The group Citizens For Sanity announced last month that it would begin airing millions of dollars in ads in Hispanic states to advance dangerous right-wing conspiracy theories in the run up to Congressional midterm elections in November, but they say the ads are not political because they do not invoke the name of candidates or call to vote. That, say extremism watchers, is exactly the problem.
Listeners to KKOB radio were greeted this week with two new advertisements squeezed between the regular local spots for garage doors and new tires on sale. A national “dark money” group is airing ads calling for listeners to “stop the woke war” on children and communities by Democrats, but they stop short of telling listeners to act by voting or protesting. That has some fearing the ads could be encouraging QAnon- and MAGA-inspired listeners to hear a message calling them to take more violent action.
The group behind the ads does not have to disclose their donors or ad buys because the group is organized as a nonprofit which is protected from disclosure by the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision.
“War on Children” Takes Dark, Violent Tone
The ad “War on Children” calls for listeners to “stop the woke war on our children,” which they claim is forcing young children to be sterilized against their will and “removing healthy genitals and breasts” and somehow “hiding it from parents.” The claims are built on false QAnon beliefs, exercised under a “save the children” agenda, that Democrats seek to maintain power to protect a secret child sex trafficking ring. Allegations that transgender transitioning support from licensed medical doctors equates to forced sterilization has been repeatedly disproven, but anti-trans rhetoric has led to real-life consequences, including increased rates of suicide by teens.
According to Politico, a national political news outlet, one consultant behind the ads, Ian Prior, is a Republican operative who worked to make assaults against critical race theory a central theme in last year’s Virginia governor’s election, even though most schools do not even teach the subject. Nonetheless, Republicans, aided by right-wing talk radio and conservative news outlets, used the issue to help MAGA Republican Glenn Youngkin win that election.
Misleading Ad Blames Democrats for Crime
A second ad running by the group blames increasing crime rates on a “woke war on police” in Democratic-run cities, despite the fact that Americans are more likely to be murdered in Republican-run communities and police funding is up nationwide.
According to the text of the ad, “murder rates are up 65% in Portland” and the ad connects that to the “Leftist” war on police. But Portland, a Democratic-run city, isn’t defunding the police. In fact, the city increased police funding last year by $5 million.
If political preference determined crime rates (which it does not), the data shows that living in a community with Republican leadership makes you far more likely to be killed than living in, say, San Francisco.
A study by the non-profit think tank The Third Way found that Jacksonville, a city with a Republican mayor, had 128 more murders in 2020 than San Francisco, a city with a Democrat mayor, despite their comparable populations.
Murder rates in the 25 states Trump carried in 2020 are 40% higher overall than in the states Biden won. (The report used 2020 data because 2021 data is not yet fully available.) The five states with the highest per capita murder rate — Mississippi, Louisiana, Kentucky, Alabama and Missouri — all lean Republican and voted for Trump.Third Way, The Red State Murder Problem, 03/15/22
Put another way, Trump-voting states account for 8 out of the 10 highest murder rates in 2020, the study found. New Mexico’s murder rate was still far higher than the national average, but it was below eight red states where the ads are not targeted or running.
“Cloaked message of violence”
UNM law professor Joshua Kastenberg has appeared on Fox News and in the Washington Post as an expert on the rise of right-wing extremism, Trump impeachments and the January 6 assault on the US Capitol. He spent more than 20 years as a judge and lawyer in the U.S. Air Force. Asked to share his impressions of the ads after hearing them on KKOB, Kastenberg said “this is the type of cloaked message of violence” radio stations and hosts should be concerned about airing.
Right-wing messages to “stop” a perceived (imaginary) war on democracy by liberals have inspired violence and increasing calls for violence by right-wing groups and individuals, inspired by conspiracy theories.