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Anti-Biden ads using Russian-provided stock footage airing during World Series

A dark money group with ties to anti-immigration officials who served in the Trump administration made commercials with stock footage provided by Russian-based accounts to criticize Biden’s support for Ukraine.

By Oliver Willis - November 03, 2022
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Screenshot from an ad reading
Screenshot from an ad criticizing Biden for supporting aid packages being sent to Ukraine.

A political ad that ran on television on Oct. 28 during a World Series game broadcast and criticized President Joe Biden for aiding Ukraine used stock footage from Russian sources, a review has found. The ad is funded by Citizens for Sanity, a dark money conservative tax-exempt nonprofit group that has supported Republican candidates during the 2022 election cycle.

Politico reported that Citizens for Sanity began running a six-figure advertising campaign attacking Democrats, starting in August.

The ad that ran during the World Series game shows footage of a Black man in the aisle of a grocery store with text that reads “GROCERIES UP 13%.” The video clip is available for purchase on the stock photo and video site iStock.

The creator of the footage is listed on iStock as Elena Perova. The same photographer, who also appears to go by the name Elena Shishkina, has images and video clips for sale on another stock photo site, Dreamstime. The account lists her location as Permskiy Kray in the Russian Federation. Many of the same images can be found on both sites.

The narrator of the ad says: “Now, Biden says that his fight in Ukraine could lead to nuclear Armageddon — World War III.” The quote is taken out of context: It is from an Oct. 6 speech Biden gave at a Democratic Party fundraiser in which he warned that Vladimir Putin’s threatened use of nuclear weapons is a cause for global concern.

According to a White House transcript of his remarks, Biden said: “We have not faced the prospect of Armageddon since Kennedy and the Cuban Missile Crisis. We’ve got a guy I know fairly well; his name is Vladimir Putin. I spent a fair amount of time with him. He is not joking when he talks about the potential use of tactical and nuclear weapons, or biological or chemical weapons, because his military is, you might say, significantly underperforming.”

Citizens for Sanity has run other ads, including a series in which it condemned transgender youth and accused “Biden and his radical allies” of “destroying girls’ sports” by advocating for transgender equality, part of a campaign nationwide by conservatives and Republicans against transgender rights with an eye to motivating conservative voters.

It has also been criticized for advertisements that accuse Democrats of supporting criminals. In another ad that aired during the World Series, Democrats are accused of “hurting our children” by supporting “illegal immigration” that is “threatening your family.”

Phildelphia Inquirer columnist Will Bunch described the advertising as “deliberately dishonest,” noting that it associates a crime committed by an undocumented immigrant with Democratic policies, even though it occurred when former President Donald Trump was in office in 2020.

Writing in the Los Angeles Times, columnist Michael Hitzik described the ads that Citizens for Sanity ran earlier, during the baseball playoffs, as “unbelievably racist.”

Citizens for Sanity has its roots in the Trump administration, and specifically with officials in that administration who were deeply involved in anti-immigrant policy.

Three of the group’s board members — Gene Hamilton, John Zadrozny and Ian Prior — served in the Trump administration. All three men work with the America First Legal Foundation, a group formed by former senior Trump adviser Stephen Miller. Among other efforts, the group has brought multiple lawsuits against the Biden administration aimed at preventing changes to Trump’s anti-immigrant policies and stopping federal aid to Black farmers.

In addition to his role as the architect of many of the Trump administration’s anti-immigrant policies, Miller has long-standing ties to white nationalists. In one set of emails that was released in 2019, Miller argued in favor of limiting nonwhite immigration to the U.S.

Hamilton worked in the Department of Justice and authored a memo that ended Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the policy put in place by President Barack Obama to delay action against undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children. The Biden administration has taken steps to reinstate the policy.

Zadrozny worked at the State Department and U.S. Citizens and Immigration Services during the Trump administration and had previously worked for the anti-immigrant group FAIR. FAIR has been designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group.

Prior also worked in the Trump Department of Justice; since Trump’s presidency ended, he has been involved in conservative activism. Prior was a member of a conservative political action committee called Fight for Schools, which attacked school board members in Virginia for promoting racial inclusion.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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