WASHINGTON (AP) — Facebook on Monday removed a campaign video of Republican U.S. Senate candidate Eric Greitens from Missouri that shows him brandishing a shotgun and saying he’s hunting RINOs, or Republicans in name only.
In the ad, Greitens, a former Missouri governor who resigned in disgrace in 2018, is flanked by a tactical unit outside a house on a tree-lined street as he whispers, “The RINO thrives on corruption and is marked with the stripes of cowardice,” using a term popularized by former President Donald Trump and his allies to deride moderate or established Republicans.
The armed tactical team breaks down the front door and throws what appear to be flash grenades inside. Greitens walks into an empty living room through the smoke and says, “Join the MAGA team. Obtain a RINO hunting license. There is no bagging limit, no labeling limit and it does not expire until we save our country.
Facebook said the video was removed “for violating our policies prohibiting violence and incitement.” Twitter said Greitens’ post violated its abusive behavior rules, but said it was leaving it because it was in the “public interest” for the tweet to be seen. The company’s decision prevented the message from being shared.
The video comes at a time of renewed focus on violence in politics following fatal shootings and threats against government officials. Two weeks ago, a man carrying a gun, knife and zip ties was arrested near the home of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh after threatening to kill the judge. Around the same time, a gunman killed a retired county judge in Wisconsin before shooting himself, and he had a list that included the names of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers.
On Sunday, Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of two Republicans serving on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol uprising, said he recently received a letter to his home threatening “to execute me, my wife and 5-month-old child.
Greitens is among the Republican candidates in a fiercely competitive Aug. 2 primary to fill the seat vacated by incumbent GOP Senator Roy Blunt. The provocative new ad came as Greitens seeks to improve his standing in the polls, shake up lackluster fundraising and move past graphic allegations of domestic abuse made in a sworn affidavit filed by his ex-wife in March in their child custody case.
Sheena Greitens alleged that Eric Greitens was physically abusive towards her and one of their sons, while exhibiting such “unstable and coercive behavior” that steps were taken to limit his access to firearms, according to court documents.
The former governor vehemently denied the allegations, but they sued him on the campaign trail. He quit in 2018 amid criminal investigations and after being accused of having an extramarital affair with his hairdresser and taking an incriminating photo of her to stop him from talking about it.
Helen Wade, Sheena Greitens’ attorney, told the Kansas City Star that she would “absolutely” use the new campaign video in the couple’s lawsuit.
“It’s outdated,” Wade told the newspaper while indicating that she would file court documents to make the video an exhibit in the case.
Republican Caleb Rowden, Missouri State Senate Majority Leader, tweeted, “We have been in contact with the Missouri Highway Patrol and hope former Governor Greitens finds the help he needs. Anyone with multiple accusations of abuse of women and children should probably avoid this rhetoric.
Other candidates running for the Senate also condemned the video.
Republican Senator Dave Schatz called it “completely irresponsible.”
“That’s why I run. It is time to restore sanity and cast aside this nonsense. Missouri deserves better,” Schatz said in a tweet.
Democratic Senate candidate Lucas Kunce tweeted that “terrorists, child molesters and criminals ‘like Greitens’ shouldn’t even be able to get a gun.”
“Help me beat this guy in November, and I’ll protect our families from criminals like him,” Kunce said.
Greitens’ campaign dismissed the outrage that erupted over the new ad.
“If someone doesn’t understand the metaphor, they’re either lying or being stupid,” campaign manager Dylan Johnson said in a statement.
The firestorm enveloping Greitens follows a well-worn playbook that has helped other Republican candidates improve their standing: Make an inflammatory statement or announcement, wait for a backlash to develop, then cite the backlash while trying to fundraise from local donors online. In Greitens’ case, the moves by the social media giants could prove to be an additional boon, tapping into the resentment toward big tech companies that is increasingly channeled through the Republican Party.
Once a swing state, Missouri has become more reliably Republican in recent years. But the Senate race is nonetheless garnering national attention as some members of the GOP establishment fear that if Greitens wins the primary, he will be vulnerable against a Democrat in November. With the Senate evenly divided, the GOP cannot afford to lose what would otherwise be a safe seat.
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