Local Sanders supporter’s selfie lands him in Trump ad

  • Florence resident and Bernie Sanders supporter Miles Chilson’s selfie with Donald Trump, taken at a moment Trump mistakenly thought Chilson was supporting him.

  • A photo of a Trump campaign ad aired on ABC the first night of the Republican National Convention featuring Trump and Florence resident Miles Chilson. Courtesy photo from Miles Chilson

  • Miles Chilson is shown with Donald Trump at a campaign event in Claremont, New Hampshire, in January, in these video images.

  • Miles Chilson of Florence stands for a portrait July 20 at the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Sarah Crosby/Gazette Staff

Staff Writer
Published: 7/20/2016 6:23:14 PM

By SARAH CROSBY

Staff Writer

NORTHAMPTON — When staunch Bernie Sanders supporter Miles Chilson received Donald Trump’s “Empire” cologne as a joke from a Hartsbrook School classmate last year, he had no idea that gift would become the winning ticket to his national stage performance.

Or that the Trump campaign would use him in its ads.

Chilson, of Florence, chose to attend a Trump event after meeting Sanders during a January rally at University of Massachusetts Amherst.

“Being a liberal pretty much my entire life, I didn’t think it was fair to decide that I wanted one candidate without seeing the other side,” he said.

Half for self-education, half as a practical joke, Chilson arrived at Trump’s Jan. 5 rally in Claremont, N.H., doused in the Republican nominee’s cologne.

“It was basically going to be comedy for me,” he said.

Chilson said Wednesday that regardless of his views, he went in with an open mind.

After passing through security, Chilson was given Trump signs to hold by campaign staff and wound up in a spot close to the stage.

“He went through all of his speech and said stuff that appalled me, but I stayed quiet,” Chilson said of Trump. He said the rhetoric included allegations of China building warships and negative remarks about Muslims from crowd members.

“It was just this feeling I got from the crowd that was kind of sick,” he said, noting that he refrained from causing a scene because he was picking up on the crowd’s anger and did not want to get beaten up. “People wanting to hear (Trump) speak and build on that anger.”

Chilson said he felt “very different” standing in the audience, which he said was a stark contrast to the Sanders rally attendees he witnessed.

“The energy was comparable in opposite spectrums,” he said.

A moment in the spotlight

During Trump’s hourlong speech, the young man tried to avoid becoming a target. But when the floor was opened up for a question-and-answer session, Chilson couldn’t resist.

“I didn’t really have any questions, per se, but I had this drive to get his attention,” he said of the candidate.

He raised his hand high, and, in return, was called on to speak from the audience.

Chilson said to Trump: “I’m wearing your cologne and you have good energy on stage.”

“That’s all I was going to say,” Chilson said. “I didn’t want to compliment him in any great way.”

Trump responded by calling the recent high school graduate “a handsome guy” and directing four Secret Service staff to escort him up onto the stage.

“I don’t like being on the stage with a guy who’s better looking than me,” said Trump as Chilson was brought up. “I hate it,” he added.”

The crowd cheered as the young man entered the stage area, but Chilson said he felt they “wanted more from him,” such as hoisting up his signs.

Chilson had other plans.

“As I was approaching him I kind of got this idea in my head of three things I could do right now: ask for an autograph, touch his hair or get a selfie.”

“Those were the things that basically had to happen,” said Chilson, but he figured he could only realistically carry out one of those.

He requested a selfie with the Republican nominee and Trump obliged.

“He likes Trump cologne; I do, too,” said Trump. The on-stage exchange lasted about a minute.

On the way home from the rally, Chilson said he realized how “huge” the moment was.

“My family was going to be blowing up about this,” he said of his thoughts that day. “Not in a bad way, but that it was funny that it had to happen to likely the most liberal person in that audience.”

A lingering fame

But the story was far from over, Chilson soon realized.

In the weeks to come, he found footage of the selfie moment with Trump plastered across the Internet — in major news articles, featured prominently in a Slate.com article titled “Trump’s Supporters in New Hampshire Really Do Exist” and used in a Trump campaign video.

Both of Chilson’s sisters congratulated him on the experience, telling him “not many people can say they took a selfie with the worst man in the world.”

The irony of his newfound fame ran deep, Chilson said, as his personal Facebook page is “littered with Bernie paraphernalia.”

He spoke about the experience in school classes and received an influx of commentary from friends and family. In February, a stranger to Chilson identified him in a grocery store as “that guy from the Trump video.”

In full disclosure, Chilson said, he was “the most ethnic-looking person in the audience,” and that Trump had picked up on that.

The half-West Indian man said it “felt like there was a plug there and that was a little bit awkward, but it was an experience that I couldn’t really pass up.”

Each time Chilson thought that attention to the incident had died down, the photo of him resurfaced. So much so, that a friend of his living in Germany sent him a reproduction of that photo featured prominently in a German newspaper.

Six months later, Chilson was watching the Republic National Convention with his family on Monday when his likeness appeared on TV.

“The craziest thing about it is that he used me in so many different ads, and the truth behind it is I’m not a supporter of his, at all,” Chilson said.

“I feel like I’m the silent guy in the photo that no one really knows anything about,” he added, “but it’s funny when you think about this Bernie supporter kid as this flag boy, essentially, for a huge Republican campaign.”

While the entire situation is humorous, Chilson said, he has felt a bit of concern regarding his new connection with Trump.

“Going into a business world, I don’t want to get the image as someone who supported that type of belief,” he said. Chilson will attend the business management program at Bentley University in Waltham in the fall.

“I hope it just dies down to a point,” he said.

Committing to vote

As expected, the rally did little to change his political stance other than to highlight the importance of Chilson’s vote — against Trump.

Originally, he would have identified as “Bernie or Bust.”

“His support for civil rights and gay rights and just this global acceptance ... that’s what I’ve always strived for,” said Chilson of Sanders. “Everyone should just be considered as one race. We are one human race and there should be no differentiation there.”

While Chilson doesn’t want Hillary Clinton for president, he sees the idea of Trump heading the nation as a “complete disaster.”

He said “it says something about our country if we let a man who has no experience being in what most of America is today — struggling to put food on the table for their families — to be our leader.”

Although neither choice is ideal, Chilson said the main thing for him is exercising the privilege of voting.

“I’m trying to figure out the lesser of two evils, but I can tell you for sure he won’t be getting my vote,” he added.

As far as the cologne, Chilson has a confession to make: “It smells really good.” He feels absolved of guilt because he didn’t purchase the scent.

But without it, he said, events likely would have transpired differently.

“There was no reason to bring me up there unless he wanted to have me be an image,” Chilson said.

The young man doesn’t plan to replenish his cologne supply, but he will keep the bottle as a memento.

Sarah Crosby can be reached at scrosby@gazettenet.com.


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