WASHINGTON (RNS) — President Donald Trump’s campaign released a digital advertisement late Wednesday (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, words appear on the screen reading “stop Joe Biden and his rioters” as Mike Pence declares “you won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
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.
Meet Joe Biden’s supporters pic.twitter.com/AruXVTkMnk
— Trump War Room – Text TRUMP to 88022 (@TrumpWarRoom) September 10, 2020
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.
“The Trump campaign is based on a single idea,” said one person who objected to the ad on Twitter. “Fear Black people.”
Scott Detrow, an NPR correspondent who said he was the pool reporter at the Bethel AME event, also tweeted, “This was a group of community leaders in a church, not rioters.”
Requests for comment from Bethel AME and the Biden campaign were not immediately returned.