Last week Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar held a press conference in which she played a recording of a message she’d received at her congressional office. The caller went on a racist, Islamophobic and profanity laced tirade, calling Omar a “traitor” and threatening violence against her. As she played the recording, the normally unflappable Omar looked distraught, leading me to think about the fact that she has three children, two of whom are teenagers, who surely heard the vile remarks.
The message came after Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert made a video following a phone conversation with Omar, who she’d attacked on two seperate occasions and went on to attack again, clearly riling up her far right followers.
In an appearance on State of the Union on CNN a few days later, Rep. Omar explained her reasoning in making the message, one of many she said she received, public, telling host Jake Tapper that her reaction to the call and the words of Congressperson Boebert that led up to it was not just about her personally, but about millions of American Muslims being put at risk by this kind of rhetoric.
As Rep. Omar explained during the in studio interview,, “We constantly hear from so many people across the country where there are children whose hijabs have been pulled off—my own daughters have experienced this. I have experienced this as a young person in this country. And we know that kind of language this member [Boebert] is using leads to.”
Omar demanded a public apology during their phone call for the comments made by Boebert on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on November 18th and a speech caught on video a week later. In the speech before congress she called the Representative for Minnesota’s 5th district part of the ‘Jihad Squad’ and complained that Omar is “allowed” to be on the foreign relations committee despite “praising terrorists”. During the same rant, Boebert also accused California Representative Eric Swallwell, a center right moderate, of sleeping with someone she called “Fang Fang”, an alleged Chinese spy.
While the accusations against Omar are absurd and her voice and life experiences give her a necessary perspective of U.S. foreign policy rarely heard on the committee in the past, there was just enough truth in what Boebert said about Swalwell to stir up a rightwing media frenzy. The person Boebart was referring to, who went by the name Christine Fang and has left the country, is suspected by the FBI of working for the Chinese government during the Obama Administration as reported by Axios.
The same report notes that once he was notified about authorities’ suspicions, Swalwell broke off all ties with the fundraiser, whose prowess as a bundler made her a well known and connected figure in California politics and beyond.
Rather than raising questions about Swalwell’s ‘patriotism’, the story should have been used to shed light on the dangers represented by a political system based almost entirely on raising money from corporations, the well connected and wealthy and the risk of corruption, accidental or planned, this entails.
After Boebert’s remarks on the floor of the U.S. Congress, a separate video of her attacking Omar at an speaking engagement on Saturday, November 27th showed how low she was willing to go to get the approval of her far right audience.
In the video she tells a story about a time shortly after she first arrived at the Capitol after winning election and was taking an elevator with Omar. As the doors were closing, she said a police officer ran toward them looking concerned. Boebert then said she told those with her not to worry as the Minnesota Congressperson didn’t have a backpack and so a suicide bombing was unlikely. Her audience found this hilarious.
During a more ‘serious’ part of her speech, Boebert went on to tell her audience that, “Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib. These are just black-hearted evil women.”
Omar, who is never afraid to push back against those who come after her, took to Twitter to set things straight after becoming aware of the remarks, “Fact. This buffoon looks down when she sees me at the Capitol, this whole story is made up. Sad she thinks bigotry gets her clout.”
The relative silence of Democratic leadership, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is somewhat shameful, but maybe not so unexpected as Tlaib and the Minnesota representative are two of the more outspoken members of the growing Progressive Caucus that some moderates in the party seem to find problematic. For her part, Omar in her State of the Union interview said she felt sure that Pelosi would take action this week but as of this writing nothing has been done to address the issue.
Regardless, if Boebert is going to call Omar a member of the ‘Jihad Squad’ then we might call her and other rightwing populists like Matt Gaetz, Jim Jordan, Marjorie Taylor Greene and other members of the so-called Freedom Caucus in the U.S. Congress a part of an Axis of Reaction. They are cynical opportunists who try to paint a picture of a perfect past and country under siege by immigrants, the left and traditionally marginalized communities demanding the same rights taken for granted by most of those who voted them into office.
Despite claiming to be stalwart defenders of free speech, they also want a sanitized version of history to be taught to children that airbrushes out the troubling aspects of American and ‘Western’ history.
Thankfully, despite the lack of action by Democratic leadership, Omar has the backing of her fellow progressives. A resolution is being brought by Rep. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts cosponsored by Cori Bush, Rashida Tlaib, Mark Pocan and 15 others to strip Boebert of her committee assignments for her racist remarks.
Boebart is not the only far right member of the Freedom Caucus to create a firestorm by attacking a progressive colleague recently. Arizona Rep. Paul Gosar, whose own family members penned an oped denouncing him for his lies about the 2020 election in the lead up to the violence at the country’s Capitol on January 6th, or someone on his staff, thought it would be funny to share an anime based meme that showed him murdering New York’s Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and attacking Joe Biden, just the kind of thing to lift up the public discourse during contentious times.
Unlike Boebert so far, Gosar was censured and stripped of his committee assignments for the threat implied by the video but offered a typical non-apology on the House floor, “I do not espouse violence towards anyone. I never have. It was not my purpose to make anyone upset. I voluntarily took the cartoon down not because it was itself a threat but because some thought it was. Out of compassion for those who generally felt offense, I self-censored.”
Oddly, Gosar, Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene are not even the most objectionable members of the Freedom Caucus. Gaetz is presumably still under investigation for a number of alleged crimes, the most serious involving an under age girl and Jordan has been credibly accused by a number of former student wrestlers at Ohio State University of ignoring complaints that they were being sexually abused by the team doctor when he was an assistant coach there.
It’s also important to note that, despite being in the minority in their party, progressive like AOC, Omar and Tlaib have actually accomplished things for their constituents and the country in their short time in Washington, D.C. While American progressives obviously hoped for more, some of the provisions they held out for in the Build Back Better bill, if it passes in the Senate, will improve the lives of countless Americans in the years to come.
Not one member of the Freedom Caucus can say the same.