Updated July 19, 9:15am
US president Donald Trump’s ongoing attacks on Muslim congresswoman Ilhan Omar culminated in a chilling moment July 17 at his “Make America Great Again” re-election rally in North Carolina.
When Trump falsely claimed Omar had a history of “launching vicious anti-Semitic attacks,” thousands in the crowd responded by chanting “Send her back! Send her back!”
The chant was reminiscent of the “Lock her up” refrain rally-goers used to shout about Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign. It is, however, far more disturbing.
“We are facing an emergency,” Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley tweeted after the rally. Stanley is the author of “How Fascism Works.” “This is the face of evil.” Trump briefly tried to distance himself from the chant on July 18, saying he “wasn’t happy” with it, and had tried to start “speaking very quickly to drown it out.” But video of the event clearly shows him pausing for more than 10 seconds as the chant builds around him.
The rally chants came just days after Trump tweeted a series of racist attacks on Omar and her Congressional colleagues Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, all women of color. In one tweet, Trump suggested the four women go back to where they came from. All but Omar were born in the US. Omar immigrated to the US as a child and became a US citizen at 17. The attacks are being criticized at home, and in Europe and the United Kingdom, including by some unlikely figures.
Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau called Trump’s remarks “completely unacceptable” on July 19.
German chancellor Angela Merkel, asked about the comments at a press conference, said she stood in solidarity with the four Congresswomen, and that Trump’s remark “thwarts America’s strength.” The United States is strong, she said, because “people of very different nationalities have contributed to the strength of this people.”
Trump’s “blatant, unashamed racism has appalled people around the world,” British politicians, including Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn and two dozen members of Parliament, wrote in a letter to Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley.
“Love and solidarity will always trump hate,” London Mayor Sadiq Khan wrote on Facebook. “These progressive congresswomen…represent hope for the future. Their home is America, but their message crosses borders.”
For democracy to succeed, it is essential that elected representatives can do their work “freely and safely,” the Dutch European Union representative Sophie in ‘t Veld told the European Parliament in response to Trump’s racist attacks.
“This is chilling,” tweeted Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney. “Targeting individuals, fueling hatred based on race is not acceptable in political discourse,” he said. “History tells us where this leads.”
Author Teuta Skenderi, who was born in Kosovo, said the moment reminded her of a 1989 speech by former Serbian president and convicted war criminal Slobodan Milošević, when a crowd chanted for his political opponent to be jailed. (Ultimately, he was.)
Ben Shapiro, the editor-in-chief of the Daily Wire, a right wing website, said Omar is “an American citizen and chanting for her deportation based on her exercise of the First Amendment is disgusting.”
Piers Morgan, the British far-right commentator who has been a frequent Trump apologist, called the rally “racist-fueled demagoguery” that “bordered on fascism.”
Wisconsin Republican state rep Jim Steineke was among the members of the party to forcefully criticize Trump after the rally.
He was joined by House minority leader Kevin McCarthy of Texas, who said “”Those chants have no place in our party and no place in our country, it’s as simple as that.” McCarthy added he didn’t think Trump was egging the crowd on.
But other Republicans, including Lindsey Graham, the South Carolina senator, said the chant was not racist, because Trump was only targeting people who disagreed with him:
Demonstrating just how alarming the discourse has become, top searches after the rally on dictionary site Merriam-Webster were “racism, socialism, fascism, concentration camp, xenophobia, and bigot.”
For Omar, she responded with a quote from Maya Angelou’s poem “Still I rise:”