Ron Johnson Campaign Scrambled to Pull “Mass Murder” Ad After July 4 Mass Shooting

“The latest mass murder in America didn’t involve guns,” began the senator’s radio ad that became incorrect before it even hit the air.

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., attends a news conference on crime in Russell Building on Wednesday, February 9, 2022.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., attends a news conference on crime in the Russell Senate Office Building on Feb. 9, 2022, in Washington, D.C. Photo: Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call via Getty Images

“The latest mass murder in America didn’t involve guns,” Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said in a recorded campaign radio ad slated to appear on July 6. But when the Highland Park, Illinois, shooting took place on July 4, killing seven and injuring 46 others, the campaign scrambled to keep the ad from hitting the airwaves, according to emails obtained by The Intercept.

The campaign ad, approved by Johnson and paid for by his Senate campaign committee as he seeks reelection, laid blame for the “latest mass murder” on President Joe Biden’s immigration policies. “Fifty-three people, including five children, were murdered by human traffickers because Joe Biden’s open border policy is facilitating the multibillion-dollar business model of some of the most evil people on the planet,” the ad continued, referencing an abandoned truck trailer recently discovered in San Antonio, Texas. “Human, sex, and drug trafficking are out of control because of Democrat governance.”

The day after the shooting, an executive from one of the companies contracted to produce the campaign radio ad, Katz Radio Group, frantically notified colleagues to suspend it. The following emails were provided to The Intercept by a source close to the Katz Radio Group on condition of anonymity to avoid reprisal.

In an email bearing the subject line “URGENT: Ron Johnson orders,” a vice president of sales at Katz Radio Group wrote, “they need the creative pulled ASAP. … If you listened to the spot it talks about mass shootings which obviously is not good creative after this past weekend (especially in Chicago).”

A day later, on July 6, a sales assistant at Cumulus Radio Station Group told colleagues in an email, “The rep for the Ron Johnson orders we entered yesterday is asking we pull the creative ASAP because of the nature of the message and how it’s a little too close to the mass shooting events over the weekend.”

Johnson has been a stalwart opponent of gun control throughout his career, having received about $1.2 million in both direct and indirect contributions from pro-gun groups since his first campaign in 2010. Johnson has said he would vote against the bipartisan gun control legislation that has garnered support from several of his Republican Senate colleagues.

Johnson is locked in what polls suggest will be a tight election in Wisconsin. Despite a previous pledge not to seek a third term, Johnson announced that he would seek reelection in January.

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