Inflammatory Radio Ads From 2 Trump-Aligned Groups Airing in Battleground States

Stephen Miller, former White House director of speechwriting for President Donald Trump, speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas on Sunday, July 11, 2021. (Cooper Neill/The New York Times)
Stephen Miller, former White House director of speechwriting for President Donald Trump, speaks during the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Dallas on Sunday, July 11, 2021. (Cooper Neill/The New York Times)

One of the biggest radio ad blitzes in the final stretch of the midterm elections is a provocative package of advertisements aimed at deepening cultural divides over transgender care for children and racial tensions.

Financed by two groups run by former Trump administration officials, the ads have been placed with Black and Hispanic radio stations, along with conservative talk radio stations.

But the inflammatory radio spots contrast with a more standard-issue ad campaign from former President Donald Trump. Trump’s TV spots, created by his super PAC, MAGA Inc., have promoted messages on inflation and crime that generally align in both issue and tone with those of many Republican candidates seeking federal office.

Sign up for The Morning newsletter from the New York Times

The radio spots strike a more visceral chord.

One ad from America First Legal, a group started by Stephen Miller, who was a top policy adviser in the Trump White House, accuses the Biden administration of “anti-white bigotry” while claiming that corporations, airlines and universities “all openly discriminate against white Americans.”

“When did racism against white people become OK?” the narrator asks.

Another radio ad from the group says that the Biden administration wants to pave the way for children “to remove breasts and genitals.”

“Not long ago, everyone knew that you’re either born a boy or a girl,” the narrator says. “Not anymore.”

A similar spot that aired in Tennessee during a radio broadcast of the Tennessee Titans game, according to WPLN-FM, claimed, “They push girls to take testosterone so they grow facial hair.”

Ammar Moussa, a spokesman for the Democratic National Committee, called the spots “racist, divisive and false.”

“It’s disgusting, and Democrats will stay laser-focused on not only combating these lies, but ensuring voters have the information they need to see right through these inflammatory ads,” Moussa said.

Another radio spot that targets transgender issues is from Citizens for Sanity, a group whose board includes Gene Hamilton, Ian Prior and John Zadrozny, all former Trump administration officials who have also worked for Miller’s America First Legal group, according to documents first reported by Open Secrets, a campaign finance watchdog.

The Citizens for Sanity ad warns that “so-called health organizations are promoting experimental, dangerous and irreversible drugs and surgeries” that “leave young children sterile, infertile and sexually undeveloped for life.”

“Stop the woke war on our children,” the narrator says. “Stop the far-left assault on our youth. Stop the madness. Stop the insanity.”

The two groups are registered as nonprofits and, by law, aren’t supposed to participate in political activity that supports or opposes specific candidates. The only politicians mentioned in the ads are President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, who aren’t candidates for political office this year.

The groups have also promoted their messages in English- and Spanish-language mailers, according to The Colorado Sun. And Citizens for Sanity has spent about $20 million on TV ads in Arizona, Georgia, Nevada and Pennsylvania that focus on illegal immigration, crime and other issues.

In a statement, Hamilton described the spots as “educational.”

Justin Unga, the director of strategic initiatives for the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest LGBTQ advocacy organization, said that the ads were intended to “animate the most extreme and dangerous elements” of the conservative base with misrepresentations of transgender care and warned that there were “real-life consequences” for such heated language. Unga pointed to statistics signaling a rise in deadly violence aimed at transgender women of color.

Airing the radio spots on Black and Hispanic radio stations, Unga said, was an attempt to fuel frustration among traditionally Democratic voters and “get them so fed up that they stay home and decide that there’s no good choice.”

He added, “It’s a cynical ploy to dissuade people from participating in our democracy.”

Voto Latino, a national organization focused on registering Latino voters and engaging them in the political process, has responded with its own spot that will start airing Tuesday on Spanish-language stations in Arizona, Georgia and Nevada, a spokesman for the group said.

The Voto Latino spot opens with audio of Trump falsely claiming he won the 2020 election and a narrator telling listeners that “the same people who brought us the big lie of election fraud now bring us this tale.”

“We have seen these attacks before,” the narrator says, according to a transcript of the spot. “They are lies fabricated to distract us from their real agenda: to take away our right to vote and control what our children learn in school.”

Hamilton defended his group’s ads, saying that the spots inform people “about something they all know to be true in 2022, but that major news outlets fail to report on.” Several of the claims in the ad accusing the Biden administration of discriminating against white people have been previously discussed in the conservative news media and found by independent fact-checkers to be either misleading or taken out of context. The spot was first reported by Politico.

“Our advertisements make the point that racism is always wrong, regardless of who it is targeted against,” Hamilton said.

The radio spots from the two groups have aired in 24 markets across several states in the past month before Election Day, according to data from AdImpact, an ad-tracking firm. The two groups have aired radio ads in the same markets in Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Nevada, Tennessee and Texas. America First Legal has also run ads in Colorado, Michigan and Nevada.

In total, America First Legal has spent more than $5 million on its radio ads. Only the Senate Leadership Fund, a super PAC aligned with Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Republican minority leader, has spent more on ads in the final month of the election. The fund has collected more than $250 million this campaign cycle.

America First Legal’s total radio budget, when combined with the $1.6 million that Citizens for Sanity has also spent on the radio since Oct. 7, accounts for 15% of the $44.5 million that all Republican groups are spending during that same time, according to AdImpact.

© 2022 The New York Times Company