Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar continues to face death threats inspired by Republican politicians, most prominently the rancid Donald Trump, glibly spreading racist and anti-Muslim conspiracy theories about her. Omar is one of two Muslim women in Congress, sufficient reason for the far right to target her without the televised frothing of a “president,” but a steady stream of Fox News demonizations, Republican speeches about the supposed “anti-American”-ness of non-white Democratic representatives, and the Breitbartian corners of the internet have eagerly stoked conspiracy theories about Omar to rally racists from around the country.
Omar is calling out another Republican lawmaker for his own role in the attacks. North Dakota state Sen. Oley Larsen shared an image to his Facebook followers Monday, asking them to “share it everywhere”; the picture was a long, long-debunked fake picture of a woman in a headscarf holding a rifle that conspiracy promoters claimed to be Omar. It isn’t, but Larsen did not bother to check. “She is trying to get this picture blocked,” wrote Larsen. In a later post he called her a “terrorist” directly. He went on to delete both posts, possibly after one of his aides managed to contact him and slap a bare minimum of sense into him.
The notion that a member of Congress is secretly a foreign terrorist is an odious theory that anyone elected to office should hesitate to promote. It is absolutely assured to result in threats of violence, or actual violence at the target. It should not be Rep. Omar’s job to point this out, but here we are. Omar called out both Larsen and Facebook in her tweeted response.
“This is pure propaganda designed to stir up hate and violence coming from a GOP state rep. Facebook’s unwillingness to crack down on hate speech and misinformation is not just threatening my life, but our democracy.”
Publicly claiming, on the basis of an internet hoax, that a U.S. representative is secretly a “terrorist” is unquestionably propaganda designed to stir up hate. That is the only possible point to it. Whether state Rep. Oley Larsen is intentionally attempting to nudge an unhinged base toward violence is sure to be more bitterly disputed, but Larsen’s acts come after numerous past Republican claims like his spurred death threats against his specific target. If he has sufficient awareness of Omar to claim she is a rifle-toting “terrorist,” he is absolutely certain to have known that Omar was facing death threats based on those claims—and willingly made the decision to repeat them.
The evidence suggests that Larsen, like other Republican lawmakers who have continued to stoke conspiracy theories about Rep. Omar despite the now well-publicized death threats against her, intended his remarks to have similar effect.
This is certainly the sort of thing that an officeholder should resign over. Whether state Sen. Oley Larsen deleted his claim afterward or not, the damage was done, and Larsen chose to make false claims against a political opponent with the full knowledge that he was working to endanger a fellow lawmaker’s life. The Republican Party has, however, itself chosen that same path of conspiracy-mongering and violence-stoking, and will almost certainly defend Larsen as they have the others. Trump himself, after all, is leading that charge.
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Is a national and foreign correspondent based in D.C. She files investigative reports and covers breaking news on a range of topics, including corruption, police shootings, etc. Before joining the TimWorld in 2018, she worked at the Miami Herald. She was a John S. Knight fellow at Stanford University.