The first half of the TikTok video shows a muscular Russian man with a shaved head doing push-ups, jumping out of a plane, and staring down the scope of a rifle. The second half shows a brightly animated U.S. Army ad telling the true story of Cpl. Emma Malonelord, a soldier who enlisted after being raised by two mothers in California and graduating at the top of her high school class.
The U.S. Army said its ad showcases the “the deeply emotional and diverse” backgrounds of its soldiers. But to Sen. Ted Cruz, who retweeted the TikTok on Thursday, the contrast with Russia’s campaign instead made American soldiers “into pansies.”
“Holy crap,” Cruz said in his viral tweet. “Perhaps a woke, emasculated military is not the best idea . . .”
“Holy crap,” Duckworth tweeted Thursday, mimicking Cruz’s words. “Perhaps a U.S. Senator shouldn’t suggest that the *Russian* military is better than the American military that protected him from an insurrection he helped foment?”
In the hours after Cruz’s quip, #emasculaTED trended on Twitter.
“Ted Cruz attacks a US Army soldier for telling her story, says he prefers Russians,” VoteVets, a liberal political group that advocates for veterans running for office, said in a tweet responding to Cruz. “Because Ted Cruz is a sedition-loving traitor.”
The unedited Army recruitment video also picked up steam in the last week on YouTube and Facebook, where the U.S. Army posted it on May 6. The ad shows illustrations of Malonelord growing up, marching with her moms to protest for LGBTQ rights, attending her mothers’ wedding, and, ultimately, putting on the Army uniform.
“I like to think I’ve been defending freedom from an early age,” Malonelord said in the ad.
But the original video received so much negative backlash on YouTube over the last week that the account disabled comments, the Army Times reported Thursday.
“The comments violated our social media policy and were not aligned with Army values,” Laura DeFrancisco, a spokeswoman for the Army Enterprise Marketing Office, told Army Times. “Out of respect for the safety and well-being of our soldiers and their families, we have disabled the comments.”
Conservative ire over changes in the U.S. military is not new. Many have opposed proposals to allow women to serve in combat roles, including Cruz, who called the idea “nuts” while campaigning for president in 2016. Last week, the commander of a Space Force unit was fired after claiming that the Pentagon was pushing an agenda “rooted in Marxism” for promoting diversity and trying to address extremism within military ranks.
The origins of the spliced TikTok video that Cruz shared on Thursday are murky – an account with the handle @thoughtcrimes_ originally posted it but has since been deactivated and its videos have been removed from the app. TikTok did not immediately respond to a request for more information.
Alexander Reid Ross, a doctoral fellow for the UK-based Center for Analysis of the Radical Right, told The Washington Post that the video surfaced on Twitter when a Dutch user who frequently posts far-right content shared it. A real estate agent from Dallas shared the video from the Dutch user’s post, and Cruz retweeted her.
But Ross said he had been tracking versions of the video on extremist Telegram channels earlier this week. He said the clip popped up repeatedly in channels that promote fascist and anti-Semitic beliefs.
“Ted Cruz is obviously sharing this video that I’ve seen bouncing around some of the most violent and anti-American Telegram accounts that I monitor,” he said. “It just struck me as odd.”
Cruz’s office did not immediately respond to an inquiry late Thursday about whether the senator vetted the source of the video before sharing it.
But Cruz was not alone in panning the Army’s new recruitment ads.
John Noonan, who is an adviser on military and defense affairs for Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), retweeted the same TikTok video with the comment “We are going to be the most tolerant military in history ever to lose a war.”
Cruz replied, “yep.”
Noonan went on to say that he didn’t believe the ad was real.
“It can’t be,” he said. “I just can’t envision someone in the army hierarchy approving it.”
Despite the backlash, Cruz refused to take back his disdain for the video.
“I’m enjoying lefty blue checkmarks losing their minds over this tweet, dishonestly claiming that I’m ‘attacking the military,'” he said in a follow-up tweet late Thursday. “Uh, no. We have the greatest military on earth, but Dem politicians & woke media are trying to turn them into pansies.”