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‘This is endangering lives. It has to stop’: Rep. Ilhan Omar says death threats spiked after Trump tweet

The remarks of the freshman member of Congress during an address to a Muslim rights organization spawned controversy, but it was just a snippet. (Video: Meg Kelly/The Washington Post, Photo: Atthar Mirza/The Washington Post)

As President Trump has faced withering blowback over a Friday tweet that used video of the twin towers falling on 9/11 to launch a broadside against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), many have argued that the visceral imagery could inspire more violence aimed at one of the first two Muslim women in Congress.

That’s exactly what has happened, according to Omar. The Democrat said in a statement late Sunday that threats against her life have spiked, and she explicitly blamed Trump’s tweet for the surge.

“Since 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,” Omar said in the statement, which noted that she now receives death threats daily that often reference her faith.

Omar’s warning, which came hours after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) revealed she has asked the U.S. Capitol Police to increase protection for Omar, adds new urgency to the demands for calmer rhetoric from her critics, who have repeatedly charged her with anti-Semitism and now with downplaying the 2001 terrorist attacks.

But her detractors on the right have shown little appetite for backing off. On ABC’s “This Week,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders disputed on Sunday that Trump’s words might endanger Omar and promised that he would continue “calling out the congresswoman.”

“Certainly the president is wishing no ill will, and certainly not violence toward anyone,” said Sanders, who called Trump’s criticism of Omar a “good thing.” She added: “The president is absolutely and should be calling out the congresswoman for her, not only one time, but history of anti-Semitic comments. The question is why aren’t Democrats doing the same thing?”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other prominent Democrats criticized President Trump for using 9/11 imagery to attack Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). (Video: Reuters)

The latest political firestorm around Omar centers on a speech she gave to a Council on American-Islamic Relations banquet on March 23. As The Washington Post’s Glenn Kessler reported, her talk drew little attention until a controversial Australian figure tweeted a clip of her using the phrase “some people did something” when describing the 9/11 attacks.

Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.) then helped the video go viral by retweeting it last week, calling Omar’s statement “Unbelievable.” The uproar led one Fox News host to question whether the congresswoman, a former Somali refugee, was “an American first”; the New York Post on Thursday published a widely derided cover with a photo of a hijacked plane slamming into the World Trade Center alongside Omar’s quote.

Trump escalated that rhetoric further with his Friday tweet, which declared “WE WILL NEVER FORGET!” over 43 seconds of Omar’s comments interspersed with footage from Lower Manhattan during the attacks.

Omar and her defenders have insisted that her quote, which came amid a longer speech decrying Islamophobia, was taken wholly out of context. They’ve noted that Omar was among the 213 co-sponsors of a bill to reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund and suggested that the vitriol against her is actually rooted in prejudice against her religion.

Democrats also argue that Trump’s tweet, the New York Post’s cover and similar messages can inspire real-world violence, citing a man who was charged earlier this month with threatening Omar by promising to “put a bullet in her . . . skull.”

“@IlhanMN’s life is in danger. For our colleagues to be silent is to be complicit in the outright, dangerous targeting of a member of Congress,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) tweeted shortly after Trump’s missive.

By Sunday, she had been echoed by many of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates.

In her Sunday night statement, Omar said her colleagues are right to be concerned. Linking to recent studies suggesting that hate crimes and assaults rise in areas where Trump holds rallies, she accused the president of inflaming “extremists.”

“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. We can no longer ignore that they are being encouraged by the occupant of the highest office in the land,” Omar said. She thanked Pelosi, the Capitol Police, the FBI and the House sergeant at arms for taking the threats against her seriously.

The Democrat noted that Trump is planning a visit to her home state on Monday, which she said she found “concerning.”

“Violent rhetoric and all forms of hate speech have no place in our society, much less from our country’s Commander in Chief,” she said. “We are all Americans. This is endangering lives. It has to stop.”

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