On Friday, President Trump tweeted a video featuring out-of-context remarks Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) made about 9/11 juxtaposed with graphic images from the terrorist attack. In just three days, it has received nearly 100,000 retweets and over a quarter of a million likes. At one point, Trump had the tweet pinned to the top of his page so it would be the first thing seen by anyone who clicked on his account.
On Sunday night, Omar tweeted that since the video was posted, she has “experienced an increase in death threats,” many of which directly referenced the video. “Violent crimes and other acts of hate by right-wing extremists and white nationalists are on the rise in this country and around the world,” she wrote. “We can no longer ignore that they are being encouraged by the the occupant of the highest office in the land.”
We are all Americans. This is endangering lives. It has to stop. pic.twitter.com/gwB2kDUIRp
— Rep. Ilhan Omar (@Ilhan) April 15, 2019
“We are all Americans,” she concluded. “This is endangering lives. It has to stop.”
Trump’s tweet was in response to comments Omar made last month during a speech at an event hosted by Council on American-Islamic Relations. “For 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,” Omar said. “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.”
Though the full context of the quote makes clear that Omar referred to the attack as “something” done by “some people” as a way to emphasize that millions of American Muslims have been persecuted because of the actions of a few, Republicans pounced, claiming her language disrespected those who lost their lives during 9/11. GOP Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel tweeted that Omar is “anti-American.” Fox & Friends host Brian Kilmeade wondered the same, saying, “you have to wonder if she is an American first.” Rep. Dan Crenshaw — who accused Omar of anti-Semitism for her previous criticisms of Israel and the pro-Israel lobby’s influence in Washington — tweeted that her remarks were “unbelievable.”
It shouldn’t be surprising that the smear campaign has led to death threats.
As the backlash from the right intensified, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) posted an image of a Republican fundraising email describing her as a “domestic terrorist” while pointing out the danger of such attacks. “This puts me in danger every time,” she wrote. “Almost every time this uncalled-for rhetoric gets blasted by [conservative groups], we get a spike in death threats to refer to Capitol Police. Multiple [people] have been arrested trying to harm me, Ilhan, & others. @GOP, what’s it going to take to stop?”
Omar later tweeted a similar warning along with images of Brian Kilmeade on Fox & Friends and Crenshaw’s tweet. “This is dangerous incitement, given the death threats I face,” she wrote. “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!”
Though several notable Democrats have since condemned the attacks, Republicans have refused to back down, dismissing the idea that promoting a bad-faith reading of Omar’s comments as a way to cast her as anti-American equates to an incitement of violence. “Just so we are clear on the basic notions of reality: When someone calls out a public official for things they said, it is not endangering their life or inciting violence,” Crenshaw tweeted. “Claiming otherwise is just an attempt to silence your critics.”
Just so we are clear on basic notions of reality:
When someone calls out a public official for things they said, it is not endangering their life or inciting violence.
Claiming otherwise is just an attempt to silence your critics.
— Dan Crenshaw (@DanCrenshawTX) April 13, 2019
The White House, too, has denied the effect of the attacks. “Certainly the president is wishing no ill will, and certainly not violence towards anyone,” Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told ABC’s George Stephanopolous on Sunday, adding that “the president is absolutely, and should be, calling out the congresswoman for her not only one time but history of anti-Semitic comments.”
A day later, Trump campaign adviser Marc Lotter went so far as to blame Omar for the threats against her life. “I don’t think it’s the president that’s putting her in danger; I think it’s her ill-thought out words that she used to describe the greatest terror attack on the history of United States soil which killed nearly 3,000 Americans,” he said on CNN. “Those are her words. That’s what’s making the threats.”
Not only does Trump’s team stand behind the president’s tweet, as the New York Times reported Monday, the administration is deliberately trying to position Omar as a liberal villain heading into the 2020 election. The strategy isn’t surprising considering the role anti-Muslim bigotry — most notably the proposed Muslim ban — played in Trump’s 2016 campaign. He won that election, and, according to the Times, the president’s advisers have privately described Omar as “his ideal foil” as he once again tries to appeal to Americans’ xenophobia.
He attacked her again on Monday morning.
Before Nancy, who has lost all control of Congress and is getting nothing done, decides to defend her leader, Rep. Omar, she should look at the anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and ungrateful U.S. HATE statements Omar has made. She is out of control, except for her control of Nancy!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 15, 2019
As Republicans continue to ignore the reality of the impact of their attempts to score political points by casting Omar as a threat to America, Omar is worried not just for her own safety, but for that of her constituents. “Counties that hosted a 2016 Trump rally saw a 226 percent increase in hate crimes in the months following the rally,” she wrote on Sunday, referencing a study done by the Washington Post last month. “And assaults increase when cities host Trump rallies. This is particularly concerning given the president’s visit to my home state of Minnesota on Monday.”