Once again, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has become the focus of a vicious right-wing smear, this time based on a deceptively edited video.
The video comes from a February 2018 interview Omar gave to Al Jazeera. In its new form, it was resurfaced by Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN), which found its way to the Daily Caller report Molly Prince’s twitter feed, as Vox reported. From there, other right-wing figures picked it up, including, most prominently, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL).
Omar’s comments went viral because, in the video, she seemed to be saying people should be afraid of “white men” and said the government should be “profiling, monitoring” them. Rubio indicated that the statement was “racist,” and suggested that the media should “hound ever Democrat to denounce” it, apparently expressing frustration that Republicans were pressed to respond to Trump’s recent racist attacks.
But the video Rubio shared was highly deceptive, and it seems clear it was intentionally edited to mislead viewers about what Omar was saying.
When Prince shared the video, in a tweet picked up by Rubio, she included the caption: “Ilhan Omar contends that Americans ‘should be more fearful of white men.'” While the quoted words are accurate, they’re missing essential context. Omar was having a discussion with reporter Mehdi Hasan about Islamophobia, and Hasan had asked the then-candidate to respond to the idea that Americans might “legitimately” be afraid of Muslims because of “Jihadist terrorism.” So when Omar said Americans should be “more fearful of white men,” she wasn’t speaking in the absolute sense of trying to encourage prejudice against white men. She was correctly pointing out that white men have been more likely to be the perpetrators of terrorism in the United States in recent years.
And indeed, as Hasan said on Twitter, none other than current FBI Director Christopher Wray made a similar point recently when he said: “A majority of the domestic terrorism cases that we’ve investigated are motivated by some version of what you might call ‘white supremacist violence.'”
The second part of Omar’s comments was even more gratuitously distorted. Here’s the full exchange in question:
HASAN: A lot of conservatives in particular would say that the rise in Islamophobia is the result not of hate, but of fear. And legitimate fear, they say, of quote-unquote “jihadist terrorism” — whether it’s Fort Hood, or San Bernardino, or the recent truck attack in New York. What do you say to them?
OMAR: I would say — our country should be more fearful of white men across our country, because they are actually causing most of the deaths within this country. And so if fear was the driving force of policies to keep America safe, Americans safe inside of this country, we should be profiling, monitoring, and creating policies to fight the radicalization of white men.
The CBN video cut out the phrase “And so if fear was the driving force of policies to keep America safe, Americans safe inside of this country,” making it seem as though she was seriously suggesting that the U.S. should be “profiling” and “monitoring” white men.
Of course, that’s not what she meant. She meant to illustrate the absurdity of trying to use “fear” to justify policy and how it often leads to discriminatory actions against minorities.
And in fact, the uproar over the deceptively edited video actually proves her point. She was using the example of targeting white men as an example of why these policies would be treated with outrage when the subjects are a majority group, even though the policies are often embraced by the right wing when Muslims face scrutiny.
And that’s exactly what happened with the conservative outrage over the video. Conservatives perceived a threatening position coming from a Muslim woman based on a misinterpretation of the facts — and they overreacted. And yet when Trump makes obviously racist attacks, most of the right bends over backward to give him the benefit of the doubt. Omar is continually facing this racist double standard that makes her a perpetual target of suspicion.
Hasan demanded that Rubio apologize for spreading the smear:
Parker Malloy of Media Matters for America noted that the smear against Omar was a case of history repeating.
This happened with the outrage over Omar saying that American Muslims shouldn’t lose their rights just because some people who share their religion carried out 9/11,” she said. “It was clear what she was saying, but a bad-faith reading got amplified into the public consciousness.”
In a reply to Rubio, she wrote:
Others echoed the sentiment: