Video still from a commercial for Ed Gillespie's 2017 campaign for Virginia governor. (Handout/Ed Gillespie for Governor)

ED GILLESPIE, the Republican running for governor in Virginia, wants voters in the commonwealth to be very afraid. His recent TV ads feature wailing police sirens; a hoodie-clad man clutching a baseball bat; and, in big letters, a Hispanic gang's motto: "Kill. Rape. Control." In one ad, a voice-over asks, "Who will keep your family safe?"

Set aside the fact that Virginia's violent crime rate, as measured by the state police, is the third-lowest in the nation and plunged by more than a third in the decade ending in 2015. Mr. Gillespie's wedge issue of the day is gang violence — specifically, violent Hispanic gangs such as MS-13 — to which he hopes to harness the xenophobic fervor that propelled Donald Trump to the White House.

In the case of his TV ads, Mr. Gillespie has twisted truth to suit his purpose, and pandered to nativists in the Republican base, by trying to link his Democratic rival, Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, to the MS-13 scourge. Mr. Northam's sin, one of the Gillespie ads says, was to "cast the deciding vote in favor of sanctuary cities that let illegal immigrants who commit crimes back on the street."

This is hogwash. As Mr. Gillespie himself acknowledged at a debate this summer, there are no sanctuary cities in Virginia. And in other states, and even sanctuary cities, there is no pattern of violent gang members being shielded from deportation. Nor did Mr. Northam cast "the deciding vote" in favor of sanctuary cities, because the Republican-sponsored bill to ban them was actually passed by the GOP-controlled state legislature.

In fact, the gen­esis of Mr. Gillespie's ads is a case study in political trickery. A vote in the state Senate on the GOP bill resulted in a 20-20 tie, but only because a lone Republican lawmaker voted with the Democrats in order to force Mr. Northam, who presides in the Senate, to cast the tie-breaking vote against the bill. And that wasn't the end of the story. The Republicans promptly called for a revote; the "defector" switched sides to vote with his own party, and the bill banning sanctuary cities passed. Gotcha! (The bill was subsequently vetoed by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe.)

Mr. Gillespie's aides high-mindedly insist that he is running on issues vital to Virginia — jobs, taxes, wages, schools — and bristle at suggestions that he is using divisive, Trump-style tactics. Yet when it comes to putting his money where his mouth is, Mr. Gillespie is going full Trump. He has rolled out four TV ads preposterously linking Mr. Northam with MS-13 and (nonexistent) sanctuary cities, at least one of which has run in the ultra-expensive Northern Virginia market.

While the Gillespie ads seek to dupe and terrify Virginians by using the racialized specter of Hispanic violence, Mr. Gillespie is silent on the scourge of gun violence that menaces communities across the United States. The mass murders that afflict this country have nothing to do with sanctuary cities. They most often have to do with the ease with which almost anyone can obtain guns, including military-grade weapons. That message doesn’t play with the GOP base, and it’s a truth that Mr. Gillespie dares not utter.