Veterans’ groups are criticizing the National Rifle Association for releasing a pro-Donald Trump ad that was apparently filmed at a national cemetery in violation of government policy, calling for the ad to be taken down and accusing the gun group of “using our dead to score political points.”
The ad, launched Thursday by the NRA Political Victory Fund, features veteran Mark Geist –- a survivor of the 2012 Benghazi terror attacks -- as he walks in and stands in front of a national cemetery; the graves of military personnel are featured prominently.
During the ad, Geist attacks the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, saying, “Hillary as President? No thanks. I served in Benghazi. My friends didn’t make it. They did their part. Do yours.” The ad ends with a graphic supporting Trump.
As ABC News reported, the ad is in apparent violation of Department of Veterans Affairs’ “strict prohibition of filming campaign ads on national cemetery property that contains the graves of military personnel, veterans and their spouses.”
Jessica Schiefer, public affairs officer for the National Cemetery Administration, told Media Matters the NRA did not seek permission to film at a national cemetery, and that they would have rejected the request had they received one.
“To date, the Department of Veterans Affairs National Cemetery Administration (NCA) has not received or approved any filming requests of this nature,” she said via email. “NCA did not receive a request from the NRA to film the subject advertisement. If we had received such a request, we would have denied it based on the partisan content. Partisan activities are prohibited on national cemetery grounds as they are not compatible with preserving the dignity and tranquility of the national cemeteries as national shrines."
She added, “As always, our Veterans, their families and survivors are our top priority. To maintain the sanctity and decorum of VA National Cemeteries as national shrines, our filming policy states that filming may not be used for the expression of partisan or political viewpoints, or for uses that are (or may be interpreted as) an endorsement of a commercial entity.”
NRA officials did not respond to several requests for comment, but told ABC News the ad was filmed outside of the cemetery, although they declined to reveal where exactly it was made. (The NRA’s attempt to claim the ad was filmed “outside” the cemetery makes little sense, considering Geist is shown walking among headstones.)
In addition to the apparent violation of government policy, the NRA ad has triggered outrage among some veterans groups, who contend it is improper.
“Don’t use our dead to score political points,” Joe Davis, a Veterans of Foreign Wars national spokesman and an Air Force veteran of Desert Storm, told Media Matters. “We fought for everybody’s First Amendment rights and everything, but we don’t want any candidate using our dead to score political points.”
Jon Soltz, an Iraq War Veteran and chairman of VoteVets.org, responded with a statement that said, “This ad should be taken down immediately. It is insensitive to those buried at the cemetery -- most, if not all, of whom died before Benghazi, and many of whom may not have been NRA supporters. Further, it violates Veterans Affairs policy. It should be taken down.”
Despite apparently violating government policy, there is no indication the NRA plans to pull the advertisement, which is reportedly being backed by $2 million and is scheduled to run in several key battleground states over the next two weeks.
In contrast to the NRA, several previous political ads that aired images and footage from national cemeteries were either altered or removed. In 1999, Sen. John McCain’s (R-AZ) presidential campaign aired an ad featuring unauthorized footage filmed at Arlington National cemetery -- the campaign apologized and recut the ad to remove the footage. More recently, Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) pulled a 2014 ad that was filmed at a North Dakota veterans’ cemetery.