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Column: That unbelievably racist ad during the Dodgers playoff? Ex-Trump aides were behind it

A man rests his chin on his fist.
Former White House senior advisor Stephen Miller is connected to a racist TV commercial attacking President Biden and Democrats.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)
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As if Dodger fans didn’t have enough to nauseate them during Saturday’s playoff game against the San Diego Padres, the telecast featured an openly racist commercial blaming President Biden and other Democrats for illegal immigration.

Airing during the mid-fourth inning break of the game that eliminated the Dodgers from the postseason, the ad consisted of video images depicting a torrent of obviously Latino immigrants pouring over the border.

“This giant flood of illegal immigration is draining your paychecks, wrecking your schools, ruining your hospitals, threatening your family,” stated the overwrought narrator, over the obligatory ominous soundtrack. “Mixed among the masses are drug dealers, sex traffickers and violent predators.”

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Vote to keep our borders, jails and bathrooms open. Vote progressive

— Sarcastic billboard sponsored by right-wing Citizens for Sanity

Who’s behind this commercial? The ad identifies its sponsor only as “Citizens for Sanity,” but that last line should give you a further clue: It’s an organization of several former Trump aides who spearheaded his administration’s attacks on immigrants.

The ad’s characterization of immigrants as criminals almost exactly echoes Trump’s line during his announcement of his presidential campaign in 2015 about Mexican immigrants: “They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists.”

The leaders of Citizens for Sanity are associated with the America First Legal Foundation, which was founded by Stephen Miller, its president.

Notoriously, Miller was an architect of Trump’s cruel and crude immigrant family separation policy, his Muslim ban and his shutdown of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which defers deportation for immigrants brought to the U.S. as minors by their parents and allows them to work, but requires regular renewals.

A whole page on the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, is devoted to Miller.

The immigration ad isn’t Citizens for Sanity’s only product during this election cycle. Another video blames “woke” politicians — specifically Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Vice President Kamala Harris — for fomenting a tide of urban violent crime, illustrated by a sequence of random videos of gunplay, shoplifting and street assaults.

Democratic resignations and calls for resignations pile up in L.A. But Republicans embrace their wrongdoers.

Another video attacks transgender athletes with the tagline, “Tell Biden and his radical allies: No men in girls’ sports.”

The group has also erected billboards nationwide, including in California, with sarcastic, infantile glosses on Democratic policies: “Vote to keep our borders, jails and bathrooms open. Vote progressive”; “Demand Transportation Equity for Pansexuals NOW”; “Too much freedom is a bad thing. Get your IRS audit today.” And so on.

The connections tying together Miller, the America First Legal Foundation, and Citizens for Sanity have been laid out by the nonprofit group OpenSecrets, which tracks money in politics. A public document cited by OpenSecrets identifies the top executives of Citizens for Sanity as Gene Hamilton, Ian Prior and John Zadrozny.

Prior told OpenSecrets that his group has “no relationship with America First Legal Foundation.”

Is that so? Prior identifies himself on his own LinkedIn page as “Senior Advisor for America First Legal.” Hamilton is vice president and general counsel of America First Legal. Zadrozny is identified on America First Legal’s website as its deputy director for investigations.

All three have impeccable credentials as former Trump aides.

Prior was a Justice Department spokesman during the Trump administration. While working in the Trump administration, Hamilton wrote the memo that formally ended DACA, according to a deposition he gave that was cited by the New Yorker. Zadrozny worked at the State Department and the White House under Trump, according to emails published by the progressive organization Democracy Forward.

Citizens for Sanity didn’t respond to my request for comment.

That brings us back to the playoff commercial. It isn’t clear how widely the commercial has been aired, but it’s not a California-only phenomenon — Will Bunch of the Philadelphia Inquirer caught that one and the urban violence commercial during Phillies playoff telecasts. Fox Sports didn’t respond to my questions about the commercial schedule or whether the ad was reviewed by any standards department at Fox.

Citizens for Sanity has indicated that it will spend at least six figures promoting its messages.

Republicans get away with flying migrants in a political stunt and voting against disaster aid, only because they know others will cover for the cruelty of their policies.

If that’s so, brace yourself for an outpouring of misleading and mendacious ads. The immigration commercial, for example, makes much of the arrest of an immigrant in connection with the rape of a 3-year-old child.

The ad asks, “Who is Joe Biden letting into our country?” The image associated with that point, however, refers to the case of Christopher Puente, which occurred in 2020.

According to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Puente was deported in 2014, under the Obama administration, but managed to reenter the country with false papers. At the time of the alleged sexual assault, he was at large after being arrested by the Chicago Police Department and then released despite a request by ICE to detain him, according to the agency.

There are several candidates for blame in that episode, but Biden is not among them.

As for where the money for the ad campaign is actually coming from, good luck finding out. Citizens for Sanity is a “dark money” group, meaning that it doesn’t have to disclose its donors. Had the commercial been directed at a local political campaign or a California ballot initiative, its principal funders would have to be listed on the air. But it’s a national ad, so its backers are anonymous.

The demonization of outsiders for political gain isn’t new, of course. In 1934, when the writer and socialist Upton Sinclair ran for governor of California on a leftist platform, movie studios contributed to the campaign against him by producing newsreels depicting so-called tramps and hobos surging over the state line to take advantage of the generous pensions Sinclair proposed for resident seniors; in that case, the images were stock footage from movies then in production.

And who can forget the Willie Horton affair, when George H.W. Bush’s campaign aired a commercial aiming to blame Michael Dukakis, his Democratic opponent, for the rape and murder committed by a Black felon who was on a weekend furlough from prison.

That ad had all the same Grand Guignol elements as the Citizens for Sanity commercial — mainly racism and fear of crime — but it seems almost understated compared with the turbocharged bigotry on view on your television screens today. Can anyone look at this product and say American politics are in a healthy condition?


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