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“Send her back!”: Trump’s attacks on Ilhan Omar — and the response to them — represent a new low

During his rally in North Carolina, Trump escalated his smears of the trailblazing congresswoman, and his fans were right there with him.

Donald Trump Holds “Keep America Great” Rally In Greenville, NC
Trump speaks in North Carolina on Wednesday.
Zach Gibson/Getty Images

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) is a Somali refugee who became a US citizen. In November, she was elected to Congress by an overwhelming majority of voters in her Minneapolis district. Her story embodies elements of the American dream.

But Omar is also an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump. And last Sunday, Trump lashed out at her and other Democratic congresswomen of color in a string of tweets in which he told them to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” The subtext, in Omar’s case, was clear — the president was suggesting she go back to Somalia.

During Trump’s rally on Wednesday evening in Greenville, North Carolina — following two days in which Trump repeated the racist attacks he made against Omar and other Democratic congresswomen of color — Trump fans expressed their full-throated agreement with the president. Trump spent some time on an extended rant about Omar:

Representative Omar blamed the United States for the terrorist attacks on our country, saying that terrorism is a reaction to our involvement in our people’s affairs. ... Omar laughed that Americans speak of al-Qaeda in a menacing tone and remarked that “you don’t say America with this intensity. You say al-Qaeda makes you proud. Al-Qaeda makes you proud! You don’t speak that way about America.” And at a press conference just this week, when asked whether she supported al-Qaeda — that’s our enemy, that’s our enemy, they are a very serious problem that we take care of, but they always seem to come along somewhere — she refused to answer. ... [S]he looks down on contempt on the hard-working Americans, saying ignorance is pervasive in many parts of this country. And obviously and importantly, Omar has a history of launching vicious anti-Semitic attacks.

The al-Qaeda claims are baseless. It was the line about “anti-Semitic attacks” that promoted chants of “send her back.” Trump basked in them.

The moment arguably represented a new low in Trump’s long history of racial demagoguery.


That Trump’s fans are fully on board with his racist remarks isn’t surprising — polling conducted following Trump’s latest racist attacks showed his approval rating among Republicans rose after he made them. But the moment is an indication of how ugly the 2020 campaign might get, especially amid reports that Trump views making racist attacks on Democratic women of color as a way to drive up turnout among white grievance voters, and thus as a key part of his reelection strategy.

Trump’s attacks on Omar at the rally weren’t even the first he made on one of America’s first Muslim congresswomen Wednesday evening. Before leaving the White House for North Carolina, Trump took a question from a One America News Network reporter who asked him if he suspected Omar committed immigration fraud when she came to the United States. Trump responded by saying, “There’s a lot of talk about the fact that she was married to her brother. I know nothing about it ... I don’t know, but I’m sure that somebody would be looking at that.”

While Omar’s marital history has come under suspicion, reporters who have investigated it haven’t confirmed allegations she married her brother. But as we learned in the cases of the Central Park Five and President Obama’s birth certificate, Trump isn’t one to let evidence get in way of his efforts to smear people of color.

Updated with an excerpt from Trump’s speech.

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