Home » A Brief History of Politicians Shooting, Flamethrowing, and Generally Using Deadly Weapons in Campaign Ads

A Brief History of Politicians Shooting, Flamethrowing, and Generally Using Deadly Weapons in Campaign Ads

A still from a 2014 ad created for Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska).

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Over the weekend, a partial lie spread online. In Missouri, on a dark night, two Republican state senators brandished flamethrowers, while encircled by iPhone-wielding spectators, and burned empty boxes representing the “leftist” agenda. As the Riverfront Times noted, one of the men was state Sen. Bill Eigel, a Republican who is running for governor in 2024.

Their gag was misunderstood. Somehow the aesthetics—a pyre of flames, chants of “Let’s Go Brandon,” destroying “woke” things—led to the rumor that Eigel, and his fellow state legislator Sen. Nick Schroer, were actually burning books, just like the Nazi mobs who covered objectionable texts in paraffin and ignited them in public squares.

This is not true. Afterward, Eigel allowed that he would burn some books, and the state of Missouri has restricted material from school libraries, but that was not his mission that night. “In the video, I am taking a flame thrower to cardboard boxes representing what I am going to do to the leftist policies and RINO corruption of the Jeff City swamp,” Eigel told The Kansas City Star. “But let’s be clear, you bring those woke pornographic books to Missouri schools to try to brainwash our kids, and I’ll burn those too—on the front lawn of the governor’s mansion.”

Cool. A normal guy way of talking. Anyway, this was one of the weirder, less fun examples of an under-discussed recent tradition of campaign season: The use of a deadly weapon as a metaphor to explain how a legislator plans to attack the ideas of their colleagues if they win office.

Talking about policy this way has become a handy cliché of campaign ads. Usually, a politician will have a weapon, say, a gun, and then shoot a series of agenda items representing their opponent’s positions. This serves as a shorthand for the argument that you should vote for them! (The approach is distinct from the famous Daisy ad from President Lyndon B. Johnson’s—and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee’s rip off of it—which shows the consequences of the policies. In that case, the image of an innocent child plucking a daisy before an atomic bomb is detonated suggests “the stakes” of the election.) 

In 2012, my colleague Tim Murphy created a short list of politicians “blowing things up” that highlighted the enthusiastic use of firearms among lawmakers. What follows are more recent examples, with slightly expanded criteria that include other weapons. If you’ve got some I missed, feel free to email me.

Joe Manchin, gun

Take a brief trip down memory lane with me, for a classic of the genre, which generated a lot of headlines when it was released in 2010. In it, Senator Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.) takes “dead aim” at a few liberal policies and specifically shoots a “Cap and Trade Bill.”

It’s also included in Murphy’s list but is worthy of resurrecting because in 2018, Manchin returned to his shoot-a-piece-of-paper messaging. In the more recent ad, the senator pulls up a shotgun, instead of a rifle, and blasts a “Lawsuit On Coverage Of Pre-Existing Conditions.” This time, he says, his opponents are “dead wrong.” I like that the ad, similar to a TV show, includes a bit where Manchin helps you remember what happened in the last episode.

Dan Sullivan, handgun

In 2014, Sen. Dan Sullivan (R-Alaska) released a spot touting his plan to get outside money away from the Senate race and stop campaign ads from high-priced Washington consultants “flooding” into his state. In it, he says that all these ads will make you “want to do this.” Then, in the middle of a field, Sullivan pulls out a handgun and shoots a TV. A bit of an Office Space feel to this one.

Col. Rob Maness, gator

Is this one a stretch? Yes. Is it really funny to watch? For sure, so I am including it.

In a 2014 US Senate election, Colonel Rob Maness ran in Louisiana. For that campaign, Maness released an ad called “Gator,” in which he says that he would attack the “gators” in Washington by tying one up. But, through some Benny Hill editing, he also implies that he would gator-chomp the policies of the Obama administration. “I’ll stand up to the big spenders,” he says—and then it cuts to a cartoonish-sounding gator chomp. “I’ll fight to repeal Obamacare!” (Gator chomp.) “I’ll protect our gun rights!” (Chomp.)

Maness is implying using the deadly weapon of the “gator” against his opponents. An innovative ad that deserves some applause. Maness received 13 percent of the vote in the jungle primary that year.

