“I look at Omar. I don’t know. I never met her. I hear the way she talks about al-Qaeda. Al-Qaeda has killed many Americans. She said, ‘You can hold your chest out, you can — when I think of America, huh, when I think of al-Qaeda, I can hold my chest out.’ When she talked about the World Trade Center being knocked down, ‘Some people.’ You remember the famous ‘some people’?”
— President Trump, in remarks at the White House, July 15, 2019
“When I hear people speaking about how wonderful al-Qaeda is, when I hear people talking about ‘some people,’ ‘some people’ with the World Trade Center. Some people? No, not ‘some people.’ Much more than ‘some people'.”
“A politician that hears somebody, where we’re at war with al-Qaeda, and sees somebody talking about how great al-Qaeda is. Pick out her statement. That was Omar. ‘How great al-Qaeda is.’ And we’re losing great soldiers to al-Qaeda.”
The president accused Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) of supporting the terrorist group behind the 9/11 attacks.
Omar, a Somali American and practicing Muslim, was elected to Congress in 2018. She’s a member of “the Squad,” an informal group of liberal Democrats that also includes Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (Mich.).
Trump lashed out at the foursome in a Twitter statement Sunday, telling them to “go back” to their countries. Asked about those racist comments the next day, Trump alleged that Omar has voiced support for al-Qaeda. “When I think of al-Qaeda, I can hold my chest out,” Trump quoted Omar as saying.
He seemed to be referencing an interview Omar gave in 2013 to a local television show in Minnesota. But Trump completely twisted and falsely characterized Omar’s remarks.
The four Democratic congresswomen are U.S. citizens. Pressley, who is African American, was born in Cincinnati. Tlaib, who is Palestinian American, was born in Detroit. Ocasio-Cortez’s family hails from Puerto Rico, a U.S. territory, and she was born in New York.
Omar was born in Somalia. Fleeing war, her family went to a refugee camp in Kenya when she was 8 years old. In 1995, the Omars were cleared to immigrate to the United States. She was 12 years old on arrival.
In a comprehensive profile, The Washington Post’s Greg Jaffe and Souad Mekhennet traced Omar’s life story and ascent in politics. She is “one of the youngest members of Congress and the first lawmaker to wear a hijab in the legislative body’s long history,” they reported July 6.
She’s also an unabashed Trump critic who calls herself “the president’s nightmare,” one of the most liberal House members, and a controversial figure. Omar received widespread criticism in February for anti-Semitic remarks suggesting Jews were buying political support.
“For Omar, figuring out what it means to be the ‘president’s nightmare’ on a national stage has been a work in progress,” The Post reported. “In theory, she said, it means amplifying marginalized voices at home and overseas. In practice, it has been more complicated. First came the backlash this winter over her suggestion that the Israel lobby was using its resources to buy off supporters — ‘it’s all about the Benjamins,’ she tweeted. Omar apologized for the remark, but she also blamed her colleagues for overreacting.” Associating Jews with money in this way echoes long-standing anti-Semitic slurs and tropes.
Trump’s accusation, however, is that Omar sympathizes with al-Qaeda terrorists. It’s one thing to criticize U.S. policies and institutions, as Omar does. It’s entirely another thing to voice support for al-Qaeda. We found no evidence for that claim.
At one point, Trump quoted Omar as saying: “When I think of al-Qaeda, I can hold my chest out.”
As CNN noted, Trump appeared to be referring to “an Omar comment that has circulated this year in conservative media, including Fox News.” It comes from a 2013 interview. Omar was a guest on “BelAhdan,” a Twin Cities PBS show about Middle East issues. She did not voice approval for al-Qaeda and in fact condemned terrorist acts as “evil” and “heinous.”
Omar said the Muslim community at large should not be held accountable for the actions of Islamic terrorists. “I think the general population needs to understand that there is a difference between the people that are carrying on the evil acts — because it is an evil act, and we do have evil people in this world — and then the normal people who carry on, the normal people, regular citizens who carry on their life,” she said.
She said there’s a double standard in the way Western societies respond to mass murder. “When you have an individual … in a Western society that goes on and does commit like a mass murder — we have mass shootings that happen constantly here — we investigate that person and what has driven them to commit that act,” Omar said. “When an act is committed by these Muslim, you know, terrorists, what we investigate is that whole community, we investigate that whole faith, we investigate that whole society, and everyone is supposed to have some answer to why these people are doing this.”
Omar and the host, Ahmed Tharwat, suggested that radicalization and terrorist strikes are partly a reaction to the United States’ and other world powers’ “involvement in other countries’ affairs.”
After that, the discussion turned to the way some English speakers use or accentuate certain Arabic words for effect, whereas no one accentuates “America” or “England” or “the Army.”
Here’s what Omar said about that:
“I remember when I was in college I took a terrorism class. … We learned the ideology. The thing that was interesting in the class was every time the professor said ‘al-Qaeda,’ he sort of like, his shoulders went up, and you know — ‘al-Qaeda,’ ‘Hezbollah.’ …
“You don’t say ‘America’ with an intensity. You don’t say ‘England’ with an intensity. You don’t say ‘the Army’ with an intensity. But you say these names because you want that word to carry weight. You want it to leave something with the person that’s hearing. It’s said with a deeper voice.”
Trump twisted these words beyond recognition to make an incendiary claim that Omar supports terrorists. Instead of proudly proclaiming support for al-Qaeda, Omar was recounting how her college professor would arch his shoulders and accentuate the name of the terrorist group for effect.
The White House did not respond to our questions, and the Trump campaign declined to comment.
Trump also pointed to Omar’s remarks at a March event hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Omar arguably minimized the 9/11 terrorist attacks with the phrase “some people did something.”
She 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 founded in 1994, not in response to 9/11, as Omar claimed.)
As we found in this fact check, a full look at her 20-minute speech adds necessary context. Her remarks were part of a larger point about anti-Muslim discrimination, and they came after she listed some specific examples.
A longer look at what she said: “For 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. 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.”
It’s not the first time Trump has launched an evidence-free accusation against Muslims in the United States. When he was a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination in 2015, Trump falsely claimed that television reports had shown “thousands” of Muslims cheering the destruction of the World Trade Center from rooftops in Jersey City.
“No one has been able to unearth any video of any such thing happening,” Chris Christie, who was then New Jersey’s governor, said at the time.
The Pinocchio Test
With no evidence, Trump accused a Muslim member of Congress of being an al-Qaeda supporter. He twisted Omar’s words beyond recognition to associate her with terrorists. He earns Four Pinocchios.
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