The ad, in which AOC’s face burst into flames and revealed victims of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge, was paid for by Republican Political Action Committee (PAC).
The United States Congresswoman Ilhan Omar slammed a video aired during the Democratic Debate Thursday which showed her fellow Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s burning face while a former congressional candidate spoke about Cambodia’s "socialism" and Khmer Rouge.
"This is horrifying to watch. 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,” Omar wrote on Twitter.
The video was aired during a commercial break at ABC’s Democratic Debate night. AOC’s face burst into flames and revealed a pile of human skulls and bodies of victims of Cambodia’s Khmer Rouge.
Former California Republican candidate for Congress, Elizabeth Heng was shown in the video narrating, “This is the face of socialism and ignorance. Does Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez know the horrors of socialism? My father was minutes from death in Cambodia before a forced marriage saved his life. That's socialism: Forced obedience, starvation. Mine is a face of freedom. My skin is not white, I'm not outrageous, racist, nor socialist. I'm a Republican."
The ad was paid for by New Faces PAC, a Republican Political Action Committee (PAC) led by Heng. She is the racially diverse face of Super PAC and a supporter of far-right President Donald Trump.
Heng is a daughter of refugees from Cambodia. Cambodia was ruled by Pol Pot who was born as Saloth Sar in 1925 when the country was a French colony. Pol Pot who led an underground communist movement in 1953, later waged an armed movement known as Khmer Rouge.
After a right-wing military coup toppled Prince Norodom Sihanouk in 1970, Khmer Rouge started politically negotiating with him even though they had to flee from the prince’s persecution when he was in power. However, the coalition helped Pol Pot gain support and after a five-year civil war, Khmer Rouge took over the capital Phnom Penh in 1975.
Pol Pot, who claimed to be progressive and wanted a peasant farming-based society, started the country at “Year Zero” and executed thousands of intellectuals. Educated middle-classes were tortured in special chambers.
He was also xenophobic against Chinese, Vietnamese and Cham Muslims in Cambodia. The Chams were seen as a threat to the “revolution” and Pol Pot attempted to kill the ethnic group. Before 1975, there were about 700,000 Chams in Cambodia and now only 100,000 survivors are there.
Khmer Rouge fell out of power in 1979 after Vietnam launched an invasion after continuous border attacks. A puppet government was set up in Cambodia by the Vietnamese after Pol Pot was deposed.
According to various data, close to two million people died during Khmer Rouge’s regime either by execution or starvation, disease or overwork.
Considering this historical context, comparing Pol Pot’s regime with AOC’s left-leaning politics and policies that demand basic rights did not sit well with progressives and liberals.
The hashtag #BoycottABC trended on Twitter after the ad was aired as many believed the network was responsible. The ad was played on ABC affiliated station in Washington DC, which is owned by conservative-leaning Sinclair Broadcasting. However, viewers did not see the ad in Los Angeles or New York.
The organization behind it, the New Faces PAC is a relatively new organization which has raised US$170,750 in 2020 according to OpenSecrets, a watchdog group.
The website says its mission is to “Help elevate the next generation of Republicans so that we can not only survive as a party but expand beyond the boundaries we’ve set for ourselves,” and “identify the new faces of the GOP who will lead us into tomorrow.”
AOC replied to the video saying, "Republicans are running TV ads setting pictures of me on fire to convince people they aren't racist. Life is weird!"