WASHINGTON (AP) — Facebook on Monday removed a campaign video by Republican Missouri U.S. Senate candidate Eric Greitens that shows him brandishing a shotgun and declaring that 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 home on a tree-lined street as he whispers, “The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice,” using a term popularized by former President Donald Trump and his allies to deride moderate or establishment Republicans.
The armed tactical team breaks through the front door and throws what appear to be flash-bang grenades inside. Greitens enters an empty living room through the smoke and says: “Join the MAGA crew. Get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit and it doesn’t 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 rules about abusive behavior but said it was leaving it up because it was in the “public’s interest” for the tweet to be viewable. The company’s move prevented the post from being shared any further.
Senate Majority Leader Caleb Rowden tweeted that he has contacted the Missouri State Highway Patrol regarding Greitens' ad and a tweet from an unofficial Greitens account telling Rowden, "we've got out permits and we're coming for you."
We have been in contact with the Missouri Highway Patrol and hope that former Gov Greitens finds the help he needs.— Caleb Rowden (@calebrowden) June 20, 2022
Anyone with multiple accusations of abuse toward women and children should probably steer clear of this rhetoric. #MOSen #MOLeg https://t.co/gpmbK508AE
The Missouri Democratic Party called the ad "alarming and disgusting." They called on Greitens to remove the ad, but also called on the Missouri GOP to denounce the ad.
"Amazing, but not surprising that Greitens would stoop to this kind of tactic. It shows just how out of touch and depraved he really is when it comes to gun violence and the Missouri people," the party said in an emailed statement Monday.
Trudy Busch Valentine, a Democratic U.S. Senate primary candidate, also condemned the ad.
“Once again, Eric Greitens is more interested in attention-seeking publicity stunts than solving real problems,” Busch Valentine said. “We need our leaders to turn down the dial and work together, and this type of rhetoric only serves to increase division that’s already tearing apart our country. I strongly condemn this despicable ad. The people of Missouri deserve better.”
Vicky Hartzler, also a Republican U.S. Senate primary candidate, also released a statement regarding the ad.
“Eric Greitens is an abuser, a blackmailer, and less than ten years ago — a Democrat. There is no basement too low for him to cover up his past Obama support and blindfold Missourians into believing he represents their values," Hartzler said. "To be clear: The only RINO featured in Eric Greitens’ web video is himself.”
The Missouri Fraternal Order of Police also denounced the video in a press release Monday.
"The creation and release of this video again demonstrates that Mr. Greitens does not possess the sound judgement necessary to represent the people of Missouri in the United States Senate, and that he has learned nothing from the legal problems that he experienced prior to resigning as Missouri's Governor," the Missouri FOP said.
The video comes at a time of renewed focus on violence in politics following fatal mass shootings and threats to government officials. Two weeks ago, a man carrying a gun, a knife and zip ties was arrested near Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house after threatening to kill the justice. Around the same time, a gunman killed a retired county judge in Wisconsin before fatally shooting himself, and he had a list that included the names of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers.
On Sunday, Republican Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of two Republicans serving on the House committee investigating the Jan. 6 Capitol insurrection, said he recently received a letter at his home threatening “to execute me, as well as my wife and 5-month-old child.”
Greitens is among the Republican candidates in a highly competitive Aug. 2 primary to fill the seat being vacated by retiring GOP Sen. Roy Blunt. The provocative new ad appeared as Greitens looks to improve his standing in the polls, jolt 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 has alleged that Eric Greitens was physically abusive to her and one of their sons, while demonstrating such “unstable and coercive behavior” that steps were taken to limit his access to firearms, court documents state.
The former governor has vehemently denied the allegations, but they’ve dogged him on the campaign trail. He resigned in 2018 amid criminal investigations and after he was accused of having an extramarital affair with his hairdresser and taking a compromising photo of her to keep her from talking about it.
Helen Wade, Sheena Greitens’ lawyer, told The Kansas City Star that she would “absolutely” use the new campaign video in the couple’s court case.
“This is over the line,” Wade told the newspaper while indicating she would file court papers to make the video an exhibit in the case.
Other candidates in the Senate race also condemned the video.
Republican state Sen. Dave Schatz called it “completely irresponsible.”
“That’s why I’m running. It’s time to restore sanity and reject this nonsense. Missouri deserves better,” Schatz said in a tweet.
Democratic Senate candidate Lucas Kunce tweeted that “terrorists, child abusers, and criminals” like Greitens “shouldn’t even be able to get a weapon.”
“Help me beat this guy in November, and I’ll keep our families safe from criminals like him,” Kunce said.
Greitens’ campaign dismissed the outrage that erupted over the new ad.
“If anyone doesn’t get the metaphor, they are either lying or dumb,” campaign manager Dylan Johnson said in statement.
The firestorm enveloping Greitens follows a well-worn playbook that has helped other Republican candidates juice their standing: Make an inflammatory statement or ad, wait for a backlash to develop, then cite the backlash while trying to raise money from grassroots donors online. In Greitens’ case, the actions taken by the social media giants could prove to be a further boon, tapping into resentment toward large technology companies that increasingly courses through the Republican Party.
Once a swing state, Missouri has become more reliably Republican in recent years. But the Senate race is nonetheless receiving national attention because some in the GOP establishment are anxious that, if Greitens wins the primary, he would be vulnerable against a Democrat in November. With the Senate evenly divided, the GOP can’t afford to lose what would otherwise be a safe seat.