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Missouri Asian-American Community Speaks Out Against ‘Xenophobic’ Campaign Ads

Missouri Asian-American business, legal, and advocacy organizations spoke out against apparently anti-China and anti-Muslim rhetoric featured in a series of television advertisements being run in support of two Republican candidates — Josh Hawley and Kurt Schaefer — against each other in the race to become the Republican nominee for Missouri's attorney general.

"As an alumnus of University of Missouri and citizen of Missouri for the past 40+ years, I am deeply disappointed with the utilization of anti-Chinese and anti-Muslim rhetoric that portrays Asian Americans in a derisive light," Asian American Chamber of Commerce of St. Louis President Al Li, said in a statement. "It is maddening to see those engaged in the Missouri political process incite Asian prejudice in order to gain votes. It only serves to move Missouri backwards while we are trying to move the state forward in economic growth and job creation"

One television advertisement against Schaefer put out by Tea Party Patriots features two businessmen in suits speaking in Mandarin about how one has been able to buy thousands of acres of Missouri farmland and laughing about how he will be able to buy more, thanks to state Senator Kurt Schaefer. Advertisements put out by State Conservative Reform Action PAC (SCRAP) also use imagery of Chinese businessmen to assert that Schaefer cares more about his law firm's Chinese clients than the people of Missouri and voted to make it easier for them to buy land.

"The [Tea Party Patriots] ad clearly shows how Kurt Schaefer voted to help his law firm's client, Shuanghui International, by changing a decades old law banning foreign ownership of Missouri farmland," Chris Jankowski, chairman of State Conservative Reform Action PAC (SCRAP), told NBC News. "As for the ads run by SCRAP, they show how State Senator Kurt Schaefer routinely put his law firm's client's interests ahead of Missouri voters' interests."

The Citizens to Elect Kurt Schaefer Attorney General condemn the advertisements being run against Schaefer as xenophobic. However, its own advertisements use seemingly anti-Muslim imagery.

"The ads that our campaign [have] run only show that Professor Hawley has limited experience working in a courtroom, and when he has worked on a case, he has chosen to represent people who have conducted horrible acts of terrorism," Schaefer's campaign manager, Scott Dieckhaus, told NBC News. "The ads run by Professor Hawley's Washington D.C. friends are not only factually inaccurate, but they promote xenophobia against a group of people based on where they are born — not any behaviors or actions."

While Asian-American organizations said that they were not endorsing or defending any candidate for Missouri attorney general, they called upon all of the candidates to publicly condemn and stop running the advertisements.

"Anti-Chinese, anti-immigrant, and anti-Muslim political ads should be condemned by all political leaders as immoral and harmful to the Asian and South Asian communities here in Missouri and across the United States," Omar Malik, president of the South Asian Bar Association of Metropolitan St. Louis, said in a statement.

These "xenophobic" advertisements add to the marginalization of the Asian-American community in Missouri, Li told NBC News, resulting in hate violence, racial slurs, and marginalized treatment. "In the past year, we have had elderly Vietnamese become victims of the 'knock-out' game, a Korean couple being shot at their store that sells African-American hair [products], and a Taiwanese American shot by a neighbor who thought he was playing his music too loud — which he was not," Li said.

Li explained that the former law prohibiting foreign land ownership was originally put in place during a period of high anti-Japanese sentiment in the 1970s. "No one complains if European companies like Louis Dreyfus and Bunge own property in the U.S., so it just seems plain inconsistent," he said.

In addition to speaking out, Asian-American organizations are also working to make sure that Asian American voters in Missouri are heard over the voices of out-of-state PACs.

"I think it's distasteful and disgraceful for shadowy out of state PACs to influence Missouri politics by throwing Asian Americans under the bus," Caroline Fan, president of OCA Asian Pacific American Advocates St. Louis, said in a statement. "St. Louis is actively registering Asian American voters so that politicians on both sides understand our voices and votes count."

The Asian-American organizations include the Asian American Chamber of Commerce of St. Louis, the St. Louis chapter of OCA - Asian Pacific American Advocates, the Missouri Asian American Bar Association, South Asian Bar Association of Metro St. Louis, and the Asian American Bar Association of Kansas City.

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In addition, the People's Mojahedin of Iran (MEK), which is described as a terrorist organization in Schaefer's advertisement, called the advertisements "defamatory and scandalous," according to the Missouri-based Columbia Tribune, which also noted that any violence committed by the group was in the 1960s and 1970s when it was opposing the regime of Shah Reza Pahlavi and that the group is not currently on the U.S. terror watch list.

Missouri's primary election will be held August 2. Democrat Chris Koster has been the attorney general of Missouri since January 2009.

NBC News contacted Tea Party Patriots, and have not received a response.

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