Clergy members are calling on Republican Senate hopeful John James to denounce a radio ad that claims Democratic Sen. Debbie Stabenow supports killing black babies.
The ad calls abortion “black genocide” and encourages listeners to vote for Stabenow’s opponent, James, who is black.
The ad, sponsored by a conservative political action committee based in Virginia, has aired sporadically for the past month on 92.3 FM WMXD, a Detroit-area R&B radio station owned by iHeartmedia. It wasn’t clear Sunday if the ad has aired on other stations.
“Debbie Stabenow and half of all black babies aborted or John James and more opportunity? Sounds like a simple choice,” the ad says.
Hours after the ad aired on Friday afternoon, high-profile pastors in Detroit blasted it as “disgusting” and “disingenuous,” and called on James to denounce it.
“He needs to disassociate himself with this … I expected better from him,” said Terra DeFoe, chair of the Democratic Party’s faith caucus and senior adviser to Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan on faith-based affairs.
“Speaking as a woman, a black woman and clergy in this community, anybody who votes for someone with that type of commercial is clearly not understanding what’s going on in the inner city. Black people have seen this tactic before and we don’t like it.”
Listen to the ad
The criticism comes less than a week after James admitted a “terrible error” when his campaign aired a TV that briefly featured a swastika on a school bulletin board. His campaign said it would swap out a new ad Tuesday.
On Monday, James campaign manager Tori Sachs noted that James didn't approve of the genocide ad.
“It’s desperate and hypocritical for Debbie Stabenow and her allies to complain about the results of her failed leadership in Washington that have created an environment where ads can be run without consent or approval of a candidate (we didn't consent or approve this ad)." Sachs said.
"Our comment is simple - Stabenow told the news 20 years ago that 'campaign finance reform is my top priority,' after 43 years as a politician, why haven't you fixed it already and why should we believe you this time?"
Asked follow-up questions from Bridge about criticisms from preachers, Sachs replied with the same statement.
James, an Army veteran and businessman, is pro-life, according to his campaign website. He was endorsed by the Right to Life of Michigan and has said his pro-life stance is “rooted very deeply” in his identity. He would only make exceptions to his anti-abortion stance in situations where a pregnant woman’s life is at risk.
Stabenow’s office did not return calls or emails from Bridge Magazine about the ad. Nor did the Stars and Stripes Forever PAC.
The ad features a female and male voice discussing abortion and begins with a male announcer who invokes black preachers who oppose abortion. It mentions Stabenow’s support for abortion rights.
“How can Debbie Stabenow ask for our votes when she doesn’t even want our babies?” the ad says.
African-Americans have the highest rate of abortions by ethnic group, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a policy group that studies reproductive health. It attributes the rate of abortions among African-Americans on the lack of insurance and access to health care.
It’s not the first time anti-abortion advocates have equated abortion to black genocide, who say Planned Parenthood Founder Margaret Sanger supported eugenics and abortion as a means of “weeding out the unfit.”
The Rev. Wendell Anthony, pastor of Fellowship Chapel in Detroit and president of the Detroit Branch National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, called the tactic “deceitful.”
Anthony, a prominent Democrat, said black clergy are “concerned about all life” and called the ad “offensive” to Stabenow.
“I am very surprised candidate John James would allow himself to be tagged with this kind of deceitful, disrespectful and disingenuous, absurd notion. I would urge him to pull the ad now because it doesn’t reflect the best interests of what he’s supposed to be about,” Anthony said.
The group that bought the ad associates itself to a well-known Detroiter and was founded in 2013 to support the presidential ambitions of Ben Carson, a black Republican who grew up in Detroit. The PAC runs radio ads in an effort to sway more African Americans to vote Republican and now has ads running in Wisconsin, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania, its website says.
“If this is what they’re bringing to get black people to support them, shame on them and see you at the polls,” Anthony said.
Bishop Edgar Vann, pastor of Second Ebenezer Church, said while abortion runs counter to the Biblical beliefs of many, the topic is being used as a political tool to divide people.
He called the ad “incendiary” and “inflammatory.”
“Politics is not a religion. It’s a science,” Vann said. “All we’re doing now is dividing people and this country.”
Outrage over the anti-abortion ad running in Detroit comes as another controversial ad aimed at black voters aired in Arkansas.
That ad, sponsored by PAC called Black Americans for the President’s Agenda, claims that if Democrats are elected, “white Democrats will be lynching black folk again,” and goes on to say “we can’t afford to let white Democrats take us back to the bad old days of race verdicts, life sentences and lynchings when a white girl screams rape.”
The Republican that the ad intended to support, Rep. French Hill, R-Ark., who is running for re-election in Arkansas’ 2nd Congressional District, said he did not endorse the ad. He called it “appalling” last week.
Here’s a transcript of the ad for John James:
Announcer: A new study shows 61 percent of black deaths are caused by abortion. African American pastors said it’s black genocide
Man: Black genocide, that’s pretty strong
Woman: It’s worse than you think, more than 1,800 black babies are aborted each day, half of all the black babies in America
Woman: And Senator Debbie Stabenow is part of the problem. She supports abortion for any reason.
Man: How can Debbie Stabenow ask for our votes when she doesn’t even want our babies?
Woman: Good question.
Man: Our children need better schools, more jobs and more opportunity, not abortion.
Woman: That’s why I’m voting John James for Senate
Man: Isn’t John James the black Republican?
Woman: John James is working for more jobs and getting black families the choice in their kids’ schools.
Man: Debbie Stabenow and half of all black babies aborted or John James and more opportunity? Sounds like a simple choice.
Woman: The choice is simple and, this year, the decision is ours.
The ad is scheduled to run through the Nov. 6 election.