Politics

Meet the man behind the explosive viral ads for gun-totin’ Dale Peterson and ‘gather your armies’ Rick Barber

Photo of Kyle Peterson
Kyle Peterson
Contributor

Ladd Ehlinger Jr. jokes that he’s only shot campaign ads for three people, and he’s managed to get two of them named “worst person in the world” by left-wing MSNBC talk-show host Keith Olbermann.

But even while bestowing Alabama agriculture commissioner candidate Dale Peterson with the dishonor, Olbermann seems to get the joke.

“You can tell, you can look at Olbermann and you can tell, he’s trying to look angry but he’s having a really hard time doing it,” Ehlinger said while laughing in an interview with The Daily Caller.

And that — the over-the-top theatrics, the caricature, and the fact that you’re never quite sure how seriously to take Peterson, because you can’t tell how seriously he’s taking himself — is the whole point, says the 41-year-old filmmaker.

“On television, you’re buying lazy people who are too fat to hit the mute button during commercials,” Ehlinger said. “On the internet, nobody has to watch your stupid ad. You have to come up with something interesting and entertaining for them to look at.”

It’s a potent strategy. Collectively, the spots Ehlinger has created have reached more than a million viewers on YouTube and have been replayed on cable news shows, reaching millions more.

Ehlinger isn’t, though, who you’d think of as a shrewd political operator. He studied film and then computer science at public universities, and worked as an animator for the military and for NASA before switching to independent moviemaking. He’s created two feature films: “Flatland,” an adaptation of an 1884 novella about a two-dimensional world, and “Hive Mind,” a movie whose website describes its plot simply by asking, “What if a conservative talk show host like Rush Limbaugh were the last man on earth — and everyone else had been converted into nudist zombies?”

WATCH THE SECOND LES PHILLIP AD

Campaign ads were almost an accident.

“I ended up doing a little radio show here in Huntsville and interviewed a bunch of different politicians,” Ehlinger said. “One of them asked me if I would do his ads for him.”

That was Les Phillip, who was then running for U.S. Congress in Alabama’s fifth district. The second ad Ehlinger and Phillip put out, “A Story of Two Men,” was sharply critical of President Obama.

“I’m going to Congress to help stop him from destroying our nation,” Phillip states at the end of the ad, before whipping off his glasses and adding, “and they’re not going to call me a racist.”

Phillip, you see, is black.

Needless to say, the spot made waves.

“It got shown on The O’Reilly Factor and a couple of other places,” Ehlinger said.