Trump's new ad plays on Europe's refugee crisis — and the videographer is fuming

In this photo, migrant families had just crossed the border from Serbia to Croatia, on Sept. 24, 2015.

Donald Trump has frequently compared his campaign to the UK’s surprise vote to leave the European Union. He has called himself America’s “Mr. Brexit” and promised shock election results of “Brexit times 10.”

We’ll have to wait to find out whether the comparison is apt in that regard. But there is at least one similarity between Trump’s presidential run and the campaign to leave the EU: the use of misleading images that play on fears about immigration.

A new Trump ad released on Sunday features streams of people walking underneath a bridge while the Republican candidate’s voice speaks of “massive illegal immigration” to the US.

There’s one problem: The footage actually shows mostly Syrian refugees traveling through Hungary, on the way to Austria, at the height of Europe’s migrant crisis in September 2015.

Trump’s intended message is that he will be tough on illegal immigration to the US, but he is using a video of people fleeing countries ravaged by war, thousands of miles away.

The footage was captured by Nabih Bulos, a journalist who covered the flow of refugees and migrants across Europe a year ago for the New York Times.

Bulos reacted with shock to the discovery that his work had been used by the Trump campaign without his knowledge.

“When this footage was taken, thousands of refugees were on an odyssey through the Balkan corridor, and Europe, to escape the cataclysm ripping their country apart,” he wrote on Facebook.

“As a son of two Palestinian refugees who benefited from Jordan's largesse, a naturalized American welcomed to the country even after 9/11, as well as a working conflict journalist, the last thing I would want this footage to be used for is to embody Trump's anti-immigration message.”

Bulos told PRI that the Times owns the footage, so he has no legal recourse to act even if he wanted to.  

If this all sounds familiar, it’s because Nigel Farage, the actual “Mr. Brexit” and the leader of the far-right UK Independence Party, was criticized for doing something very similar.

In the final days of Britain’s EU referendum campaign, Farage’s party released a poster that showed thousands of refugees crossing from Slovenia into Croatia, in October 2015. The poster read: “Breaking Point" and “We must break free of the EU and take back control of our borders.”

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage poses during a media launch for an EU referendum poster in London on June 16.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage poses during a media launch for an EU referendum poster in London on June 16.


Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

Farage and his poster were roundly condemned by lawmakers across the political spectrum, and even from some on the same side of the EU debate.

One Twitter user pointed out the remarkable similarity between the Brexit poster and Nazi propaganda

But Trump didn’t seem to mind, and Farage even spoke alongside Trump at a rally in August.

Both the Brexit campaign and Donald Trump used the refugee crisis to exploit fears over immigration. Both made xenophobia a center point of their message.

In that sense, even if he loses on Tuesday, Donald Trump can claim to be Mr. Brexit.

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