New Republic - August 5, 2019

"In their fixation on minutiae, the pundit class lost sight of the actual, easy-to-follow narrative."

In August 2017, three men from rural Illinois—members of one of our country’s numerous heavily armed and rather poorly regulated “militias”—drove to Bloomington, Minnesota, just south of Minneapolis, to plant an IED in the Dar al-Farooq Islamic Center. Following their arrest, two of the men admitted their guilt. They had set out from Illinois, they said, determined to scare Muslims into leaving the United States.

The story barely made a ripple in the political press, focused, as it was, on the already routine chaos of Donald Trump’s Washington—the president was engaged in a complicated beef with Senator Richard Blumenthal; Mike Pence was supposedly setting up a “shadow campaign” for 2020; North Korea was maybe going to nuke us. All this squalid executive-branch rancor left the right free to spin the incident before the facts were known. (Shortly after the bombing, Sebastian Gorka, the Breitbart editor turned White House foreign policy adviser, suggested on MSNBC that the attack had been a false flag “propagated by the left.”) The “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville would happen a week later, forcing still another news cycle devoted to the president’s response, or nonresponse, to right-wing political violence.

This summer, Trump took aim, on Twitter, at Representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, who, he said, “originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all).”

“Why,” he asked, “don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came?”

As the fact-checkers noted in their analyses of Trump’s newest “New Low,” only Omar was born in another country. For once, the president took the Pinocchios to heart: He homed in on Omar in a diatribe at a rally in Greenville, North Carolina, a few days later, running through a litany of generically Islamophobic claims until the enthused crowd began chanting, for 13 uninterrupted seconds, “send her back.”

This has now become a familiar refrain—in July, Trump called Representative Elijah Cummings’s Baltimore district a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess” and told him to go back there more frequently—but the Greenville rally marked a key shift in that conversation. A political press that had thus far treated Omar mainly as a kook, a naïf, or an extremist suddenly seemed a little nervous. The rally earned comparisons to Nuremberg, though mainly because of the commentariat’s poor grasp of history. (Our own country has had its share of dangerous nativist hysteria, even in Omar’s Minnesota. In 1917, the state legislature created the “Minnesota Commission of Public Safety” to attack Wobblies and Germans, two groups widely suspected of seditious tendencies. The next year, a German farmer was kidnapped and tortured by a mob, before they dumped him in South Dakota and threatened to kill him if he returned. Had the Trump family settled there, rather than in New York City, they could easily have faced such attacks.) ...
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