In a summer full of hard news, one less serious story managed to get the media’s attention. During Hillary Clinton’s book tour for “Hard Choices,” a giant orange squirrel followed her and the Ready for Hillary bus to share its message that “Another Clinton in the White House is nuts!”
That squirrel was none other than Justin G. (COL ’15), a senior at Georgetown who interned at the Republican National Committee this summer.
Justin, who asked not to use his last name because he didn’t have permission from the RNC, where he is still interning, began his summer as a press intern in the committee’s Eisenhower Internship Program. A government major with minors in economics and Chinese, Justin worked with the RNC’s Asian/Pacific-American press staffer, compiling news clips from Chinese language news sources every morning.
A week into his internship, Justin, 21, also became the RNC’s resident squirrel, complete with his own Twitter account (@HRCSquirrel). The squirrel and its handlers showed up at four of Hillary’s book tour stops, and though the suit hasn’t made an appearance in over a month, it’s still inundated with requests for appearances at local GOP events.
Back at Georgetown this semester, Justin’s not sure if the squirrel will return, but he did share the highlights of wearing a squirrel suit during the D.C. summer and stalking Hillary.
When did you start the squirrel part of the job?
About a week in. They told us they wanted to do this media thing because Hillary was starting her book tour and they had a giant squirrel suit and they wanted one of us to wear it. I half-volunteered, half-was volunteered by the other interns. After a week I guess they’d already pegged me as the guy to be in the squirrel suit, and I think the staff had too. Also, there were only three guys, and one guy was too small, one guy was probably a little too talkative, so I think I fit the mold pretty well.
So they had the suit lying around? Had they used it before?
They used it in 2008 for something called the ACORN voter scandal. It was called ACORN, so we got the squirrel suit, and then they had it lying around in the communications director’s basement for six years. I don’t think it had been cleaned.
Did you clean it?
I febrezed it pretty thoroughly. I spent about two days febrezeing the suit and I’m not sure if it helped.
Walk me through a day in the life of a squirrel.
There were very few opportunities to do it. That only happened a couple times. First thing I usually do when I get to the office is find the Chinese language news clips for my staffer. There’s a meeting at 9 a.m. where everyone runs through what they’re going to do in the day. I hang around, work on whatever tasks they’re going to give me and then whenever it was time to do my squirrel event, throw my costume in a big trash bag, throw it over my shoulder and go wherever we needed to go. Either I’d take it there or I’d put it on in the office and take a taxi or an Uber there. That happened a few times where I’d walk out of the office in the suit, hop into an Uber and take the head off because that thing is obnoxiously hot and really hard to breathe in.
One time a local newspaper, the National Journal, was doing a giveaway. They hired a food truck to give away chicken and waffles in the morning, right outside our office, so there was a line down the block right outside. So impromptu in the middle of the day they had me get up throw on a suit, get some chicken and waffles as the squirrel. That’s a really short thing we did. The longer events it’d be going out, standing out for however long I had to be there having my handlers with me hand out flyers and bumper stickers, and then head back to the office.
What did your family and friends think when they found out you were the squirrel?
From my parents, it was very interesting — they wanted it to be anonymous, totally anonymous. It hasn’t worked out as much as they planned because it’s on my resume, it’s now on my LinkedIn. It is places that label me as that. My mom is a Democrat, leans Democrat. My dad leans Republican. They both wanted it to be relatively anonymous, but my mom came around to it once Hillary got out of the car, gave me the book, tried to talk to me a little bit. My mom thought it was a little bit cooler after I told her I had shaken Hillary Clinton’s hand.
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How was all the media attention?
There was really none on me because it was pretty anonymous. Once stories started breaking, in particular after “The Colbert Report” did something about it, most of my friends put two and two together pretty quickly that an RNC intern named Justin was in a squirrel suit. There really wasn’t any media attention on me per say. Had anyone really wanted to find out it wouldn’t be that hard, but it wasn’t that much. It was interesting because people were like, “Wow, you’re a local celebrity.” I wear a squirrel suit — that’s not anything really special.
What reaction did you get at the Hillary events?
