Ms Omar made her comments during a press event in Minnesota, in which she addressed issues tied to systemic racism. She said that while it was good that policing in the US was under scrutiny, policing was not the sole contributor to systemic racism in American society.
“We can’t stop at criminal justice reform or policing reform. We are not merely fighting to tear down the systems of oppression in the criminal justice system,” she said. “We are fighting to tear down systems of oppression that exist in housing, in education, in health care, in employment, in the air we breathe.”
Ms Omar said the forces contributing to oppression were linked.
“We must recognise that these systems of oppression are linked. As long as our economy and political systems prioritise profit without considering who is profiting, who is being shut out, we will perpetuate this inequality,” she said. “So we cannot stop at the criminal justice system. We must begin the work of dismantling the whole system of oppression wherever we find it.”
Ms Omar’s conservative critics reacted predictably, claiming her sentiment was effectively calling for the total destruction of the US.
Fox News host Tucker Carlson – who claimed Black Lives Matter protesters planned to destroy municipal police forces and establish “woke militias” that would terrorise the neighbourhoods of people fitting the network’s age and race demographic – offered a summary of Ms Omar’s words that intentionally misconstrued her meaning.
“Dismantle the American economy and the American system of government, institutions that generations of Americans built over hundreds of years ... We hate this country, we want a new country,” Mr Carlson said.
On Twitter, he called Ms Omar and US senator Tammy Duckworth “vandals” who “scream about how horrible this country is” and later said Ms Omar should be thankful to America because “this country rescued her from a squalid Kenyan refugee camp”.
Conservative media outlets diced up Ms Omar’s words to write headlines that made it seem as though she was calling for the total annihilation of the state, rather than specifically for reforming or uprooting systems that cause oppression within US society.
The Daily Caller – a conservative website founded by Tucker Carlson, who has since left the organisation – phrased its headline “Ilhan Omar Calls For The ‘Dismantling’ Of US Economy, Political System”.
Similarly, The Federalist – run by Ben Domenech, Megan McCain’s husband who’d previously been fired for plagiarism from The Washington Post and after that was found to have accepted bribes from conservative lobbyists to write favourable columns for their pet projects – shared a similar headline.
“Ilhan Omar Calls For ‘Dismantling’ US Economy And Political System.”
Brietbart News, RealClearPolitics, and the Washington Examiner all published their takes on the story under similar headlines, each sure to only quote the word “dismantle”.
Ms Omar’s actual comment was that the US should be “dismantling the whole system of oppression wherever we find it”, not destroying the US government.
In addition to the broadside from conservative media, Ms Omar was also targeted by Republican politicians for her comments.
Senator Marsha Blackburn called on the Congresswoman to resign over her statements.
“Ilhan Omar took an oath to defend and protect the Constitution, not shred it. Omar and her Marxist comrades are a threat to our Democracy. Omar should resign,” Ms Blackburn said.
In a similar misrepresentation of the Congresswoman’s words, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy suggested Ms Omar and the Democrats had “given up on America. All they want to do is tear it down”.
Ms Omar was not without her defenders, however.
Leah Greenberg, the co-executive director of Indivisible, said the attacks on Ms Omar were racially motivated.
“Just to be clear, Ilhan Omar is under attack by the right-wing media machine for statements that are utterly normal and totally uncontroversial when they’re delivered by white, non-Muslim politicians. As usual,” Ms Greenberg said in a tweet.
Glenn Greenwald, a founding member of The Intercept and a columnist, called Ms Blackburn’s calls for Ms Omar’s resignation “moronic,” arguing that a member of Congress arguing that systems of oppression be dismantled is a standard function of their positions.
The congresswoman defended herself on Twitter following the reaction to her comments.
“It’s telling that a black woman discussing systemic oppression is so triggering to the right,” Ms Omar said.
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