WASHINGTON (RNS) — President Donald Trump’s campaign released a digital advertisement on Sept. 9 extending its argument that Americans “won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America” with images of angry or violent protest. Set to dramatic music, the commercial bombards the viewer with footage of flaming police cars, protesters confronting law enforcement personnel, and explosions.
But the ad, titled “Meet Joe Biden’s Supporters,” ends not with an image of violence, but with slow-motion footage of former Vice President Biden kneeling in a Black church in front of a row of Black leaders. A moment later, Mike Pence declares “you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America” and words appear on the screen reading “stop Joe Biden and his rioters.”
The church footage appears to be from shortly after George Floyd’s death at the hands of a policeman in Minneapolis, when Biden visited Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Wilmington, Delaware, to discuss racial injustice and police brutality before praying with those assembled.
Asked whether the ad meant to suggest there was something unsafe about Black churches or meeting with Black leaders in a church, Trump campaign deputy national press secretary Samantha Zager replied, “That’s absurd and it’s shameful to even make the allegation.” When Religion News Service followed up to ask what, exactly, footage of the church visit was meant to imply, Zager did not respond.
The advertisement marks at least the third time the Trump campaign has shown Biden visiting a church in its ads. In June, the campaign used similar footage of Biden kneeling at Bethel AME and overlaid it over images of violence, but digitally removed the church and the leaders from the background. Two months later, the Trump campaign altered an image of Biden praying in the church to convey that the former vice president is purportedly “defeated,” digitally blurring parts of the background to obscure the church context.
Some saw the current use of the image, however, as suggesting a connection between a visit to a Black church, where no violence occurred, and attacks directed at police.
Robert P. Jones, author of the new book White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity, tweeted, “This racist ad shows images of Democratic leaders respectfully ‘taking a knee’ for racial justice, but juxtaposes them w/ violent images and frightening music. Clear fear tactic implication: Democrats are in the service of violent black people, violating the racial hierarchy.”
Scott Detrow, an NPR correspondent who said he was the pool reporter at the Bethel AME event, tweeted, “This was a group of community leaders in a church, not rioters.”