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A Missouri Senate candidate holds a shotgun and calls for 'RINO hunting' in a new ad

In a new campaign ad, Eric Greitens carries a shotgun and stands alongside men in military gear as they break into a home.
Greitens for U.S. Senate
In a new campaign ad, Eric Greitens carries a shotgun and stands alongside men in military gear as they break into a home.

A new campaign ad from Eric Greitens, the controversial former governor of Missouri now running for U.S. Senate, prompted accusations of glorifying political violence before being flagged by Twitter and removed by Facebook for violating policies around violence and abuse.

"Today, we're going RINO hunting," Greitens, a Republican, said with a smile as he slid the action on his shotgun in the 38-second ad. RINO stands for "Republican in name only."

Greitens and a team of men outfitted in military gear are then shown bursting into a home, guns raised.

"The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice," said Greitens. "Get a RINO hunting permit. There's no bagging limit, no tagging limit, and it doesn't expire until we save our country."

The ad was posted to social media on Monday morning. It was soon criticized by many on the left — and some on the right — for its use of language and visuals seeming to support violence against political opponents.

By Monday afternoon, Facebook had removed the video, and Twitter had flagged the tweet with a warning that the video violated the company's rules for "abusive behavior." Twitter allowed the ad to remain viewable, saying "it may be in the public's interest" to do so. The video has been viewed more than 2 million times.

"Facebook CENSORED our new ad calling out the weak RINOs," Greitens wrote on Facebook. "When I get to the US Senate, we are taking on Big Tech."

"This is sociopathic. You're going to get someone killed," wrote Rep. Joaquin Castro, a Texas Democrat.

"You're a very bad man," wrote Rep. Adam Kinzinger, the Illinois Republican whose criticism of Donald Trump has netted him both the "RINO" label and threats of violence, including a recent death threat that he shared on Twitter just Sunday.

Greitens was elected governor of Missouri in 2016, but he resigned less than two years later amid allegations of sexually assaulting and blackmailing a woman with whom he had an extramarital affair.

He acknowledged the affair but denied any wrongdoing. Greitens was also accused of misusing a charity donor list to raise campaign funds. Criminal charges against him were ultimately dropped.

He and his then-wife, Sheena, have since divorced. In a sworn affidavit earlier this year, she accused him of abusing her and their children.

Now, Greitens is one of 21 Republicans running to replace retiring Sen. Roy Blunt.

Some Missouri Republicans have worried that if Greitens wins the Republican primary in August, the candidate could turn off enough voters to hand the election to a Democrat.

Greitens has steadfastly refused calls to drop out. A June poll by Emerson College and The Hill found that 26% of likely primary voters preferred Greitens, which would be enough to lead the crowded race.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Becky Sullivan has reported and produced for NPR since 2011 with a focus on hard news and breaking stories. She has been on the ground to cover natural disasters, disease outbreaks, elections and protests, delivering stories to both broadcast and digital platforms.