On Wednesday, President Donald Trump amplified a lie intended to make it seem like Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) “partied” on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, when in fact she did no such thing.
Here’s the backstory: On September 13, progressive activist Adam Green posted video of Omar dancing to a Lizzo track during a Congressional Black Caucus event that had taken place earlier that day.
Nearly a week later, the president of the United States, with an assist from one of his favorite conspiracy theorists, twisted that video into a grotesque smear against one of America’s first Muslim congresswomen.
The conspiracy theorist in question is Terrence Williams, who Trump amplified last month when he retweeted Williams’s fact-free attempt to link the Clintons to Jeffrey Epstein’s death.
On Monday, Williams posted the video of Omar dancing to Lizzo, but falsely claimed it was filmed on September 11.
“GET THIS WOMAN OUT OF OFFICE,” Williams wrote, above the video. “Ilhan Omar partied on the anniversary of 9/11 because she believes ‘Some People Just Did Somethings.’ President Trump was bashed for playing golf On MLK day but it’s okay for Omar to party?”
Here’s a screenshot of Williams’s since-deleted tweet:
On Wednesday morning, Trump himself shared Williams’s tweet, writing above it, “IIhan Omar, a member of AOC Plus 3, will win us the Great State of Minnesota. The new face of the Democrat Party!”
IIhan Omar, a member of AOC Plus 3, will win us the Great State of Minnesota. The new face of the Democrat Party! https://t.co/aQFEygSa4D— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 18, 2019
Omar responded by noting that the president “is continuing to spread lies that put my life at risk,” and asked Twitter to do something about it.
This is from a CBC event we hosted this weekend to celebrate black women in Congress.— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) September 18, 2019
The President of the United States is continuing to spread lies that put my life at risk.
What is Twitter doing to combat this misinformation? https://t.co/XdkRVrU7mZ
Williams ended up deleting his tweet later on Wednesday. CNN reports he did so on his own. Trump’s tweet, however, remains up as of time of writing — despite progressive activists putting pressure on the company to force him to take it down.
Trump has a history of linking Omar with 9/11
Wednesday’s tweet was not the first time that Trump — who has a long history of pushing Islamophobic lies about 9/11 — has used the attacks to smear Omar. Last April, Trump tried to create a perception that Omar downplayed the attacks by tweeting an edited video that interspersed comments Omar made during a speech to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) with graphic 9/11 footage.
During that speech, Omar stressed the importance of organizations like CAIR, and praised them for helping to protect Muslims from civil rights violations.
“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.” (CAIR was actually founded in 1994.)
Though the speech didn’t create much of a stir at the time, Omar’s “some people did something” words were subsequently spun by right-wingers “to paint [Omar] as an anti-American radical indifferent to those killed during the 9/11 attacks,” as Vox’s Zack Beauchamp put it.
At that time, Omar responded to Trump’s video with a statement saying that “[s]ince the president’s tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life — many directly referencing or replying to the president’s video. This is endangering lives. It has to stop.”
But Trump indicated he had no regrets.
“Look, she’s been very disrespectful to this country ... She is somebody that doesn’t really understand life, real life. What it’s all about,” Trump told a Minnesota reporter last April.
“It’s unfortunate,” he continued. “She’s got a way about her that’s very, very bad, I think, for our country. I think she’s extremely unpatriotic and extremely disrespectful to our country.”
REPORTER: Congresswoman Omar says your video led to direct threats on her life. Any second thoughts?— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) April 16, 2019
TRUMP: "No, not at all." pic.twitter.com/wiSNptg0F3
Omar has been a frequent target of Trump since then. She was the target of racist chants at one of his rallies in July, and last month Trump encouraged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block Omar and another Muslim congresswoman, Rashida Tlaib, from visiting the country — which Israel eventually sort of did.
Trump has no shame about amplifying fringe conspiracy theorists like Williams
Trump was widely criticized for retweeting Williams’s attempt to link the Clintons to Epstein’s death last month, but he defended his decision to do so on the basis that Williams has lots of Twitter followers. Referring to Williams during a media availability, Trump described him as “a very highly respected conservative pundit. He’s a big Trump fan.”
“That was a retweet. That was from him, it wasn’t from me,” continued Trump, who had recently retweeted QAnon and Pizzagate accounts. “But he’s a man who has half a million followers. A lot of followers, and he’s respected ... so I think I was fine.”
Trump argues his retweet of a @w_terrence tweet suggesting the Clintons murdered Jeffrey Epstein "was fine" because Williams is "a highly respected conservative pundit. A big Trump fan. And that was a retweet ... he's a man who has half a million followers." pic.twitter.com/7fCwb59T3L— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 13, 2019
Despite what Trump would have you believe, there’s not much evidence that Williams — who describes himself on Twitter as an actor, comedian, and commentator — is a well-regarded pundit. In fact, before Trump retweeted him, he was most recently in the news for racist jokes he made during a Fox News appearance about journalist Sarah Jeong that were so offensive, the interview was abruptly cut off.
Ironically, Williams didn’t acknowledge deleting his false claim about Omar on Wednesday, but instead posted another tweet attacking the media for “never ever fact check[ing] stories that make Trump look bad.” He followed that up with another tweet claiming “Liberals are begging twitter to suspend me & Majority of them are White Racist Liberals Hating on a Black Free Thinker,” and urging people to follow him on Instagram.