Attack ad burning Ocasio-Cortez’s picture ignites fierce backlash

An ad that aired in some markets during last night’s Democratic debate has set the internet aflame.

The 30-second ad created by New Faces GOP, a political action committee, begins with a picture of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) as a female voice over says, “This is the face of socialism and ignorance.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s picture burns away to reveal a black and white picture of a pile of skulls as the announcer, Elizabeth Heng, says, “Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez know the horror of socialism?”

Gut-wrenching images of a starving family and a long row of bodies move quickly across the screen while Heng claims that her father narrowly escaped death during the Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia.

“That’s socialism. Forced obedience. Starvation,” says Heng, a former Republican congressional candidate in California.

The screen then focuses on Heng, grave-faced and solemn. She says that hers is “a face of freedom.”

“My skin is not white, I’m not outrageous, racist, nor socialist. I’m a Republican,” Heng concludes.

Reaction to the ad was swift and severe. Many, including Ocasio-Cortez, accused the ad of being racist and threatening violence.

Shortly after the ad ran, Ocasio-Cortez tweeted, “Republicans are running TV ads setting pictures of me on fire to convince people they aren’t racist. Life is weird!”

Later she added that, while the commercial had the pretense of appealing to “conservatives of color,” in reality, it was “a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist [base].”

Some pointed out the hypocrisy of Republicans who freak out over Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.) and Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) getting heckled in restaurants, but take no issue with an ad that they believe goes much further than heckling in violating civilized norms.

Calls to boycott ABC, where the ad aired, soon sounded. Democratic Coalition Scott Dworkin was among the first to blame the network, tweeting, “ABC can go to hell. […] People need to be fired over this. It’s ridiculous & evil. ABC profited off of it, during the #DemDebate. Shame on ABC. Shame.”

This morning, #BoycottABC continued trending.

Meanwhile, more digging revealed that the only ABC affiliates that showed the ad were owned by Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Sinclair, the largest owner of television stations in the nation, has frequently been criticized for airing Republican propaganda, cheerleading Trump, and violating the firewall between editorial content and straight news.

Last year, a dozen Democratic senators called on the FCC to investigate the company for “deliberately distorting news.” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai, a Trump appointee, denied the request.

Conservatives who passionately oppose seemingly everything the junior congresswoman from New York does were thrilled by the ad. “I don’t give the flip of a wooden nickel if the Left says to #BoycottABC. The ad was 100% truthful and if @AOC has her way she will gladly burn this Nation to the ground. She’s a demon possessed lunatic that needs to return to bartending,” Pastor Greg Locke tweeted.

As criticisms piled on, Heng doubled down, tweeting, “@aoc response is the Democratic party in a nutshell.  They are more offended by truthful words than the acts of their political ideology that has killed millions of innocent victims. I don’t care about @AOC feelings – I care about stopping her lies about the lies of socialism.”

High profile figures and members of Congress were among those leaping to Ocasio-Cortez’s defense, slamming the ad and questioning the motivation behind airing a hit piece during presidential debates, given that the congresswoman is not a candidate.

“The mere act of burning her image is a display of violence. Folks need to stick to facts & policy positions. They need to stop fear mongering & more importantly demonizing members of Congress,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Minn.) tweeted.

In many corners, debate over the ad has eclipsed substantive discussion of last night’s debate, making the conversation about Ocasio-Cortez and socialism. Which was probably its intention.

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Claire Goforth

Claire Goforth

Claire Goforth is a Jacksonville, Florida-based journalist covering politics, culture, justice, and unicorns. Her work has appeared in publications ranging from regional alt-weeklies to Al Jazeera.