This post has been updated.
A pair of ads allegedly created by President Trump’s father, Fred, for a 1970s mayoral bid circulated widely on the Internet this week. They were ads, one titled “Dope Man” and the other “Real New Yorkers,” presenting two depictions of the city during that decade. The first showed a black drug dealer wandering the streets of New York, culminating in a shot of two frightened-looking women with a “Paid for by the Committee to Elect Frederick C. Trump” banner at the bottom of the screen. The second was more optimistic — though the “real New Yorkers” depicted were only white New Yorkers.
If the ads were real, they would certainly be among the more racist ads in American political history, even by the standards of the 1970s. But they weren’t real.
Both ads have been removed from the Internet, but not before garnering a significant amount of attention on social media. They appear to be the work of a video shop called Historical Paroxysm, which presents “found footage from alternate realities.” In other words, they create archival-looking footage mirroring alternate histories. The firm first posted the two Trump ads back in October, both to YouTube and to Vimeo. (The original videos have been removed from both sites; a duplicate is shown above.)
There is no mention of any ads from Trump in a search of news reports at Nexis.com, and they didn’t appear on Twitter before October of last year. It also seems unlikely that high-quality television advertisements would have been produced for a mayoral bid that otherwise went nowhere — if it ever existed. (As Gizmodo’s Matt Novak notes, “paid-for” disclaimers are a relatively modern phenomenon.)
The footage of the black drug dealer, which is available on at least one stock-footage site, is from a short film called “A Day in the Death of Donny B.” from 1969. The video is available on YouTube and through the Internet Archive.
The idea that Trump’s father would have created starkly racist ads fits neatly into existing narratives about Trump and his family. Some noted that Fred Trump was arrested as a young man during a Klan rally in Queens; that he would go on to create such ads fits within that narrative.
But why did they catch fire now, months after Historical Paroxysm apparently created them? Probably thanks to a name you haven’t heard since the 2016 presidential campaign: Sidney Blumenthal.
Blumenthal, who gained notoriety for passing questionable home-brew intelligence to Hillary Clinton on her private email server, has a new article in the London Review of Books. He seems to have stumbled across the fake ads and included them in his essay, “A Short History of the Trump Family”:
In 1969, Fred Trump plotted to run for mayor of New York against John Lindsay, a silk-stocking liberal Republican. The reason was simple: in the wake of a New York State Investigations Commission inquiry that uncovered Fred’s overbilling scams, the Lindsay administration had deprived him of a development deal at Coney Island. He made two test television commercials. One of them, called ‘Dope Man’, featured a drug-addled black youth wandering the streets. ‘With four more years of John Lindsay,’ the narrator intoned, ‘he will be coming to your neighbourhood soon.’ The ad flashed to the anxious faces of two well-dressed white women. ‘Vote for Fred Trump. He’s for us.’ The other commercial, ‘Real New Yorkers’, showed scenes of ‘real’ people from across the city, all of them white. Fred Trump, the narrator said, ‘is a real New Yorker too’. In the end he didn’t run, but his campaign themes were bequeathed to his son.
Those are the two fake ads.
Neither Historical Paroxysm nor Blumenthal have yet responded to requests for comment.
Update: The London Review of Books is appending a correction to Blumenthal’s essay. It includes this line: “A paragraph referring to Fred Trump’s campaign for mayor of New York, although it accurately reflected Trump’s racial attitudes and his hostility toward Mayor John Lindsay, has been removed because the campaign ads referred to appear to be clever fakes.”