President Donald Trump has run roughly 2,200 Facebook advertisements warning of an “invasion” at the US border, according to a CNN analysis of Facebook’s political ad archive.
The term is cited more frequently in Trump’s Facebook ads than “Obama,” “China” and “jobs,” and is facing renewed scrutiny following revelations that the El Paso, Texas, shooting suspect also used the phrase in a manifesto he is said to have published on the online forum 8chan. The manifesto claims the gunman’s views on immigration predate Trump’s presidency.
According to Facebook, many of the “invasion” ads cost the campaign less than $100 and received fewer than 1,000 views each – which could mean as many as 2.2 million views in all. Many of the advertisements were shown to Facebook users in Southern states such as Florida and Texas, as well as to users 45 and older.
Though they are no longer active on Facebook, a large number of Trump’s “invasion” ads were launched on the platform in February following a 35-day partial government shutdown over federal funding for Trump’s border wall proposal. The Guardian earlier reported on the “invasion” ads.
But the El Paso attack on Saturday, and the manifesto’s outrage at a purported “Hispanic invasion,” have refocused attention on the inflammatory and racist rhetoric in Trump’s political ads.
Trump has repeatedly referred to the migrants at America’s southern border as an invasion. In remarks in the Oval Office in March, Trump said immigrants were trying to “rush our borders.”
“People hate the word ‘invasion,’ but that’s what it is,” he said. “It’s an invasion of drugs and criminals and people.”
More recently, Trump told Fox News in a June 6 interview that he blamed Mexico for not stemming the flow of migrants, many of whom are seeking asylum.
“I told Mexico, if you don’t stop this onslaught, this invasion – people get angry when I use the word ‘invasion’ – people like Nancy Pelosi that honestly they don’t know what the hell they’re talking about. … Look, I’m dealing with Mexico right now.”
Trump’s Facebook advertisements are a digital manifestation of his personal attacks. Most offered some variation on a similar set of phrases.
“We have an INVASION! So we are BUILDING THE WALL to STOP IT. Dems will sue us. But we want a SAFE COUNTRY!” many of the advertisements read. “It’s CRITICAL that we STOP THE INVASION. Nancy Pelosi and Democrats have not negotiated in good faith to fund a wall at our Southern Border, proving that OBSTRUCTION is far more important to them than YOUR SAFETY.”
The ads concluded by asking supporters to donate to Trump’s reelection campaign.
“The Trump campaign has run hundreds of thousands of Facebook ads on many topics, including illegal immigration,” said Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh in a statement to CNN on Tuesday afternoon. “By objecting to an accurate description of the situation, Democrats and the media are trying to make it impossible to oppose illegal immigration without being called racist.”
In remarks at the White House on Monday, Trump called for Americans to condemn racism, bigotry and white supremacy.
“These sinister ideologies must be defeated,” he added.
Trump isn’t the only candidate to invoke the concept of an invasion in campaign ads. Republican Senate candidates in Alabama, North Carolina and Tennessee have also used the language, suggesting it has gained widespread traction since Trump’s presidency.
Despite Trump’s complaints of an anti-conservative bias at Facebook – a charge the company rejects – the President’s campaign has invested massively on the social network.
Between January 5 and July 6, Trump spent nearly 3.5 times more on immigration-related ads than his Democratic rivals combined, according to data compiled by Bully Pulpit Interactive. Its data show Trump poured $7.9 million into political advertising on Facebook – four times more than Sen. Bernie Sanders over the same period and nearly five times more than Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
The results suggest Trump is seeking to stoke some of the same anxieties that helped drive him to victory in 2016. And they underscore the importance of Facebook to the 2020 election, despite the company’s acknowledgment that it still faces a significant risk of election interference from malicious actors.
Facebook has taken steps to mitigate the danger, including launching a dedicated team to detect and remove attempts at social media manipulation and starting an internal task force on civil rights led by Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.
CNN’s David Wright contributed to this report.