“The Trump campaign has run hundreds of thousands of Facebook ads on many topics, including illegal immigration,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtough told ABC News when asked about the ads. “By objecting to an accurate description of the situation, Democrats and the media are trying to make it impossible to oppose illegal immigration without being called racist.”
The wording of the ads has drawn scrutiny in the wake of a gunman killed 22 people in a mass shooting in El Paso, Texas, with the goal—according to law enforcement— of killing as many Mexicans as possible, and amid critics pointing to the president’s divisive immigration rhetoric as partly to blame.
In a white nationalist screed posted online before the El Paso shooting, which authorities suspect was written by the alleged gunman, the author decried an ongoing “invasion” of Texas by Hispanic people and predicted the planned attack would scare migrant into returning to their countries of origin.
Since January 2019, the Trump campaign has posted over 2,000, now inactive, Facebook ads centered around immigration that featured the word “invasion” as part of the reelection team's vast and high-dollar digital ad strategy, as first reported by The New York Times.
Since March, the Trump campaign alone spent an estimated $1.25 million on Facebook on the topic of immigration, according to data from Bully Pulpit Interactive, a Democratic political and brand communications firm that aggregates data from Facebook and Google's political ad transparency reports.
"We have an INVASION! So we are BUILDING THE WALL to STOP IT. Dems will sue us. But we want a SAFE COUNTRY!" reads one ad posted in February. "It’s CRITICAL that we STOP THE INVASION. Nancy Pelosi and Democrats have not negotiated in good faith to fund a wall at our Southern Border, proving that OBSTRUCTION is far more important to them than YOUR SAFETY."
"The crisis at the Southern Border is even worse than most understand. I have taken MULTIPLE trips to the border to show the true invasion happening but the Democrats and the Fake News Media just won’t listen," read another ad from January.
The more than 2,000 ads featuring the word "invasion" represents a small number of the overall nearly 240,000 ads posted by the Trump re-election campaign on Facebook since May 2018, according to Facebook’s searchable political ad archive. As was the case during the 2016 election, digital ads is a core competent of the president's reelection campaign. The Trump campaign has spent $9.2 million on Facebook ads and $5.3 million on Google ads from Dec. 30 to Aug. 3, according to Bully Pulpit Interactive.
The author of the manifesto posted before the massacre wrote that his anti-immigration and racist views “predate” President Trump, and there is no evidence that the Trump campaign’s thousands of Facebook ads inspired the manifesto directly.
And in the wake of the pair of mass shootings from over the weekend, President Trump said Monday that the U.S. was "overcome with shock, horror and sorrow" and urged the nation to condemn "racism and white supremacy."
However, President Trump, since announcing his 2016 presidential campaign and throughout his first few years in the White House, has often deployed divisive language when discussing immigration issues. The president has described migrants from Central and South America, many of whom are seeking asylum from violence in their home countries, as criminals, gang members and rapists. And as in his campaign ads, the president often labels immigration seeking entrance into the Unite States at the southern border as an "invasion."
In numerous tweets to his more than 60 million Twitter followers, the president has decried an “invasion” at the southern border, tweeting in January: “I just got back [from the southern border] and it is a far worse situation than almost anyone would understand, an invasion!"
And in another tweet later in January, he said, "More troops being sent to the Southern Border to stop the attempted invasion of Illegals, through large Caravans, into our Country."
One 2020 Democrat is facing their own backlash over what Republicans and the Trump campaign is calling a “incitement to harassment” or worse.
Democratic Rep. Joaquin Castro, the brother of Julian Castro and chairman of his 2020 campaign, posted publicly available names and employers of 44 Trump donors, information required to be disclosed by the Federal Election Commission, on Tuesday—a move critics say is an attempt the threaten Trump supporters.
Trump campaign staffers, Republicans and even members of the press took to Twitter condemning Rep. Castro's tweet. And the Trump campaign told ABC News that they've reported the tweet to Twitter based on the platform's abuse and harassment provision.
In response to the backlash, Joaquin Castro wrote on Twitter that "no one was targeted or harassed in my post," adding that he will "stop mentioning Trump's public campaign donors" if the president "stops using their money for ads that fuel hate."
Castro's 2020 campaign declined to comment further. While the information is available through FEC filings, it's unusual for a campaign to share a list of names and employers of donors to a political rival, and it could be seen as a threat to those donating to the Trump campaign -- especially given the current political climate, which some critics argue is in part the result of the president's persistent divisive rhetoric.