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Republicans Are Launching Attacks at Rep. Ilhan Omar (Again)

Republicans deny inciting violence against female lawmakers of color, so why do death threats “spike” in response to attacks from the GOP?

Democratic Representative from Minnesota Ilhan Omar attends an address by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (unseen) at a joint meeting of the US Congress, on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, USA, 03 April 2019. Secretary General Stoltenberg delivers his address ahead of the meeting of foreign ministers that is being held in Washington this week to mark the seventieth anniversary of the signing of the North Atlantic Treaty. The Alliance was created 04 April, 1949, in Washington, DC.NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg delivers an address to a joint meeting of the US Congress, Washington, USA - 03 Apr 2019

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) attends an address by NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg at a joint meeting of Congress on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

MICHAEL REYNOLDS/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Rep. Ilhan Omar is once again being targeted by Republicans and right-wing media. Once again, the attacks against the Muslim lawmaker are clouded in bad faith. The latest round of outrage comes in light of comments Omar made last month at a Council on American-Islamic Relations event in Los Angeles, where she spoke about the anti-Muslim bigotry spawned by 9/11. Here’s what she said:

“Far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and frankly, I’m tired of it and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”

The comments surfaced this week, and Republicans have responded by questioning Omar’s patriotism, accusing her of downplaying 9/11. On Wednesday night, she went on the Late Show to defend herself. “I took an oath to uphold the Constitution,” she told Stephen Colbert. “I am as American as everyone else is.”

It’s pretty clear Omar was not seeking to diminish the significance of the attacks; she was pointing out that “every single Muslim” in America has been persecuted for the actions of a few. But GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel responded by calling Omar “anti-American.” Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade said that “you have to wonder if she is an American first.” Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-TX) was in disbelief. “First Member of Congress to ever describe terrorists who killed thousands of Americans on 9/11 as ‘some people who did something,'” he tweeted. “Unbelievable.”

In February, Crenshaw was one of the most prominent lawmakers accusing Omar of prejudice toward the Jewish people after she criticized the pro-Israel lobby’s influence in Washington. Omar apologized for drawing on anti-Semitic stereotypes to make her criticisms, but her issue was with Israel’s policy toward Palestine and the influence of money in politics, not the Jewish people. Accusations of anti-Semitism against Omar have been renewed this week following a tweet in which she described Trump immigration adviser Stephen Miller, who is Jewish, as a “white nationalist.”

But it was her comments about 9/11 that Republicans have leveraged to make what they see as their most effective criticism of the Muslim congresswoman: that she’s un-American. The pile-on continued Thursday when the New York Post juxtaposed Omar’s comments with an image of the World Trade Center engulfed in flames on 9/11. “Here’s your something,” the banner headline read.

Omar addressed the flogging a day earlier. “This is dangerous incitement, given the death threats I face,” she tweeted. “I hope leaders of both parties will join me in condemning it. My love and commitment to our country and that of my colleagues should never be in question. We are ALL Americans!”

Crenshaw replied with the same schoolyard defense the Trump administration has used whenever the president has been accused of inciting violence. He claimed that he did no such thing because he didn’t explicitly ask his followers to harm Omar. But it shouldn’t be hard to understand that pushing such a pointed message that people like Omar are at war with American values can lead to violence. Just last week, a 55-year-old man was arrested after calling Omar’s office and threatening to kill her. “Do you work for the Muslim Brotherhood? Why are you working for her, she’s a fucking terrorist. I’ll put a bullet in her fucking skull,” he said, according to the criminal complaint. This kind of hatred is not coming out of nowhere; it’s being fueled by the those on the right who pose the idea to millions that Omar may be working against the interests of the United States.

It isn’t hard to understand why Republicans have keyed on Omar, and it doesn’t have anything to do with anti-Semitism or her comments about 9/11. The reason is “self-explanatory,” as she told Colbert on Wednesday. “Historically, where our nation is right now, there are many members of our community whose identities are a lightning rod,” she explained. “They are being used as political footballs — immigrants, refugees, women of color, people of color, minorities, Muslims. I happen to embody all of those identities. It’s easy for this to be self-explanatory.”

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), another freshman representative who checks several of the “political football” boxes Omar outlined on the Late Show, explained how the GOP’s willingness to demonize them to score political points puts them in danger. “Almost every time this uncalled for rhetoric gets blasted by conserv. grps, we get a spike in death threats to refer to Capitol Police,” she tweeted.

Though most right-wing lawmakers and media figures are careful to couch their criticisms, Fox News host Jeanine Pirro blurted the subtext out loud in March, arguing that Omar isn’t a true American because she wears a hijab. “Omar wears a hijab, which according to the Quran, 33:59, tells women to cover so they won’t molested,” she said. “Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to sharia law, which is antithetical to the U.S. Constitution?”

Fox News issued a flaccid condemnation of the remarks the following day, briefly took her off the air before reinstating her after President Trump complained. “Bring back @JudgeJeanine Pirro,” the president tweeted. “The Radical Left Democrats, working closely with their beloved partner, the Fake News Media, is using every trick in the book to SILENCE a majority of our Country.”

Omar, for one, will not be silenced. “We are not there to be quiet, we are not there to be invisible,” she told Colbert of her and her fellow minority women in Congress. “We are there to follow the lead of people like Congressman John Lewis and make good trouble.”

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