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Republican PAC runs debate ad comparing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to genocidal Khmer Rouge

A Republican PAC ran an ad comparing Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) to the genocidal Khmer Rouge regime during the third Democratic debate on Sept. 13. (Video: New Faces GOP)

The clip opens with ominous music and a portrait of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) bursting into flames to reveal a pile of skulls.

“This is the face of socialism and ignorance,” the narrator intones. “Does Alexandria-Ocasio Cortez know the horror of socialism?”

The jarring ad, which aired on ABC during Thursday’s Democratic presidential debate in Houston, compares the freshman Democrat’s support of democratic socialism to the communist Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia that killed nearly 2 million people in the 1970s.

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The spot, funded by a newly formed Republican PAC and narrated by a recently defeated California GOP candidate, prompted Ocasio-Cortez to accuse its producers of racism and critics to question why ABC approved the ad. (The network didn’t immediately respond to messages on Thursday night.)

“Know that this wasn’t an ad for young conservatives of color - that was the pretense,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted. “What you just watched was a love letter to the GOP’s white supremacist case.”

The ad was produced by New Faces GOP, a PAC that aims to bring candidates "from all races, ethnicities, gender, or geography” to the Republican Party. The Fresno, California-based organization is fronted by Elizabeth Heng, who lost in November to Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.) in a 16th Congressional District race; he received 57.5 percent of the vote to her 42.5 percent.

Heng narrates the ad by highlighting her family’s story. Her parents, Chieu Heng and Siv Khoeu, survived the Khmer Rouge regime under Pol Pot, during which roughly a quarter of the country’s population died of summary executions, famine, disease and overwork from 1975 to 1979. Her parents eventually made their way to Fresno, where they have operated a market for 25 years, the Fresno Bee reported.

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In the ad that aired on Thursday, Heng draws a direct line from her parents’ traumatic story to the policies supported by Ocasio-Cortez.

“My father was minutes away from death in Cambodia,” Heng says. “That’s socialism. Forced obedience, starvation.”

Heng also suggests her story shows the room for diversity in a GOP increasingly defined by President Trump’s white identity politics.

“Mine is a face of freedom. My skin is not white. I’m not outrageous, racist or socialist,” she says. “I’m a Republican.”

Ocasio-Cortez argued that by marrying her portrait with such violent imagery, the ad made the opposite point.

Heng quickly responded by taking full responsibility for the video, rather than national Republican figures.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), one of Ocasio-Cortez’s closest friends in Congress, condemned the ad as “a display of violence.”

“Folks need to stick to facts & policy positions. They need to stop fear mongering & more importantly demonizing members of Congress,” Tlaib tweeted.

Responding to Tlaib’s tweet, Ocasio-Cortez noted the personal security risk that comes from spreading such imagery.

“GOP’s message: No policy, no facts, just displays of violence + corporations like @ABCNetwork & Sinclair who amplify them,” she wrote. “They profit from burning my likeness on TV. But who pays for heightened security? Who answers the phones for the threats resulting from a violent, false ad?”

Ocasio-Cortez, the most high-profile member of the House Democrats’ freshman class, has faced death threats and harassment since coming to Washington. Her friend and colleague Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who has also been subject to death threats also condemned the ad.

“This is horrifying to watch,” Omar said. “When will the Republicans learn how to offer ideas and solutions without stroking fear and inciting violence?Enough is enough. They need to pull this garbage off the air and issue an apology to @AOC.”

As she and other left-wing voices have gained prominence in the Democratic Party, Trump and the GOP have sought to tie their views to the Nazis and Nicolás Maduro’s Venezuelan government, among others. As The Washington Post’s Fact Checker noted in March, these are often “facile comparisons, ignorant of history.”

Heng, whose PAC has raised about $170,000 to date, is no stranger to confrontational ads. She was criticized during her campaign against Costa for running an ad depicting a look-alike of the Democratic Congress member walking the street in high heels, suggesting he was walking in the shoes of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the Bee reported.