A group of young men in “Team Mitch” campaign shirts supporting Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell at an annual political picnic in Kentucky were captured in a photo smiling as one of them pretended to strangle a cardboard cutout of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.).
Social media accounts of some of the men identified by Twitter users were taken down — or shut down by Twitter for inappropriate postings — by Monday. But at least one Instagram account of a local Republican backer who also attended the picnic had it up late in the day. It was also later removed.
Ocasio-Cortez slammed back at the Senate majority leader after seeing the post, asking if McConnell is “paying for young men to practice groping & choking members of Congress w/ your payroll, or is this just the standard culture of #TeamMitch?”
McConnell campaign spokesman Kevin Golden told HuffPost in an email that Team Mitch “in no way condones any aggressive, suggestive, or demeaning act toward life-sized cardboard cutouts of any gender.” He said the men are “not campaign staff; they’re high schoolers, and it’s incredible that the national media has sought to once again paint a target on their backs rather than report real, and significant news in our country.”
Some of the same men also appeared in a photo on the official “Team Mitch” Instagram account for the Fancy Farm picnic, holding aloft cutout faces of Supreme Court Justices Brett Kavanaugh and Neil Gorsuch.
The photo was the second controversial image to come out of Team Mitch’s participation at the Fancy Farm picnic. Another photo showed cardboard gravestones, including one with the name of the Kentucky senator’s Democratic challenger in 2020, Amy McGrath. The campaign tweeted the image under the headline: “The Grim Reaper of Socialism.”
McConnell’s campaign manager, Kevin Golden, insisted the gravestones were a homage to a cartoon in the Louisville Courrier-Journal that featured gravestones, also including one of McGrath.
Both images linking killing and death to political targets come at a particularly fraught time, after a weekend that saw two mass murders — including the apparently hate-fueled attack in El Paso, Texas, that has left 22 people dead.
Critics are linking the violence to political leaders’ hate speech and racist attacks. Ocasio-Cortez and three other freshman congresswomen of color — along with African American Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) — have been viciously attacked in recent weeks in public statements by President Donald Trump.