Late last year, Cesar Sayoc staged the largest mass political assassination attempt since the night that Abraham Lincoln was murdered—proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that unhinged right-wing media talking points are not harmless, and in fact, they manifest in the real world all the time. We live in a time where white nationalists feel emboldened, partially because their leaders in conservative politics and media are emboldening them with garbage like this.
This is just straight unhinged propaganda from an outlet that abandoned its journalistic credibility long ago. Ilhan Omar's full comments prove that the New York Post is either so incompetent that they didn't read the full quote—or far more likely—they knew exactly what they were doing and didn't care about dredging up New Yorkers' trauma from one of America's darkest days, all so they could take an anti-journalistic cheap shot at a Muslim Congresswoman. I can't think of a better example of the value system of conservative media than this horrifying episode featuring outright bigotry and willful misinterpretation of the facts. Here are Omar's full comments for those of you who care more about journalism than the New York Post (so, everyone reading this):
“For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I'm tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it,” Omar told the CAIR gathering, referring to fellow American Muslims. “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.”
Representative Ilhan Omar's life has been credibly threatened multiple times in recent weeks, and this cover from New York Post will surely endanger her life further. This is a feature, not a bug of conservative media, as unhinged rhetoric like this from New York's preeminent garbage rag creates a cycle of violent threats. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is a victim of this outrage cycle too, as she said that every time one of these de facto calls to violence emerges, she sees a dramatic escalation in the danger to her life.
There is no excuse for outlets like the New York Post to fall back upon. Cesar Sayoc was a walking right-wing talking point, and had he been more adept at assembling pipe bombs, his name would be far more notorious. This kind of rhetoric from allegedly respected outlets like the New York Post and fringe outlets like the College Republicans inspires unwell people to do horrible things. Either the New York Post is trying to make Ilhan Omar's life more dangerous, or they simply don't care about inciting violence against her. Ignorance is no longer a reasonable explanation, as Sayoc's array of pipe bombs destroyed any notion that these are just “harmless” words. This rant from Glenn Beck is basically the exact same bigoted conspiracy theory espoused by the Tree of Life Shooter—who perpetrated the largest anti-Semitic terror attack in U.S. history.
Conservatives know what they’re doing with this stuff. They’re not depicting the only woman in Congress wearing a hijab as a terrorist sympathizer by accident (it’s beyond telling that they have not extended this parade of lies to another Muslim woman, Rashida Tlaib, who does not wear a hijab in Congress). Islamophobia is a central plank of the Republican Party, and whipping up rage around Ilhan Omar is simply just a way for a bankrupt political movement to grift more money off of sad, desperate, angry folks who quite literally do not know any better thanks to the fact that they have embedded themselves inside a propaganda machine that subsides off their resentment.
This is really, really dangerous. This kind of rhetoric has a way of self-perpetuating and escalating, and three credible death threats towards Representative Omar did not stop conservative outlets like the New York Post from further endangering her life with today’s atrocious cover. There is only one road this leads down, and ultimately, the question isn’t whether conservative media is going to create additional death threats for Ilhan Omar—they have—but whether they are going to stop this hysteria before the logical conclusion of their hysteria comes to fruition.
It’s one thing to have political disagreements. It’s perfectly fine to criticize Omar over policies she supports that you believe are bad, but conservative media is taking the narrative on Omar and AOC further than just straight policy. Ohio College Republicans called Ocasio-Cortez a “terrorist,” and the New York Post took Omar’s words wildly out of context to portray her as a terrorist sympathizer. Conservative media has removed these new Congresspeople’s humanity, and are now depicting them as an enemy of the state. This is how every rise in political violence throughout human history begins. If someone tries to take AOC or Ilhan Omar’s life, no one should be surprised, given that is the only logical goal of the violent, fascist frenzy currently being whipped up by the far-right and their dutiful lapdogs throughout conservative media.
Jacob Weindling is a staff writer for Paste politics. Follow him on Twitter at @Jakeweindling.