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Saturday, July 2, 2016

Veterans Groups Outraged -- NRA Films Pro-Trump Benghazi Ad at National Cemetery

 

In reckless fashion, the NRA rushed to condemn their opposition while caring little for the rules or for the consequences of their actions. Then, after doing so, the gun group lied about the infractions.

The National Rifle Association stands accused of using dead veterans to score political points. A recent NRA ad uses Benghazi to make a case for the election of Donald Trump. The advertisement has enraged many veterans groups because it features commentary from an unidentified national cemetery.

The ad features footage of Mark “Oz” Geist, one of the military contractors who fought in Libya in 2012, apparently inside a military cemetery, which violates the Department of Veterans Affairs’ prohibition on filming campaign ads on national cemetery grounds.

“A lot of people say they’re not going to vote this November because their candidate didn’t win. Well, I know some people who won’t be voting this year either,” Geist says in the ad, while standing in a cemetery.

“Hillary as President? No thanks. I served in Benghazi. My friends didn’t make it,” he says. The ad closes with a logo enjoining viewers to vote for Trump.

The NRA, which has endorsed Trump, spent $2 million to broadcast the ad in battleground states such as Pennsylvania, Colorado, Ohio, Nevada, Florida, and Virginia. Facing questions over where it filmed the ad, the NRA previously declined to tell ABC News where it was filmed, other than to say it was not filmed at Arlington National Cemetery.

However, because of the distinctive fencing and foliage, Media Matters identified the cemetery as Alexandria National Cemetery. The cemetery is located in Old Town, Alexandria, which is also the headquarters for NRA News and the site of an office of Ackerman McQueen, the NRA’s ad firm.
The NRA told ABC the ad was filmed outside the cemetery, but it clearly features Geist walking among headstones. The area where Geist is shown walking and pausing at a gravesite is largely filled with Civil War era graves.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, “Alexandria National Cemetery is one of the original 14 national cemeteries established in 1862. The first burials made in the cemetery were soldiers who died during training or from disease in the numerous hospitals around Alexandria. By 1864, the cemetery was nearly filled to capacity, which eventually led to the planning, development and construction of Arlington National Cemetery.”

(Timothy Johnson. “NRA Filmed Its Rule-Breaking Pro-Trump Ad At Alexandria National Cemetery.” mediamatters.org. July 1, 2016.)

“To date, the National Cemetery Administration of the Department of Veterans Affairs has not received or approved any filming requests of this nature,” VA spokesman James Hutton told ABC News. “NCA did not receive a request from the NRA to film the subject advertisement. If we had received such a request, we would have denied it based on the partisan content.”

Most important, the ad is in apparent violation of Department of Veterans Affairs’ “strict prohibition of filming campaign ads on national cemetery property that contains the graves of military personnel, veterans and their spouses.”

Media Matters reported that representatives of other veterans groups were offended by the ad:
“Don’t use our dead to score political points,” Joe Davis, a Veterans of Foreign Wars national spokesman and an Air Force veteran of Desert Storm, told Media Matters. “We fought for everybody’s First Amendment rights and everything, but we don’t want any candidate using our dead to score political points.”
Jon Soltz, an Iraq War Veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org, responded with a statement that said, “This ad should be taken down immediately. It is insensitive to those buried at the cemetery — most, if not all, of whom died before Benghazi, and many of whom may not have been NRA supporters. Further, it violates Veterans Affairs policy. It should be taken down.”
(Sam Reisman.“Veterans Groups Blast NRA’s Pro-Trump Benghazi Ad: ‘Don’t Use Our Dead to Score Political Points.’” MSN News. July 01, 2016.)
There is no indication the NRA plans to pull the advertisement.

In contrast to the NRA, several previous political ads that aired images and footage from national cemeteries were either altered or removed. In 1999, Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) presidential campaign aired an ad featuring unauthorized footage filmed at Arlington National cemetery -- the campaign apologized and recut the ad to remove the footage. More recently, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) pulled a 2014 ad that was filmed at a North Dakota veterans’ cemetery.

According to The Trace, the NRA spent almost $32 million to elect politicians friendly to the gun lobby in 2014 and to pummel imperiled Democrats in the Senate and House, almost always for some version of wanting to “take your guns.”

Now, why is the NRA turning toward Benghazi content? “This is an unusual tactic,” Erika Franklin Fowler, a Wesleyan University professor who tracks campaign ads for the Wesleyan Media Project, says, “Normally, groups like the NRA are the most likely to stick to their own issues when they run campaign ads.”

Instead of blanket opposition to any form of gun control, the NRA may be reacting to the fact that fully 55 percent of American voters now support tougher gun control legislation, up11 points since 2012. And, the recent massacre in Orlando—which left 49 dead after Omar Mateen walked into a nightclub carrying a Sig Sauer .223 caliber rifle and Glock 17—has driven up already-strong support for gun control measures like background checks, which spiked nine points to 90 percent in the wake of the Orlando shootings. Hillary Clinton is working to capitalize on this and make gun control a wedge issue that will now favor the Democrats.

(Laura Reston. “What Explains the NRA’s Benghazi Ad?” New Republic. July 1, 2016)

There is a history of dirty political tactics by the NRA against Democratic administrations. When the Obama administration made new proposals on gun regulation in 2013, the NRA ran an ad critical of Obama that mentions his two children. The ad calls Obama an "elitist hypocrite" because his daughters have Secret Service protection at their school, but the president had not embraced the NRA's proposal for armed security at all schools.

"Most Americans agree that a president's children should not be used as pawns in a political fight," White House spokesman Jay Carney said Wednesday. "But to go so far as to make the safety of the president's children the subject of an attack ad is repugnant and cowardly."

Donna Brazile, a former Democratic strategist, called the ad "tasteless, mean-spirited and totally out of bounds.''

"It's wrong to target in advertising the family of the president of the United States, regardless of the issue,'' says John Weaver, a Republican consultant who worked for presidential candidates John McCain and Jon Huntsman. He called the ad "tone-deaf'' and said the NRA is not in tune with public opinion after the Sandy Hook shootings. "If they're trying to appeal to the broad cross section of America, or they're trying to appeal to swing votes in the Congress, this was not their best first step they could have taken. It comes across as unhinged.''

Political talk show host and former congressman Joe Scarborough, a Republican, said the ad, coupled with a new NRA shooting game mobile app, indicates the NRA is "now a fringe organization. … What the NRA once was, it no longer is. This extremism is so frightening and so over the line.''

(Martha T. Moore. “NRA criticized for ad about Obama's daughters.”  
USA Today. January 17, 2013.)

Speaking of veterans and the NRA …

Retired Gen. David Petraeus warned against the dangers of the sorts of assault rifles used by the gunman who killed 49 people in an Orlando nightclub Sunday.

Americans need to “work together to figure out how it is that we can identify situations like this to the very best of our ability, and how we can make it more difficult for individuals to get what it is that they’ve used to kill so many fellow Americans,” Mr. Petraeus said in an event organized by the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition in Washington.

Just two days before the Orlando shooting, a prestigious group of US military veterans launched a coalition to urge elected leaders “to do more to prevent gun tragedies.”

The group, called Veterans Coalition for Common Sense, includes on its advisory committee Petraeus, as well as Gen. Stanley McChrystal, former commander of US forces in Afghanistan and longtime head of US Joint Special Operations Forces (the command responsible for Delta Force and the Navy SEALS), and Adm. Eric Olson, the first Navy SEAL ever to be promoted to a four-star rank.

(Anna Mulrine. “Latest group seeking to curb US gun violence: military veterans.”  
The Christian Science Monitor. June 14, 2016.)

 
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