“Welcome to the Islamic state of France,” a curiously accented woman says. The minute-long film proceeds to show a veiled Mona Lisa, a man being shot in the head, Notre-Dame cathedral turned into a mosque, and a Paris bistro closed for Ramadan.
This isn’t the sequel to Michel Houellebecq’s controversial satirical novel Submission. It’s a political ad, targeted at swing voters during the 2016 election via Facebook and Google, and funded in part by a top Trump backer, the secretive billionaire Robert Mercer, according to an investigation by the Center for Responsive Politics NGO.
This wasn’t the only such ad that voters in Nevada and North Carolina had pushed on them. They were also treated to an imagined “Islamic State of Germany,” where the Black Forest is riddled with mines, daughters are for sale, and beer and pork are banned at Oktoberfest. How did this happen? Germany allowing in Syrian refugees, we are told. More than a million people have watched the YouTube version of the video.
The “Islamic States of America” promo is even less subtle. “Weak leaders who have allowed unsecure borders and Syrian refugee immigration enabled our Jihadi fighters to infiltrate and overtake America,” a robotic-sounding woman announces. LA’s “Hollywood” sign has been replaced with “Allahu Akbar,” gay people have to drink from lower water fountains than straight people, and the Statue of Liberty is—you guessed it—veiled.
Mercer, a former backer of Breitbart News, gave $2 million to little-known organization Secure America Now (SAN), which produced the videos, in 2016, according to tax documents (pdf) obtained in the investigation. Ronald Lauder, heir to Estée Lauder, gave $1.1 million to SAN.
Bloomberg reported in October that Facebook and Google actively worked with SAN to help target the campaign at voters in swing states and open Senate races. They reportedly racked up millions of views.
Mercer also poured funds into Cambridge Analytica, the research company that gathered the data of 50 million Facebook users without their permission and used it to target potential Trump voters.