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.
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. Wade did not respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press.
Republican Caleb Rowden, majority leader of the Missouri state Senate, tweeted: “We have been in contact with the Missouri Highway Patrol and hope that former Gov. Greitens finds the help he needs. Anyone with multiple accusations of abuse toward women and children should probably steer clear of this rhetoric.”
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.
The Missouri Fraternal Order of Police, which has endorsed state Attorney General Eric Schmitt in the Republican Senate race, denounced Greitens' video, saying it shows that Greitens “does not possess the sound judgment necessary” to represent the state and that “he has learned nothing from the legal problems” that preceded his resignation as governor.
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.