Donald Trump’s campaign has been tweeting mugshots of Black people out on bail in an effort to instill fear in voters about a future Joe Biden presidency.
The tweets featured the mugshots and full names of four Black defendants in Minnesota who had been released on bail money raised by the Minnesota Freedom Fund in the wake of the death of George Floyd in police custody.
“Donovan Boone is a violent fugitive who was in jail for attempting to strangle his ex-girlfriend,” reads one tweet. “Now he’s free thanks in part to Biden campaign officials who donated to pay bail fees. Does Joe Biden regret his campaign putting women in danger?”
The tweet then links to an official Trump campaign page, which says that the bail donations are “evidence your family won’t be safe in Joe Biden’s America.”
“He is actively putting Americans’ lives at risk by making our streets more dangerous, cops’ jobs more difficult, and families less safe,” the page says.
According to an investigative report by local Minneapolis Fox affiliate Fox 9, police had charged Boone with breaking into the home of an ex-girlfriend and choking her. The victim told police that she thought he was going to kill her.
MFF bailed Boone out for $3,000 cash. However, the group forfeited the bail money when the suspect later failed to show up for his court date and a warrant was issued for his arrest.
Bail fund donations have become popular amid the national reckoning on racial justice. Critics of the cash bail system, who range from local advocates such as MFF to Democratic leaders such as Sen. Bernie Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris and Biden — whose website calls it a “modern-day debtors’ prison” — have long argued that it perpetuates racial and economic disparities.
MFF has taken in more than $35 million in donations from more than 900,000 people worldwide as Black Lives Matter protests swept the country, according to the nonprofit’s website and the Fox 9 report. Those 900,000 include at least 13 Biden staffers, Reuters reported May 30. Two days later the New York Times reported that MFF had raised $20 million in four days.
Previously, MFF had only received about $100,000 in donations each year, according to Fox 9.
The Fox 9 report reveals that some of the people helped by the Minnesota Freedom Fund (MFF) — in addition to protesters — include Darnika Floyd, a woman charged with second-degree murder after she allegedly stabbed a friend to death, and Christopher Boswell, who had been charged with kidnapping and sexual assault. MFF put up $100,000 to free Floyd and $350,000 to spring Boswell.
In 2001, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., at the time the Hennepin County attorney and now a prominent Biden surrogate, prosecuted Boswell for rape.
Greg Lewin, MFF’s interim executive director, told Fox 9 that his group’s mission isn’t about the crimes or even the police, per se, but the inequities of the cash bail system.
“I often don’t even look at a charge when I bail someone out,” Lewin said. “I will see it after I pay the bill because it is not the point. The point is the system we are fighting.”
The Fox 9 report was published Monday. The next day, the Trump campaign launched its ads and multiple conservative-leaning news sites carried the message. Right-wing site Gateway Pundit included screenshots pulled from the Trump campaign’s tweets, including the call-to-action text message number.
Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., made history that evening as the first woman of color to join a major-party presidential ticket.
The Trump posts echo an infamous 1988 campaign attack ad targeting Democratic nominee Michael Dukakis and featuring convicted murderer Willie Horton, a Black man. Horton was allowed temporary leave from prison under a controversial “weekend furlough” program in Massachusetts’ prison system, but one day escaped and committed more crimes, including raping a white woman, before being caught.
At the time, Dukakis’ Republican opponent George H.W. Bush referenced Horton’s case as evidence that Democrats were “soft on crime.” Horton’s name and face later appeared in a pro-Bush TV ad, though the spot wasn’t affiliated directly with the Bush campaign. The ad has long been held up as an example of racist dog-whistlie politics, an issue that returned to the national conversation with another race-baiting Trump ad in 2018.
The Trump campaign and MFF did not respond to Salon’s request for comment.