Facebook has removed a campaign video by Republican Missouri US Senate candidate Eric Greitens that shows him brandishing a shotgun and declaring that he is hunting RINOs, an acronym that stands for Republicans In Name Only.
RINO is a term of derision that former President Donald Trump and his allies use to label moderate or establishment Republicans.
In the video campaign advertisement on Monday, Greitens, a former Missouri governor who resigned in disgrace in 2018, is flanked by an armed tactical unit outside a home on a tree-lined street as he whispers: “The RINO feeds on corruption and is marked by the stripes of cowardice”.
The armed tactical team then breaks through the front door and throws what appear to be flash-bang grenades inside. Greitens enters an empty living room through the smoke and says, “Join the MAGA crew. Get a RINO hunting permit. There’s no bagging limit, no tagging limit and it doesn’t expire until we save our country”.
Facebook said the video was removed “for violating our policies prohibiting violence and incitement”.
Twitter said Greitens’s post violated its rules on abusive behaviour but was leaving it up because it was in the “public’s interest” for the tweet to be viewable. Twitter’s move prevented the post from being shared any further.
Greitens responded by saying “Big Tech” — a term Trump frequently used in reference to large technological companies — were “meddling” in elections and “putting their thumb on the scale”.
“When I’m U.S. Senator, I will fight against the disgusting tech oligarchs from stealing any more elections,” he wrote on Twitter.
The video comes at a time of renewed focus on violence in politics following fatal mass shootings and threats to government officials.
Two weeks ago, a man carrying a gun, a knife and zip ties was arrested near Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh’s house after threatening to kill the justice.
Around the same time, a gunman killed a retired county judge in Wisconsin before fatally shooting himself, and he had a list that included the names of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer, Republican Senate leader Mitch McConnell, and Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers.
On Sunday, Republican Representative Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of two Republicans serving on the House committee investigating the January 6 Capitol insurrection, said he recently received a letter at his home threatening “to execute me, as well as my wife and 5-month-old child”.
Greitens is among the Republican candidates in a highly competitive August 2 primary to fill the seat being vacated by retiring Republican Senator Roy Blunt. The provocative advertisement appeared as Greitens looks to improve his standing in the polls, boost lacklustre fundraising, and move past graphic allegations of domestic abuse made in a sworn affidavit filed by his ex-wife in March in their child custody case.
Other candidates in the Senate race also condemned the video. Republican state Senator Dave Schatz called it “completely irresponsible”.
“That’s why I’m running. It’s time to restore sanity and reject this nonsense. Missouri deserves better,” Schatz said in a tweet.
Greitens’s campaign dismissed the outrage that erupted over the new advertisement.
“If anyone doesn’t get the metaphor, they are either lying or dumb,” campaign manager Dylan Johnson said in a statement.
Once a swing state, Missouri has become more reliably Republican in recent years.
But the Senate race is nonetheless receiving national attention because some in the Republican establishment are anxious that Greitens would be vulnerable against a Democrat in November. With the Senate evenly divided, the Republican party cannot afford to lose what would otherwise be a safe seat.