A political advertisement during a commercial break in Thursday night's Democratic debate, hosted by ABC News and Univision, caused an uproar for disturbing content that showed progressive icon Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez being consumed by fire, followed by a black-and-white image of skeletons in an apparent reference to Cambodia's Khmer Rouge genocide in the 1970s.
Interested in Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez?Add Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez as an interest to stay up to date on the latest Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez news, video, and analysis from ABC News.
The controversial ad, placed on several local ABC stations but not across the network, was paid for by a Republican super PAC called New Faces GOP.
The ad's narrator featured the executive director of the outside group behind the ad, Elizabeth Heng, who says: "Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez know the horror of socialism? My father was minutes from death in Cambodia before a forced marriage saved his life. ... Mine is a face of freedom. My skin is not white, I'm not outrageous, racist nor socialist. I'm a Republican."
Heng formed the group in March following her unsuccessful bid in 2018 for a seat in California's 16th Congressional District, losing to Democratic Rep. Jim Costa by 15 percentage points.
She began her political career by working for the Oregon Republican Party in 2010. She later worked under Congressman Ed Royce, R-Calif., as a press and legislative assistant before taking on the role of his deputy campaign manager in 2012. Heng also worked for the U.S. House's Foreign Affairs Committee from 2013 to 2017 before she launched her congressional bid.
Ocasio-Cortez, the freshman New York lawmaker, initially responded to the provocative ad Thursday night by tweeting: "Republicans are running TV ads setting pictures of me on fire to convince people they aren't racist. Life is weird!"
Republicans are running TV ads setting pictures of me on fire to convince people they aren't racist.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 13, 2019
Life is weird!
She later followed up with another tweet, condemning it further: "Know that this wasn't an ad for young conservatives of color - that was the pretense. What you just watched was a love letter to the GOP's white supremacist case."
Heng, the daughter Cambodian refugees, invoked rhetoric frequently used by President Donald Trump on the campaign trail, calling Democrats in Washington "radical liberals" in a statement Friday.
Ahead of Thursday's debate, the Trump campaign unleashed an ad blitz that included buying two full-page newspaper ads and flying a massive banner in the air that criticized socialism just before the debate began.
Painting Democrats as socialists is routine for the president's reelection team, which has argued the entire opposition field is radical leftists.
But Heng went further in her statement, arguing that "in reality socialism is forced obedience, conformity, and blind allegiance that leads to a tyrannical State. Socialism represents the exact opposite of the values and freedoms on which our nation was built."
Heng's New Faces GOP PAC has raised about $170,000 so far this year, according to its most recent FEC filing. FEC reports show it's funded by a seemingly random group of GOP donors from across the country, including Trump donor Andrew Sabin.
ABC News' Will Steakin and Rachel Scott contributed to this report.