President Donald Trump launched a new round of racist attacks on “the Squad,” a group of four Democratic congresswomen of color, at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina Wednesday night.
Trump’s litany of distortions about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) in particular prompted the crowd to begin chanting “Send her back!” at one point, echoing the racist tweets Trump himself had posted over the weekend.
Over the course of just a few minutes, Trump managed to smear Omar with several false statements, all to serve the agitation of the crowd.
Trump attempted to paint Omar as supportive of terror groups like Al Qaeda, while suggesting falsely that she had celebrated the deaths of Americans. He claimed that she had “smeared U.S. service members involved in Black Hawk Down” and “slandered the brave Americans were trying to keep peace in Somalia.”
In reality, Omar had simply noted in an October 2017 tweet that many Somalis had also died in the Battle of Mogadishu because of American involvement.
Trump also claimed on Wednesday that Omar had “minimized the September 11th attacks on our homeland saying ‘some people did something.'” That quote, which Omar made at an event earlier this year, was taken out of context from a full speech in which she clearly used the word “terrorists” to describe those who carried out the 9/11 attacks, which she said had fueled Islamophobia and erased distinctions between “Islam” and “terror.”
The quote was later distorted and shared by far-right media outlets, as well as members of Congress and the president himself.
Trump further claimed that Omar had “pleaded for compassion for ISIS recruits attempting to join the terrorist organizations.” This is a false representation of a specific occasion in which Omar asked a judge to reconsider how to punish someone convicted of joining ISIS. She suggested that sentencing him to decades in prison would actually motivate terrorist recruitment by confirming how groups like ISIS try to convince Americans that the country doesn’t value them. She instead recommended “a restorative approach to justice” in which the convicted terrorist could actually be de-radicalized rather than left in a cell to rot — an approach dedicated to actually reducing terrorism.
Turning to his repeated and baseless claim that Omar supports Al Qaeda, Trump referred to comments she once made about the intensity by which people referred to the terrorist group. “Al Qaeda makes you proud!” he accused her of once having said.
In the specific comments to which Trump was referring, Omar was highlighting how common Arabic words sound scary to American ears. She cited the intense way one of her college professors referred to “Al Qaeda” (which simply translates, “The base”), but not other common terms in English.
Trump said Wednesday night that, at a press conference this week, Omar “refused to answer” his accusation that she supported Al Qaeda, implying it was a concession on her part. Omar in fact said that she refused to “dignify” Trump’s “ridiculous” accusation with an answer, because she was tired of the racist double standard that requires Muslim Americans to always prove their anti-extremist bonafides. She noted that she did not expect her white peers to have to defend their race every time a white man committed an act of terror.
Trump also took umbrage that Omar had blamed the United States for helping cause the crisis in Venezuela. This claim isn’t untrue, and echoes Omar’s consistent concerns that the United States involves itself too often in foreign affairs in a way that doesn’t contribute to peace. That argument has been used to fuel racist allegations that Omar is somehow anti-American.
“We must support diplomacy, not war,” she said previously, in response to criticism from Vice President Mike Pence over her comments on Venezuela.
The president also claimed this week that Omar “looks down with contempt on the hardworking Americans, saying that ‘ignorance is pervasive in many parts of the country,'” prompting boos from the crowd.
Omar did say those words, but again, they were in a specific context that Trump ignored. Appearing on The Nation’s podcast “Next Left” in May, Omar was explaining that many people have misconceptions about the refugee resettlement process, in part thanks to misinformation spread by Republican lawmakers. She was not calling people generally ignorant, but rather was noting that many had been misinformed about a specific issue.
After Trump claimed Wednesday night that, “obviously,” Omar had “a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic screeds,” the crowd in the Smith-Williams Arena began chanting “Send her back,” a reference to Trump’s racist tweets telling her and three other Democratic congresswomen, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA), to “go back” to their home countries. (All but Omar were born in the United States; Omar emigrated from Somalia as a child.)
Republican lawmakers have persistently tried to smear Omar as anti-Semitic, but for the primary purpose of weaponizing anti-Semitism politically, as many outlets have noted recently. Omar has been called out for the insensitivity of some of her remarks criticizing Israel and the American pro-Israel lobbying organization AIPAC — for which she has apologized — but many American Jews have also defended the underlying points that she has been arguing.
Trump had his share of attacks for the other three members of “the Squad” as well, but nothing quite rivaled the multiple false smears he aimed at Omar Wednesday night.
The “Send her back!” chants have prompted massive outrage across social media, with many noting they were an uglier, more racist version of 2016’s anti-Hillary Clinton chant, “Lock her up!” A few Republican lawmakers even chimed in, offering tepid criticism for the chant while still defending Trump from accusations of racism.
I deeply disagree with the extreme left & have been disgusted by their tone. I woke up today equally disgusted – chants like “send her back” are ugly, wrong, & would send chills down the spines of our Founding Fathers. This ugliness must end, or we risk our great union.
— Adam Kinzinger (@RepKinzinger) July 18, 2019
Though it was brief, I struggled with the “send her back” chant tonight referencing Rep. Omar. Her history, words & actions reveal her great disdain for both America & Israel. That should be our focus and not phrasing that’s painful to our friends in the minority communities.
— Rep. Mark Walker (@RepMarkWalker) July 18, 2019
.@RepTomEmmer on Trump’s send her back chants: “I didn’t watch the rally but there is no place for that.” Reiterates Trump “does not have a racist bone in his body”
— Alana Abramson (@aabramson) July 18, 2019
Trump, for his part, returned to Washington, D.C. Wednesday evening thrilled by the rally. “The enthusiasm blows away our rivals on the Radical Left,” he tweeted.