The Morning Jolt

Politics & Policy

Criticism of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar Is Not ‘Incitement’

Rep. Ilhan Omar, (D., Minn.) walks in Washington, D.C., January 16, 2019. (Yuri Gripas/REUTERS)

Making the click-through worthwhile: Rising star Pete Buttigieg formally announces his 2020 presidential campaign, Democrats spend the weekend insisting that criticism is the same thing as inciting violence, and another conservative speaker is assaulted on a college campus.

The Mayor Is Having More than a Moment

On Sunday afternoon in South Bend, Ind., Pete Buttigieg formally announced his intention to run for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. Standing on a stage in front of thousands, packed inside a former Studebaker assembly plant, the mayor claimed that he’s the best alternative to what’s going on in the nation’s capital.

“The horror show in Washington is mesmerizing. It’s all-consuming,” Buttigieg said in remarks he wrote himself. “But starting today, we’re going to change the channel.”

The pundit class has been chattering for weeks about the 37-year-old South Bend mayor who is “having a moment.” But how long does a moment have to last before it becomes something more? The Buttigieg rise answers our question. Over the last few months, he’s been the subject of profiles in New York magazine, the Washington Post, and The Cut, among many others (along with some less favorable coverage such as this lengthy, scathing critique in Current Affairs, which arguably indicates he’s a real threat to those who would prefer to see the nomination go to Bernie Sanders).

For now, he’s occupying the lane that supporters of Beto O’Rourke hoped the failed Senate candidate would have all to himself. The former Texas congressman outraised Buttigieg in the first quarter, but not by much: He’s raked in about $9.4 million, while the mayor boasted $7 million. Their average donation sizes were comparable, though Buttigieg’s was a bit lower at $36.35 compared to O’Rourke’s $43.

The Buttigieg campaign’s choice of the former Studebaker plant for his announcement says a lot about their strategy. The plant has been closed for decades, and it stands as a symbol of the economic downturn from which South Bend has never recovered. But today the plant is also the site of new data and education initiatives that Buttigieg has pushed as mayor in an effort to revitalize the city.

Unfortunately for citizens of South Bend, his revitalization efforts haven’t really worked. But the mayor clearly intends to continue portraying himself as a young, competent technocrat who can appeal to many of the same working-class voters — devastated by the loss of Studebaker equivalents across the Midwest — who turned to Donald Trump for hope in 2016.

Judging from his policy proposals, Buttigieg is just one more flavor of progressive among several already on offer from this election cycle’s Democratic party. But he seems to understand that Trump had real appeal to real people for reasons other than racism, and in this Democratic field, that makes him something of a stand-out.

Ilhan Omar vs. Donald Trump

The freshman Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota is once again under the microscope, this time after remarks she delivered at a Council on American-Islamic Relations event last month. Omar said that after the terrorist attacks on 9/11, she had faced anti-Muslim attacks and “lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen.”

“Frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it,” Omar 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.” Leaving aside the fact that CAIR was in fact founded in 1994, not in response to the 9/11 attacks, some have criticized Omar for her use of the flippant phrase “some people did something” to refer to an act of terrorism that took the lives of thousands of Americans.

This wasn’t the first time Omar has faced conservative ire; she has repeatedly trafficked in anti-Semitic slurs for which she has refused to apologize, and for which the Democratic party has yet to hold her accountable. Clearly sensing an opportunity to renew his rivalry with the young progressive congresswoman, President Trump tweeted a video featuring Omar’s remarks interspersed with footage of the burning World Trade Center towers and other images from 9/11.

Now, Omar claims the president’s tweet has put her in danger. “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,” she wrote in a statement late Sunday night. More from Omar:

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. Counties that hosted a 2016 Trump rally saw a 226 percent increase in hate crimes in the months following the rally. And assaults increase when cities host Trump rallies. . . . This is endangering lives. It has to stop.

Many on the left, including several Democratic politicians and 2020 candidates spent the weekend insisting that right-wing criticism of Omar was directly putting her life in danger and “inciting violence” against her. “Inciting violence” is a highly specific legal category, and hardly any speech qualifies under that definition, so invoking it as a means of silencing Omar’s critics is nothing more than a hackneyed talking point.

These same commentators and elected officials had no qualms about Omar repeatedly spreading false accusations against the boys from Covington Catholic high school, and they rightly refrained from blaming Bernie Sanders for the Alexandria shooting in 2017, conducted by a former Sanders-campaign volunteer who targeted members of the congressional GOP citing his political beliefs.

The reaction to Omar’s comment at CAIR may have been a bit over the top, but the Democratic reaction to the criticism has been downright histrionic.

Violence on Campus

Unlike Congresswoman Omar, one conservative speaker has actually been subjected to assault in the last few days. Michael Knowles, a columnist for the Daily Wire, was assaulted late last week on the campus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City. Knowles was scheduled to give a talk entitled “Men Are Not Women,” hosted by the campus chapter of Young Americans for Freedom.

Protestors attended the talk and attempted to shout over Knowles’s remarks, holding signs that read “Trans rights are human rights,” “Respect my existence,” and “Trans men are men.” Finally, one protestor used a water gun to spray a “glitter-filled liquid” on Knowles, who tweeted immediately afterward that he initially thought it was bleach. Tests revealed it was “lavender oil and some other non-toxic household liquids.”

In response to the controversy, UMKC chancellor C. Mauli Agrawal released a statement affirming the First Amendment right to free speech, but not before he described Knowles as “a speaker whose professed opinions do not align with our commitment to diversity and inclusion and our goal of providing a welcoming environment to all people, particularly to our LGBT community.”

I’m sure Democrats who spent the weekend accusing the president of bringing down violence on Omar’s head will be offering Knowles their support any day now . . .

ADDENDUM: During a hearing on Capitol Hill last week, one of the directors of the new film Unplanned told lawmakers that nearly 100 abortion-clinic workers have sought to leave their jobs after watching the movie. It tells the real story of Abby Johnson, who used to work as one of the youngest clinic directors in the history of Planned Parenthood, before she witnessed an abortion procedure on an ultrasound machine and realized that she was helping to end human lives. She left her job, and today she runs a group called And Then There Were None, which helps abortion-clinic workers leave their jobs as well. These days, it sounds like they have even more clients than usual. Let’s hope for many more.

Happy to be filling in for Jim Geraghty this week! And happy Tax Day, everyone . . .

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