— Gothamist (@Gothamist) October 6, 2016
A giant banner emblazoned with an image of Russian President Vladimir Putin and the word “peacemaker” was draped from the Manhattan Bridge in New York City on Thursday, and police said they are trying to find out who hung it there.
Witnesses said they saw two men unfurling the 20-foot-by-30-foot tarp shortly before 2 p.m. Thursday on the south side of the iconic bridge, which crosses the East River from Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan, according to Gothamist. The banner featured a black and white picture of Putin in a suit and tie, with a full-color Russian flag in the background.
One witness said he was in his office in Brooklyn’s Dumbo neighborhood when he noticed two people unrolling it.
“It took them a while,” the witness told Gothamist. “They were kind of fumbling with it. They definitely were lacking in stage management experience.”
Heath Raymond, an executive producer at a studio in the same neighborhood, said he and his colleagues were confused by the display.
“Everybody thought it was interesting, but nobody really got it,” Raymond told the New York Post. “Nobody understood the political message or whatever message was behind it.”
Twitter users had their own takes on the banner:
2 dudes just hung a giant Vladimir Putin "Peacemaker" flag of the manhattan bridge
— Famous Class (@FAMOUSCLASS) October 6, 2016
This Vladimir Putin banner dangling on Manhattan Bridge is equally as disturbing as the numerous clowns that are showing up in random places
— Call me James (@nyjones7) October 6, 2016
A haiku for #NationalPoetryDay:
Putin banner hung
On Manhattan Bridge today.
I think Trump did it.
— Eric Swalwell (@ericswalwell) October 6, 2016
This just dropped on the Manhattan Bridge. Living in some weird and scary times. pic.twitter.com/ry9XvxBYcW
— You Bred Raptors? (@YouBredRaptors) October 6, 2016
thank goodness the putin banner did not appear from donald trump building
— Horizontal Latitude (@Avuxeni_) October 6, 2016
The New York City Police Department said it received a 911 call about the banner at about 2:30, according to the New York Post. Officers arrived about 20 minutes later and removed it.
“There are no details on why or who, it has to be investigated,” a department spokesman told Reuters.
One Gothamist reader submitted a timelapse video of the banner waving in the afternoon breeze as cars drive by and boats cruise through the river underneath. At the end of the video, a group of people — presumably police officers — can be seen folding it up and carrying it away.
Police said they haven’t made any arrests and no one has claimed responsibility. But Gothamist reported that there may be a connection to a pop-up store in Manhattan that sold clothing that read “Peacemaker Putin” in 2014. The shop’s owner, an American citizen with Russian and Lithuanian roots, told the Atlantic at the time that he was politically neutral but wanted to use the store to express “an idea of the positive of Putin.” Some of his shirts depicted Putin as a superhero.
The Manhattan Bridge was the site of another political display in 2014, when someone hung a large Palestinian flag during a protest march. The red, green and white banner read “Boycott,” “Divest” and “Sanction,” the New York Daily News reported at the time.
Putin’s relationship with the United States has been a recurring theme in the presidential race. Republican nominee Donald Trump has praised Putin repeatedly as a strong head of state, saying in September that he “has been a leader far more than our president has been.” In Tuesday’s vice-presidential debate, Trump’s running mate Indiana Gov. Mike Pence tried to rebuff criticism over the remark, calling Putin a “small, bullying leader” and saying Trump only meant to say that President Obama had been ineffective.