Moms Demand Action founder Shannon Watts shared a fake photograph to attack GOP congressional hopeful Nick Freitas in a now-deleted Thursday tweet.
Freitas, an Army veteran, is running to unseat freshman representative Abigail Spanberger (D., Va.), who is backed by prominent gun-control groups, including Moms Demand Action. Watts, who founded the group in 2012, falsely accused Freitas of promoting a t-shirt that bears the Moms Demand Action logo, but features stick figures engaged in various acts of sexual congress and depravity. The Thursday tweet, which Watts has since deleted, included a fundraising plea in support of Spanberger.
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Freitas responded to the attack Thursday, accusing Watts of engaging in "politics of slander" to bolster her candidate.
"Not only is this ‘tweet' verifiably fake, but she used it to slander my wife," Freitas said in a tweet. "If they can't win on issues, they engage in the politics of slander + personal destruction." He went on to ask Spanberger if she stood behind the "lies your allies @MomsDemand are spreading to raise money for you." Spanberger has not addressed Watts's tweet and did not respond to a request for comment.
Spanberger narrowly defeated former GOP representative Dave Brat in 2018, becoming the first Democrat to represent Virginia's Seventh Congressional District since 1971. Her seat is now a top target for Republicans looking to gain control of the House. The nonpartisan Cook Political Report changed its rating of the race from "lean Democratic" to "toss-up" in February, citing Freitas's candidacy and Spanberger's vote to impeach President Donald Trump.
The t-shirt in question was designed by Mom-At-Arms, a Second Amendment rights group, in April 2019. The photoshopped image Watts used showed Freitas promoting the shirt on August 30, 2016. Jill McDaniel, who founded Mom-At-Arms in December 2018, confirmed the shirt did not exist at the time of Freitas's supposed promotion.
According to founder Jill McDaniel, the group looked to "troll" Watts by sharing photos of the shirts paired with messages of support toward Moms Demand Action. The tactic proved successful—both Watts and Democratic Pittsburgh mayor Bill Peduto liked and retweeted posts featuring the shirt in August and November 2019, respectively.
In December 2019, Moms Demand Action sent Mom-At-Arms's t-shirt vendor a cease and desist letter for trademark infringement. McDaniel said her group did not make the shirt available for purchase to the public and donated all profits made from the shirt, a total of $10.49, to the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
A former Green Beret and outspoken gun-rights supporter, Freitas has served in the Virginia House of Delegates since 2016. He has received endorsements from major national Republicans, including Rep. Dan Crenshaw (Tex.) and Sens. Ted Cruz (Tex.), Rand Paul (Ky.), and Mike Lee (Utah). He will have to emerge from a crowded GOP primary before facing Spanberger in November. Freitas currently leads the primary, which boasts seven other candidates, in fundraising, taking in more than $600,000 since launching his campaign in December. The Virginia GOP planned to select a nominee at its April convention, but the event was postponed due to the coronavirus and has yet to be rescheduled.
Moms Demand Action did not respond to a request for comment.