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Belgian weapons-maker forces US arm to retract controversial ad after backlash

The American subsidiary of Belgium’s leading weapons manufacturer FN Herstal was forced to take down an advertising video that critics said promotes gratuitous violence.

The ad, put out by FN America on Twitter to celebrate Independence Day on July 4, showed three individuals — dressed as the Statue of Liberty, Uncle Sam and an American bald eagle — driving in the desert on a pickup truck with heavy rock music playing in the background. They stop, take out automatic rifles from the trunk of the vehicle, and shoot fireworks to make them explode. The accompanying tweet stated: “Remember if you’re going to celebrate, do it the FN way.”

The video and its accompanying tweet were taken down Tuesday afternoon.

Parent company FN Herstal is fully owned by the Walloon region of Belgium. The advertisement, released the same day as a mass shooting in Chicago left six dead and 30 wounded, did not go down well in Belgium.

The publication of the video was “scandalous and irresponsible,” said Olivier Bierin, a Green Walloon MP. “We see a playful and fun use of weapons of war that are supposed to be used in a strict professional framework by the military. It gives a completely irresponsible image of the use of weapons.”

Amnesty Belgium’s head of advocacy, François Graas, called the video a “more delirious communication than usual,” wondering how the Walloon government was still “tolerating this nonsense.”

“Isn’t this video borderline for a public company (and even for a private company) given the context with the firearms in the USA ????” a Belgian journalist tweeted.

A spokesperson for Wallonian Economy Minister Willy Borsus, who is in charge of the SRIW, the Walloon organization that owns FN Herstal, said: “In fact, FN has told us that it has asked its U.S. subsidiary to immediately remove the video,” adding that the advertisement was “totally inappropriate.”

Although FN Herstal and FN America did not respond to POLITICO’s requests for comment, local media reported that Julien Compère, the head of the FN Herstal group, urged the U.S. subsidiary to immediately take down the video.

Bierin, the MP, is expected to question the regional government on Tuesday and raise the issue with Borsus.

The goal of the intervention, Bierin said, is to “put in place structural guidelines so that this does not happen again, and not react on a case-by-case basis.”

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