It depended on the event. For example, the first event we did was a GW book reading. She read some clips of her book and then took questions from the audience about the book. That was mostly people who didn’t get it, didn’t get the joke or were pissed off about it. At that event there was one senior lady who was in a wheelchair who was up on the stairs into the auditorium — I was on the ground level — who started yelling at me from across the crowd. There was a huge line in between us, and she told me she would come kick my ass if I went up there. I didn’t really know how to react to that so I just kind of ran away.
The Ready for Hillary people were fantastic, which was very interesting. Some were turned off by it, but some were like, “Wow, this is kind of funny.” They at least pretended to be glad we were out there showing a different point of view.
The most interesting one was the Costco event, which was probably three hours long, which was pretty brutal in the suit. She was doing book signings at Costco in Crystal City, and most people there, it went way over their heads, like, “That’s awesome, we’re nuts for Hillary too!” and we didn’t really know what to say to them so we just kind of went, “yeah!” People everywhere, there are always people who are pissed off basically, who thought it was childish and a waste of money. Granted, we ended up making a significant amount of money on that campaign. We ended up selling bumper stickers and we only bought five shirts, and they actually made a solid chunk of money since they already had the suit.
My favorite were the calls we would get after this started to break. People would say, “I refuse to give any more money to the Republican Party until the suit and the intern in it both burn.” Most people just ignored it or ignored me. Some people were very hostile.
Did you talk at all in the suit?
I did once. If you watch the video where Hillary comes up and talks to me, it’s interesting because I’m pretty convinced she had a mike on and they were trying to get me to say something. If you watch the video, her voice is very clear. There are sirens and noise going on — it’s in the middle of D.C., there’s street noises — but her voice is very clear. I didn’t say anything that time. The one time I did say something was at the Costco event, a couple Chinese tourists came up to me and wanted to take a picture. I heard them speaking Chinese before. After we took a picture, I thanked them in Chinese, and they were very confused and kind of flabbergasted as to what was going on. I actually had a little conversation with them. They wanted to know if I spoke Chinese, who was I? I was like, “Oh, I’m a student,” stuff like that. It took them a little while to come back and ask me if I actually spoke Chinese — they were just trying to figure it out, if I’d actually said what they thought I said.
Can you tell me a little bit more about meeting Hillary?
It was a very classy move on her part. We all agreed on that. Honestly, it was a shock to all of us, no one expected that. The first story said it’s an intern in a squirrel suit — who cares, it’s another D.C. summer intern, who really cares what he thinks, what he’s doing, this is just a media stunt. We were waiting for her to pull in and our spokesperson was like, “All I want you to do is wave at the car, be really happy, jovial to see her.” The car turns the corner and stops, and we were like, “What’s going on? Is she just getting out and walking in? That’s fine, gives me more time to wave to her.” Secret Service pour out of the car, which is kind of intimidating in and of itself, especially when then Hillary gets out and then makes a beeline for you. She was very nice, very sweet. She just said, “Hello, Mr. Squirrel, I hear you’ve been following me around. I just wanted to make sure you got a copy of my book and I hope you make the hard choice to read it.” She gave me the book.
People in the office were very happy I didn’t throw it down or be obnoxious to her at all. I just figured she’s a very high profile, important person, regardless of political views she’s a very powerful individual and deserves a significant amount of respect. I took it — I would have thanked her, but I did my best with hand motions to thank her. I made sure I didn’t let her leave before she shook my hand. In the video, it kind of looks like she turns around to leave and I kind of stick my hand out in front of her. I figured I’ve got to take advantage of the opportunity. It was a very cool experience. I was kind of in shock for a little while about it — she’s a former secretary of state, former first lady, possible presidential candidate. She’s a big shot. It was pretty cool.
Have you read “Hard Choices”?
I have not. The book has now become the office’s. I’m still working to get it back. I have a picture of me with the book. That’s all I have.
Where’s the squirrel suit now? Is someone going to break it out again?
We’ll see, who knows. Maybe when we get closer to election time it’ll come out again. There are a plethora of invitations for the squirrel to show up places, and I’m still interning there so you never know when it’s going to come back.
This interview has been edited for clarity.