The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Republican groups vow to stop buying Twitter ads until McConnell campaign account is unfrozen

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to reporters in Washington on July 23, 2019.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) speaks to reporters in Washington on July 23, 2019. (Susan Walsh/AP)

A move by Twitter to freeze the account of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s campaign has prompted a backlash by President Trump’s campaign and national Republican groups, which have vowed to stop buying ads on the social media platform until the account is unfrozen.

On Wednesday, Twitter locked McConnell’s campaign account from further activity as punishment for its sharing of a video of protesters screaming obscenities outside the Kentucky Republican’s home. The social media company said it will not unlock @Team_Mitch unless it agrees to remove the video.

Officials for the Trump campaign, the National Republican Committee, and the Republican Senate and House campaign arms accused Twitter of bias and tweeted Thursday that their organizations are withholding their advertising dollars until the issue is resolved.

“#MassacreMitch trended on @Twitter for a full day, and they did nothing,” Kevin McLaughlin, executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said in a tweet. “Someone threatens to stab the Majority Leader, @TeamMitch posts the video and THEY get locked out. @NRSC is not spending $ until this is adequately addressed.”

Richard Walters, chief of staff for the RNC, shared McLaughlin’s post and added: “The @GOP and @TeamTrump stand with the @Team_Mitch and the @NRSC. Any future ad $ either organization was planning to spend with @Twitter has been halted until they address this disgusting bias.”

The National Republican Congressional Committee soon followed suit, as did Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), a frequent critic of the social media platform, who called the move “unbelievable even for Twitter.”

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on the Republicans’ plans to halt their ad spending.

“The users were temporarily locked out of their accounts for a Tweet that violated our violent threats policy, specifically threats involving physical safety,” the spokesperson said.

McConnell’s campaign manager, Kevin Golden, accused Twitter of employing a double standard.

“We firmly believe that if a platform allows #massacremitch to trend but locks our account because we posted threats made against him, there is something deeply wrong with that platform,” Golden said Thursday, referring to a hashtag used by critics blaming McConnell for blocking stricter gun laws.

In a radio interview early Thursday evening, McConnell said his campaign is in a “major war” with Twitter.

“The point we wanted to make is, Twitter’s perfectly fine with carrying ‘#MassacreMitch,’ which is obviously an invitation to violence,” McConnell said on Louisville-based station WHAS. “But when those kind of words are directed at me, they shut us down and locked our account down. So we’re in a major war with them and they haven’t, they haven’t given up yet.”

He added that the episode reveals the “left-wing tilt of these companies.”

“And I think that’s, let’s say, selective enforcement of their views about who ought to be influential in the political discourse in this country,” he said.

Republicans have in recent years sharply criticized Twitter, Google, Facebook and other Internet companies, arguing that they have silenced the voices of conservatives.

Trump has repeatedly threatened to investigate the companies, sparking hearings and similar calls for tough new laws among Republicans on Capitol Hill. At a White House summit last month, the president used his bully pulpit to accuse the companies of “terrible bias.” Trump has not provided evidence for his allegations, and critics contended that the event gave a prominent stage to some of the Internet’s most controversial, incendiary voices.

The video that prompted Twitter to lock McConnell’s campaign account shows a group of protesters gathered outside the senator’s Louisville home on Monday. A woman, identified by the Louisville Courier-Journal as Black Lives Matter Louisville leader Chanelle Helm, is heard on the video mocking McConnell’s recent shoulder injury and saying he “should have broken his little, raggedy, wrinkled-ass neck.”

She then yells, “Just stab the m----- f----- in the heart, please.” Someone also yells, “Die!”

A Twitter spokesperson told The Washington Post on Wednesday that McConnell’s account had been frozen “for a tweet that violated our violent threats policy, specifically threats involving physical safety.” The social media company’s rules state that a tweet “may not threaten violence against an individual or a group of people.”

At the end of Thursday’s radio interview, McConnell said he had a message for the protesters who have been gathering outside his house.

“I will not be intimidated by you people, not a chance,” he said. “Not a single thing you do is going to alter how I operate on behalf of my constituents or the country, for whom I have a significant amount of responsibility.”

Mike DeBonis, Colby Itkowitz and Tony Romm contributed to this report.