© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Asian-American leaders call out political ads as 'racist' and 'divisive'

A screenshot from the ad funded by the Tea Party Patriots against state Sen. Kurt Schaefer
A screenshot from the ad funded by the Tea Party Patriots against state Sen. Kurt Schaefer

Updated July 27 with statement from state Sen. Kurt Schaefer's campaign — Several local Asian-American organizations and businesses are condemning political attack ads in Missouri's attorney general’s race. In a united wave of opposition, the coalition calls the ads “xenophobic,” “racist” and “divisive.”

One ad opens with a caricature of a Chinese businessman gloating to his companion in Mandarin about how much Missouri land he owns. He credits Republican state Sen. Kurt Schaefer for voting to open land for foreign buyers. An ominous narrator voice signs off with the message: "Tell Kurt Schaefer to stop helping the Chinese buy our farms." 

The conservative non-profit based in Georgia, Tea Party Patriots, is paying for the ad. It is unaffiliated with either campaign, and has not immediately responded to requests for comment. Josh Hawley, Schaefer's challenger in the Republican primary for attorney general, also has denied involvement.

Asian-Americans in Missouri are calling the ad anti-Chinese and anti-immigrant. Al Li, president of the Asian American Chamber of Commerce, said the ad unfairly portrays Chinese and Asian-Americans as sinister business enemies of the United States.

“That is probably one of the worst Asian stereotypes that could be attributed to us ‘cause I am nothing [like] that person, nor do I behave anything like that person," Li said. "And I am an American just like any other American citizen in this country.” 

Schaefer's campaign is also running ads that have come under fire from the coalition. With aggressive imagery of legal briefs and terrorists, the ad slams Hawley for offering legal help to Muslims. Critics in the coalition say the ad rides the wave of anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. 

Text reading "Josh Hawley: To remove Islamic radicals from terror list" over images of bombs.
Credit Screenshot | YouTube
Screenshot from Sen. Kurt Schaefer's ad against his rival Josh Hawley.

"The objective of the ad is to elicit fear in viewers and voters," said Omar Malik, president of the South Asian Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis.  

"Ultimately, that harms Muslims, Asian-Americans, and Muslim-American communities and families. It could potentially subject them to possible hate crimes," Malik said. "Somebody sees someone that an authority has a negative view of Islam, sees this [ad], that person could become even more upset and enraged, and it just fuels the anti-Muslim sentiment that's already so prevalent and at such a high level right now given the political rhetoric being thrown around. " 

Hawley said the ads are misleading.  Schaefer's campaign manager, state Rep. Scott Dieckhaus, stood by the ads.

"There is a clear difference between the ads referenced. Our ads show that Professor Hawley has limited experience working in a courtroom, and when he has been involved in a case, he has chosen to represent people who have conducted evil acts of terrorism," Dieckhaus said. "The ads run by Professor Hawley's Washington D.C. friends are not only factually inaccurate, but they promote xenophobia against a group of people based on where they are born — not any behaviors or actions."

 The primary is Tuesday. 

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Schaefer's last name. We regret the error.