GOP gubernatorial candidate invests heavily in new ads designed to stoke racial fears

Ed Gillespie said he'd ban sanctuary cities in Virginia — but the state doesn't have any.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie. CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber, File
Republican gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie. CREDIT: AP Photo/Steve Helber, File

The Republican candidate for Virginia governor, Ed Gillespie, is on the airways with another deceptive radio ad that accuses his Democratic rival, Ralph Northam, of voting for sanctuary cities — despite the fact that Virginia has none — and tries to tie that to increasing fears over the MS-13 street gang.

“Ralph Northam cast the deciding vote in favor of sanctuary cities that let dangerous illegal immigrants back on the street, increasing the threat of gangs like MS-13,” the ad stated. “We have to ban sanctuary cities and deport dangerous illegal immigrants who commit crimes, starting with ruthless MS-13 gang members.”

Gillespie’s add is wrong on two counts. First, Northam never cast the deciding vote to establish sanctuary cities — cities that choose not to comply with federal immigration authorities. In February, the Republican-controlled General Assembly considered whether to ban sanctuary cities in Virginia, and Northam, the lieutenant governor, only voted because there was a tie — due to the Republican Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment breaking ranks and voting against the ban.


The bill was then debated for a second time and passed with Norment’s support, only to be vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).

Second, none of Virginia’s cities are at odds with the administration’s current immigration laws. “If the definition [of a sanctuary city] is a city that defies immigration law, then Virginia has no sanctuary cities,” a report on Virginia Public Radio pointed out. “If the definition is that a city refuses to detain some immigrants until federal officials can pick them up, Virginia has several of those. But they’re not violating any law by refusing to hold suspects without a warrant.”

In fact, in the first gubernatorial debate, Gillespie himself conceded “we don’t have any” sanctuary cities.

Gillespie has done his best to link Northam to the violent Salvadorian street gang, releasing four ads in September that accused Northam of putting Virginia families at risk from MS-13. Democrats have fiercely criticized the ads, saying they can be compared to the 1988 “Willie Horton” ad in their attempt to prey on racist fears of minority criminals.


Gillespie has also come under fire from El Salvador, when it emerged he took a photograph from Salvadorian news site El Faro without their permission and used it in one of his attack ads. “El Faro did not authorize [Gillespie’s] use of the photograph” reporter Roberto Valencia told ThinkProgress. The picture also doesn’t show MS-13 members, rather a faction of the 18th Street gang, and was originally taken in 2012.

MS-13 started as an immigrant street gang in Los Angeles during the 1980s. Many of the members were deported back to El Salvador in the 1990s which led a dramatic upswing in violence in the impoverished nation. There have been several high profile MS-13 murders in the U.S. in the past two years, including in Long Island and North Virginia, but police also say that hardline immigration enforcement makes it harder to gather information about the murders from the community.

“The problem is if [police] comply with what the administration is calling for, they potentially undermine the trust and collaboration needed to stop gang violence and other crime within immigrant communities,” former Homeland Security official John Cohen told ABC News.