President Donald Trump used Twitter to target Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) on Friday for remarks she made during a speech on Muslim civil rights last month.
Trump tweeted an incendiary video that took clips from the speech out of context and interlaced them with news footage of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. The tweet text accompanying the video read, “WE WILL NEVER FORGET.”
The video came a day after the New York Post published an ethically questionable and widely criticized cover featuring a quote by Omar across an image of the twin towers as they burned.
This week’s attacks are the latest example of unchecked Islamophobia faced by Omar ― as well as the impossible standards Muslim-American politicians are held to and the little nuance granted to them. Ever since she was sworn in earlier this year, Omar, the first hijab-wearing black Muslim congresswoman, has endured an onslaught of bad-faith attacks from the GOP and its allies.
In addition, her Democratic colleagues have mostly been tepid in their support. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) reacted to Trump’s tweet with a lukewarm response that didn’t acknowledge Omar’s name.
“The memory of 9/11 is sacred ground, and any discussion of it must be done with reverence,” Pelosi tweeted. “The President shouldn’t use the painful images of 9/11 for a political attack.”
While the GOP and right-wing media continue to target Omar, America has watched the congresswoman navigate her new position with little support from her own party. Indeed, most Democratic congressional leaders have been eerily silent, helping normalize Islamophobia from the highest levels of government.
Just last month, politicians from both sides of the aisle accused Omar of anti-Semitism in response to comments she made about the pro-Israel lobby ― which many advocates have argued were misinterpreted in bad faith. Top Democrats, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and many others have all sharply criticized their colleague for her statements.
The offices of those Democratic leaders did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s request for comment about Trump’s tweet. Omar’s office did not respond to a request for comment either.
A spokesperson for Pelosi told HuffPost on Friday that the speaker “left a message for Rep. Omar to discuss,” but wouldn’t comment further.
The timing of the attacks come as the Trump administration is gearing up for his 2020 reelection campaign, and as it continues to downplay the growing threat of white supremacy and hate crimes in the U.S.
A hearing last week on the subject was derailed by conservatives questioning whether white supremacy exists at all.
Amid all this, some Democrats have bucked the norm and stood up for their freshman colleague. Chief among them are Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who was sworn in alongside Omar and is also one of the first Muslim women in Congress, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), another freshman.
“Enough is enough,” Tlaib tweeted. “No more silence, with NY Post and now Trump taking Ilhan’s words out of context to incite violence toward her, it’s time for more Dems to speak up. Clearly the GOP is fine with this shameful stunt, but we cannot stand by.”
Ocasio-Cortez tweeted that “members of Congress have a duty to respond to the President’s explicit attack today.”
“Ilhan Omar’s life is in danger,” she wrote. “For our colleagues to be silent is to be complicit in the outright, dangerous targeting of a member of Congress. We must speak out.”
Other prominent Democrats soon followed, with 2020 candidates Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Jay Inslee, Beto O’Rourke, Pete Buttigieg, Julián Castro and Jay Inslee also tweeting in support of Omar. HuffPost also reached out to a number of lawmakers who condemned Omar in the past, including Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), but not receive comment as of publication.
The Democratic Party has been struggling for a number of years with its own messaging when it comes to Islamophobia, and how it speaks on behalf of targeted Muslims, said Todd Green, the author of the book “Presumed Guilty: Why We Shouldn’t Ask Muslims to Condemn Terrorism.”
The bad-faith attacks against Omar, coupled with the lack of support from her colleagues, are predicated on the notion that Omar is already presumed guilty, Green told HuffPost. She isn’t afforded the presumption that she would find the 9/11 attacks just as abhorrent as anyone else ― all because she’s Muslim.
“That’s not the luxury most Muslims get,” Green said. For Omar especially, she has become a target, a symbolic stand-in, in many ways, for ongoing anxieties politicized by the GOP.
When Omar gave her speech last month, at an event in Los Angeles hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, she referenced American Muslims’ right to speak out about the Islamophobia they face in their daily lives. Muslims, she said, 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.”
The only reason the speech became a focus of attack was because a controversial Australian imam took a clip from the speech and posted it to Twitter on Monday. The next day, Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Texas) shared the imam’s tweet in a tweet of his own, which has so far been retweeted over 28,000 times. On Wednesday, “Fox & Friends” seized on Crenshaw’s tweet and co-host Brian Kilmeade questioned if Omar “was American first.” The New York Post followed the segment with its 9/11 cover on Thursday. The cycle concluded Friday with Trump’s incendiary tweet.
It took just five days for an out-of-context clip taken from Omar’s speech to go from a notorious imam in Australia to an incitement posted by the president of the United States, highlighting the power of social media, the right-wing media and the far-reaching influence of politicians.
Arsalan Bukhari, the strategic communications manager at CAIR, told HuffPost that the president‘s tweet is particularly alarming because it endangered the lives of Omar and her family. Just last week, a man was arrested and charged in New York with threatening to murder the congresswoman.
Muslim civil rights leaders are calling for Democrats and Republicans to respond to these attacks and stipulate that Islamophobia is not a partisan issue.
“We’ve seen very few Democrats standing up,” Bukhari told HuffPost. “It’s time for more Democrats to stand up as well as Republicans to defend her and to tell those who are attacking her to cut it out.”