Florida politician releases fear-mongering anti-immigrant ad

​The video is intended to shock: A young, red-haired girl is smiling at her phone while she walks down a suburban sidewalk, passing a swarthy man with a goatee wearing a hoodie who the narrator identifies as an “illegal immigrant.”

The man pulls a black handgun from his pocket as he turns around, and the camera hones in on the barrel of the gun as the man fires it at the girl, her face last shown staring at him in horror as she falls backward.

“A young woman gunned down by an illegal immigrant who should have been deported but was protected by a sanctuary city,” declares the narrator, Florida Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who’s expected to announce his run for governor after the legislative session ends in March.

The 30-second spot was produced by Corcoran’s political action committee, Watchdog PAC, which spent nearly $100,000 for the ad to run on Fox News channels in the Sunshine State this week, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times.

Corcoran’s dramatization is a reference to 32-year-old Kate Steinle, killed in San Francisco when an undocumented man who’d repeatedly been deported and reentered the country was alleged to have shot her in the back in July 2015. The immigrant, Jose Ines Garcia Zarate of Mexico, was charged in Steinle’s death but acquitted of murder and sentenced to time served. His defense argued he’d shot the gun accidentally and the bullet had ricocheted, killing Steinle.

Zarate’s acquittal was a flash point for neo-Nazis, white supremacists and anti-immigrant activists. After the verdict, racists including Richard Spencer, Mike “Enoch” Peinovich and Matthew Heimbach protested in front of the White House.

Corcoran’s fear-mongering ad appears to serve two purposes: to further a proposed bill in the Florida legislature banning sanctuary city policies in the state, and to position Corcoran further to the right for an upcoming primary run for governor against another Republican already endorsed by President Trump, U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis.

The legislation to ban “sanctuary cities” — a nebulous term for jurisdictions which limit local law enforcement’s cooperation with federal immigration authorities — was passed by Florida’s state house but stalled in the state senate the day after Corcoran’s ad appeared, amid backlash over the ad’s inflammatory narrative. 

“[D]og whistles like this don’t keep us safe,” Tallahassee mayor and Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum said at a news conference Tuesday. Gillum also tweeted, “Speaker Corcoran’s race-baiting ad is everything that’s wrong with politics today. In the age of Trump, Corcoran is vilifying immigrants. It’s a vile ad that seeks to divide us against one another, and the Speaker ought to be ashamed of himself.”

Another Democratic candidate for governor, Chris King, tweeted, “.@richardcorcoran’s campaign ad is xenophobic, shameful and completely out-of-line. Fear-mongering and race-baiting have no place in Florida politics or government.”

The ad is also disturbingly inaccurate — not only for its far-fetched portrayal of an “illegal” gunning down a suburban white girl unprovoked, but for implying that immigrants are more likely to commit violent crimes. Numerous studies have shown that “immigrants are less likely to be criminals than the native-born.

Corcoran’s ad was perhaps not coincidentally released the same day U.S. Representative Ron DeSantis held his first campaign rally in his quest for governor. DeSantis is already the frontrunner in the Republican primary, with an endorsement from President Trump and a finance team featuring Las Vegas casino kingpin Sheldon Adelson and Breitbart co-owner Rebekah Mercer.

In light of DeSantis’s high-profile supporters and Corcoran’s ad, in which he promises, “on my watch, Florida will never be a sanctuary state,” the Republican primary race for governor promises to be a race to the far-right.

While Corcoran’s ad is shocking, it’s perhaps unsurprising in a political climate where the president equated young undocumented “Dreamers” with violent MS-13 gang members in his first State of the Union address Tuesday night.

As of press time, Corcoran’s communications director had not responded to a request for comment.

AP Images/Steve Cannon