Limited downside? Omar just released a statement claiming: “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.”
One cannot conclusively establish one way or the other whether Trump actively wants to see physical harm befall Omar. But here’s what we can say right now: Trump’s attacks absolutely are designed to incite hatred of Muslims, and the fact that this could have horrifying consequences does not weigh on him in the slightest.
We know these things, because Trump’s monumentally dishonest treatment of Omar’s quote, as well as his own long history, leave no doubt about them. Trump has used 9/11 to stir up hatred of Muslims before — relying on massively deceptive agitprop to do so — and he has repeatedly continued trafficking in various tropes even after they have been confirmed to potentially play some kind of role in inciting hate and even murder.
The real point of Trump’s attacks on Omar
The offending quote from Omar, as represented in the video that Trump tweeted, reads: “CAIR was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something.” The video then segues to footage of the attacks, interspersed with repetition of the phrase, “some people did something.”
Another version of the quote (which misrepresented the founding date of the Council on American-Islamic Relations) circulated by Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R-Tex.), one of the most despicable demagogues in Congress, contains a bit more, but not much.
The full context shows Omar to be talking at length about the discrimination and loss of civil liberties suffered by U.S. Muslims in the wake of 9/11. As Tom Rogan demonstrates, the phrase “some people did something” is an aside. The obvious intent is to isolate the act of 9/11, its perpetrators and their ideology, and separate them from the enormous majority of U.S. Muslims.
Thus, even if you think the isolated phrase was not commensurate in tone with the gravity of 9/11, the overall thrust of the construction is inarguable. The point was that U.S. Muslims should adamantly not accept efforts to tar them by association with 9/’11 — which itself is inherent condemnation of the attacks — and that they should be vocal in asserting their right not to suffer that association.
As Peter Beinart argues, Omar is urging American Muslims to be citizens, that is, to be politically active in resisting discrimination and in defense of their rights as Americans.
I want to take this a step further and argue that it’s this idea that Trump and his allies really object to. Crenshaw, oozing a slimy trail of bad faith and phony sanctimony, claims the charge of incitement is meant to “silence” critics of Omar.
But Trump and Crenshaw are the ones doing the silencing. They are trying to demagogue into silence someone who is an outspoken resister of the use of 9/11 for discriminatory purposes and a vocal advocate for the rights of U.S. Muslims. The clipped video itself proves the point — it actively does this, by only quoting the supposed trivializing of 9/11 and leaving out that advocacy.
We know that this is Trump’s intention — and that he aims to incite hate in the process — because he has shown us so himself.
Trump keeps using rhetoric that incites hate and murder
One of Trump’s foundational agenda items was the vow to ban Muslims from entering the United States until we “can figure out what is going on.” We forget about the other part of his statement that day: He also claimed Muslims harbor “great hatred towards Americans.” Perhaps the highest-profile way he illustrated this supposed hatred was with a lie: the claim that “thousands and thousands” of U.S. Muslims celebrated 9/11.
Thus, we know Trump uses lies about 9/11 to incite hate against Muslims, because he has done it before.
We also know Trump continues using language even after it is shown to incite hate and violence. The man who allegedly gunned down 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue did so after ranting that Jews “bring in invaders” — refugees — who “kill our people.” After that happened, Trump publicly lent support to the conspiracy theory that George Soros was funding the migrant caravans. He has described them as invaders many times since.
After we learned that the man who allegedly murdered dozens of people in New Zealand mosques used that same word — “invaders” — Trump insisted that “illegal aliens” constitute an “invasion.” And that’s not all: There are zero grounds for believing that Trump was troubled by the alleged shooter’s declaration that he sees Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” When acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was asked what Trump thinks of this, Mulvaney brushed off the question, as if it wasn’t worth answering.
As Mehdi Hasan points out, there have already been live examples of threats on Omar’s life. We don’t know whether Trump actively wants to see harm befall Omar — he probably does not. But we do know that the possibility that his attacks on her, and their hateful and dishonest content, might make that more likely does not trouble him sufficiently to dissuade him from them.