. On Twitter, he said, "You are calling an American Indian - and the great-grandson of a Mexican revolutionary - a 'white supremacist.' Retract. Now.")
His tweet had, as of this writing, 908 retweets and over 1,000 ‘likes’. Trump Jr. also retweeted conservative actor James Woods making the same case.
And Trump Jr. responded to a user, @Namaste_zen, who said the photo of the woman giving a nazi salute proved Trump supporters are "racists and bigots" by saying, "Apparently you don't read the news. She runs Bernie Sander's women for Bernie site. It's all staged [sic]."
“I was at 4 North Bridge Street in Chillicothe, Ohio, at the IBEW union hall, making calls for Sanders,” Boulger told me of her whereabouts Friday night.
“My gut tells me that they did this as a full bore attack, and that they were not being honest or that they were misled by someone,” she said.
A Sanders spokeswoman has not yet responded to a request for confirmation of Boulger’s account. On Boulger’s Facebook page, a friend, Rhonda Kinnamon commented, “The photo of the person saluting IS NOT Portia A Boulger. In fact, I was chatting with Portia last evening on the phone at approximately the same time this photo was taken. She was in Chillicothe.”
Another user called her a “Nazi cunt,” before the comment was deleted.
She said she didn’t realize she was being identified as the woman in the photo until her son called her, and then people started contacting her on social media.
“When my hair was long, there was a little bit of a resemblance with the hairdo, but my hair’s real short now,” she said. She pointed me to a photo she had posted, from March 9, that showed her bright white hair cropped close to her head.
But Boulger didn’t seem even agitated by the truther campaign she found herself at the center of.
“They want me to be worried, that’s what these people do on Twitter: they try to scare people,” she said. “I’ve been standing for the 99 percent all my life and if someone wants to take me out for standing for truth and justice, that’s the way I was meant to go out.”
UPDATE 2:55 p.m. ET: Donald Trump Jr. appears to have deleted several of his tweets that falsely accused Boulger of being the Nazi-saluting Trump supporter without comment or explanation. Trump supporter Peterson spoke to The New York Times, confirming it was her who made the Nazi salute. Additonally, this post has been updated to include comment from Twitter user @voxday and several screenshots of deleted tweets.