Swedish MP criticized for posing with AR-15
Moderate MP Hanif Bali has been criticized by the prime minister, fellow MPs and the Newspapers Publishers Association (Tidningsutgivarna - TU) for posting a photo to Twitter in which he poses with an AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle used in a number of mass shootings in the US.
Bali posted a photo of himself holding an AR-15 at a school shooting range. The post was in response to a critical opinion column in Dagens Nyheter (DN) in which the newspaper slammed Christian Democrat (KD) politician Sara Skyttedal after she was stopped in Copenhagen Airport with pepper spray, which is illegal in Denmark. Skyttedal took to Twitter to criticize Denmark and post a photo of herself holding a gun.
DN wrote that the photo “revealed KD’s hypocrisy” because the party would be outraged if “an immigrant from the suburbs” were to have posed with a weapon on social media. The newspaper also accused Skyttedal of glorifying violence.
This, in turn, prompted Bali, who is known for his anti-immigrant views despite being an immigrant himself, to turn to his own popular Twitter account.
“I see that DN is outraged that Skyttedal posed with a weapon. Thought I’d give them a heart attack by posing with an AR-15. Very nice shooting range at Högsätra Skola F-9,” he wrote.
Bali is no stranger to controversy and has built a strong following on social media thanks to his outspoken views, which some critics say flirt with white nationalism despite his Iranian background.
The AR-15 tweet was the second time in less than a month that Bali used social media to take a shot at DN. On July 30, he posted a Photoshopped image of his face superimposed onto the cover of the video game ‘Call of Duty: Black Ops.” In the altered photo, Bali is shown holding two handguns with two additional guns strapped to his back. The text reads ‘Call of Duty: Hanif & DN at War’ and Bali posted the image with the caption “Press E to destroy DN”.
The two gun-themed posts about the newspaper led Tidningsutgivarna to request a meeting with Moderate party leadership. Party leader Ulf Kristersson declined the meeting and the party will send its secretary Gunnar Stömmer to meet with TU instead. While Kristersson was criticized for not taking the meeting with TU, the Moderate leader did distance himself from Bali’s controversial post.
“I cannot see why anyone would pose with a weapon and create a threatening situation at all,” he told Expressen.
The newspaper association was far from the only voice to weigh in on Bali’s post. Prime Minister Stefan Löfven said the photo was way over the line.
“We talk about the need to defend the freedom of the press and a free and independent media and then a Moderate MP behaves like this. It is completely beyond all limits,” the PM told Aftonbladet.
Liberal party leader Jan Björklund slammed Bali’s photo on Twitter.
“I’ve worked with weapons for many years. It is completely inappropriate for a member of parliament to pose on social media with an automatic weapon in a school building,” Björklund tweeted.
Speaking later to broadcaster SVT, Björklund said the choice of an AR-15 was particularly problematic.
“The AR-15 isn’t just any weapon, it is the weapon that is most commonly used in school shootings and mass shootings in the US. That sends an unsettling signal,” he said.
In a later tweet, Bali apologized that the photo stirred up reminders of deadly school shootings.
“I’m really sorry that the photo is creating such associations, I really didn’t intend that. The point is that Swedish shooting, just like floorball and other sports, is part of Swedish society. In this case, the shooting range was located in the basement of a school gymnasium,” he wrote.
Bali’s provocative use of social media has generated attention both within Sweden’s borders and beyond. Earlier this year he was the focus of a video segment on BBC that highlighted "his confrontational style and hard-line views about Sweden's immigration policy":
Beklagar verkligen att bilden gett sådana associationer, det ville jag verkligen inte ge. Poängen är att svensk skytte, precis som innebandy och andra sporter är en del av svenska föreningslivet. I detta fallet råkade skyttebanan ligga i källaren till gympasalen till en skola. https://t.co/CC43i4VLcx
— Hanif Bali (@hanifbali) August 20, 2018
Beklagar verkligen att bilden gett sådana associationer, det ville jag verkligen inte ge. Poängen är att svensk skytte, precis som innebandy och andra sporter är en del av svenska föreningslivet. I detta fallet råkade skyttebanan ligga i källaren till gympasalen till en skola. https://t.co/CC43i4VLcx— Hanif Bali (@hanifbali) August 20, 2018