The New Willie Horton Ad

The New Willie Horton Ad

A congressional race in California has yielded what’s easily the most racist attack ad in years.

Published June 16, 2011

In deference to those who don’t know, Willie Horton is a convicted felon who, in 1986, fled incarceration while on Massachusetts’ “weekend furlough” program for inmates. Horton ended up committing a string of other crimes, including a rape, and getting caught again. When Massachusetts Governor Michael Dukakis, who had supported the weekend furlough program, ran for president in 1988, Horton became a focal point of the race. All the more so when Dukakis’ opponent, George H.W. Bush, used Horton in an attack ad, broadcasting his mugshot and terrifying America enough to beat Dukakis.


Bush’s Willie Horton ad is now infamous in political history as one of the most racist political ads ever. Capitalizing on America’s fear of African-Americans, it used Horton, a Black man, to promote the myth of Black man as brute, with Dukakis as a timid supporter. Today, without a doubt, a new ad has emerged that makes the Willie Horton ad look tame.


In a special election to replace Jane Harman in California’s 36th district, in which Democrat Janice Hahn is up against Tea Party Republican Craig Huey, things have taken a turn for the abhorrent with an attack ad from Huey.


Targeting Hahn’s alleged support of gang members—a claim that has been totally proven false—Huey’s ad then shows Black gang members dancing with a stripper and demanding, “Give us your money, &%$#@.” They brandish guns throughout and say they’d like to shoot up the streets. If you’d like to see it for yourself, you can view it here.


The ad is outrageous, and both Hahn and Huey have now come out to denounce it. But that doesn’t remedy the damage that’s already been done. Nor does it answer the question that’s been on my mind since I saw the commercial: How much money did they have to pay the two young Black men to be in what’s definitely the most racist political ad in recent memory? What did their dignity cost?

Written by Cord Jefferson


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