Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez responded Tuesday to a Memorial Day tribute video shown by the Fresno Grizzlies that equated her with Kim Jong-un and Fidel Castro – a video that team representatives say was shown by mistake.
Ocasio-Cortez, the high-profile and self-described progressive, responded on Twitter to the video and similar attacks, saying such messages pose a threat to her safety.
“What people don’t (maybe do) realize is when orgs air these hateful messages, my life changes bc of the flood of death threats they inspire,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.
“I‘ve had mornings where I wake up & the 1st thing I do w/ my coffee is review photos of the men (it’s always men) who want to kill me.”
The 3 1/2 minute video was shown by the Grizzlies on the video scoreboard between games of Monday’s Memorial Day baseball doubleheader at Chukchansi Park.
Called a “Memorial Day Tribute - We Are Americans,” the video is mostly filled with patriotic-themed images playing behind excerpts from the first inaugural speech by President Ronald Reagan.
But at about three minutes, the video shows a photo montage starting with an Antifa member, followed by the North Korean leader Kim and then Ocasio-Cortez, whose image is followed by a photo of Castro, the late Cuban leader. The images appear during the part of Reagan’s speech when he says, “As for the enemies of freedom, those who are potential adversaries ...”
Ocasio-Cortez went on to say on Twitter that “words matter and can have consequences for safety. For those who believe in “free speech”: whose free speech do you believe in? Bc some folks using free speech to defend racism are also supporting folks passing laws to allow running over protesters.”
Many people blasted the Grizzlies and the video, calling it insulting, embarrassing, and dangerous. Some have even called for a boycott. Several major media outlets, including the Washington Post, Fox News and CNN, reported on it.
‘How did this happen?’
Derek Franks, the Grizzlies general manager, spent part of Tuesday morning answering questions from the media and baseball fans. He quickly apologized Monday night, saying it was a terrible mistake and one that he seriously regretted.
Franks was at the game when the video was broadcast on the Chukchansi Park’s scoreboard and said he couldn’t believe what he was watching.
“My first reaction was, ‘How did this happen?’” he said.
Franks’ simple answer was that no one completely watched the video before it was shown at the ball park. Franks said the person responsible for selecting the video got it online from someone not affiliated with the Grizzlies.
The employee was familiar with a version that doesn’t have an overtly political message, Franks said. However, the employee was not aware there was a more recent, edited version, Franks said.
Who created the version of the video that was shown Monday is unclear. It was posted by a YouTube user, known as Emilio E., and it has been viewed more than 200,000 times.
“The mistake is that we did not watch it till the end,” Franks said. “And just past the three-minute mark is when you get to the content that we otherwise would not have shown in our ballpark had we known it was there.”
Franks admits it was a serious error, and said he has strengthened the organization’s internal policies to make sure a similar mistake doesn’t happen again. He wouldn’t say if the employee will be disciplined, other than to say the issue is being handled internally.
Franks said he personally reached out to the congresswoman’s office to apologize, but has been unable to connect with her staff.
Franks said it wasn’t a deliberate attack by the employee or the Grizzlies organization on the congresswoman.
“No, no, no, not at all,“ Franks said. “There was no ulterior motive. Our goal is never to mix baseball and politics and in this case, this was not an exception that was made. It was simply a careless mistake that we will make sure never happens again.”
Fans, local officials react
Some fans of the Grizzlies, the Washington Nationals’ Triple-A affiliate, were still reeling from the video on Tuesday and weren’t quite ready to accept Franks’ apology.
“It’s unfortunate that this video was aired but the most unfortunate thing about it was the lack of sincerity in the apology,” said Joey Fernandez. “To claim the video was played without being vetted is even more bothersome. It’s irresponsible and places Fresno in a horrible light. The Fresno Grizzlies has made a big deal about apologizing to AOC but have they apologized to their ticket holders? As much as I want to always stand with Fresno organizations and share my Fresno pride, this is one I cannot overlook.”
Local elected officials also weighed in on the controversy.
Fresno City Councilwoman Esmeralda Soria said she was “extremely disappointed with the Grizzlies for their recklessness, which politicized the sporting event.”
“Memorial Day is about remembering those who paid the ultimate price for our freedoms. It is not about being Republican or Democrat,” she said. “However, I appreciate the Grizzlies’ immediate action to apologize to everyone, including Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and their assurance that it wouldn’t happen again.”
Councilman Garry Bredefeld said in a statement that the first part of the video rightfully honored the sacrifice of U.S. veterans, but added that comparing “Ocasio-Cortez to two dictators and was inappropriate.”
He disagrees, however, with her politics.
“...Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is a proud, self-proclaimed Socialist,” he said. “This philosophy and form of government has caused intense misery and pain to millions of people across the world. Socialism is the exact opposite of our founding principles and traditional values.”
A statement released by the city of Fresno said: “The Grizzlies made an unfortunate and unintentional mistake for which they have already apologized. It’s one error in an otherwise exceptional operation that has consistently shown good will and equal opportunity to the entire community. We have full confidence in the Grizzlies’ ownership and management.”
Michael Evans, chair of the Fresno County Democratic Party, said that while the Grizzlies’ explanation for the mistake was entirely plausible, his concern is who created the video.
“And why is AOC in it?” he said. “It is definitely inappropriate.”