Joe Donnelly, axe

In this 2018 ad, which has heavy midterm energy, former Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-New York) lists stuff he’d chop and split (there are a lot of confusing metaphors) as the Democrat documents the ways he is not a Democrat.

As many noted at the time, the ad mirrored one from the HBO show “Veep.”

Brian Kemp, gun near boy named Jake

During his run for governor in 2018, Republican Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp released an ad called “Jake,” in which he sat, rifle across his knees, next to a young boy whose only reason for being there was because he was trying to go on a date with one of Kemp’s daughters. When asked, Jake lists Kemp’s campaign policies, including taking “a chainsaw to regulations,” and Kemp’s personal policies for a “young man” going out with his daughters: “respect” and a “healthy appreciation for the 2nd amendment.”

The implicit joke is that the governor would shoot the kid if he messed with one of his daughters.

This is not blowing up his opponent’s policies. But the cadence here—list three agenda items, gun involved—just barely fits. (And my colleagues thought it was funny that the cherub boy has the same name as me and that I dressed exactly as he did when I was growing up in the South.)

Please note the mise-en-scene: There are even more guns in the background.

Bob Good, human body

Wait, is our corporeal form actually a deadly weapon? You bet it is when Bob Good is about to pin your ass.

Rep. Bob Good (R-Virginia), the former associate athletic director at Liberty University, the evangelical institution founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell, has an ad in which he’s pitted against “liberal ideas” in a wrestling match. This 2020 spot can best be described as something that could optioned for a solid Danny McBride movie. When Good looks straight into the camera and says “I’ll pin that idea”—the ideas being “Defund the Police,” the “Green New Deal,” and “government-run health care”—one wonders if any firearm could be quite as potent.

Weirdest ad for Congress by VA-05 Bob Good- Slamming liberal ideas to the mat
byu/retrogradeprogress inCharlottesville

Marjorie Taylor Greene, gun

Well, we were bound to get here: The ones that truly suck. Enter Marjorie Taylor Greene as she poses with an assault rifle beside members of the Squad.

Shooting policies in an ad? Fun, a bit edgy, but allowable. Implicitly threatening to shoot people who happen to be public figures and your colleagues? Bad. Those are my personal politics. Happy to discuss that more another time.

Ryan Busse, gun

For a more recent example, we turn to Montana, where Democrat Ryan Busse is running against Gov. Greg Gianforte (R-Montana). You may remember Gianforte for body-slamming a reporter, but since then, he has turned his attention to less impulsive, more systematic work like basically eliminating the ability of cities to zone for affordable housing in his state.

Busse uses this ad to demonstrate his bonafides as a Democratic member of the firearms community. He has members of his family rig up Gianforte’s policies in a skeet shooting pull—”Defunding public schools,” one kid says, loading it up—and then Busse shoots them out of the sky. Cute ending alert: His kid takes a rip at the end.

Good form on the buckaroo. (To be clear, I am a terrible shot and have killed exactly one squirrel in my life.)

Javier Milei, chainsaw

It’s time to expand the aperture and include a candidate outside of the US. Javier Milei is vying to become the next president of Argentina. As my former colleague Eamon Whalen wrote, Milei is bolstered by a youthful cohort despite representing a return to the past right-wing politics of the Latin American country. Milei loves libertarian economics, downplays climate change, and owns a dog named after Murray Rothbard.

Milei also recently appeared on Tucker Carlson’s new show. (In his new incarnation as an X streamer, Carlson has been taking a series of road trips, visiting various authoritarians, and somehow has added a new layer of annoying: study-abroad blogger.)

Milei, a former TV pundit, recently rode through the streets of La Plata, holding a chainsaw above his head to represent his desire to cut down the current politics of Argentina. “The political caste is afraid,” he yelled, according to Reuters. Which, fair, you have a chainsaw.

Honorable mention: Remember that video from candidate Blake Masters? The insanely creepy one, where he goes into the desert and shoots a gun and says the gun is German but in a way that’s like Jesus Christ, dude? I didn’t include that. It doesn’t fit the criteria. Masters is running again in 2024, according to reporting from the Wall Street Journal.


September 2023