There’s no shortage of Republicans who want Ilhan Omar out of Congress, or at least stripped of her power and influence — not when the 2020 election rolls around, but right now. Steve Scalise pushed to expel her from the House Foreign Affairs Committee in March, claiming on Fox News that she was a national security threat who endangered the United States’ alliance with Israel. Ronna McDaniel, Dan Crenshaw, and President Trump decontextualized a statement she made about the demonization of Muslims because “some people did something” — alluding to the 9/11 hijackers — to accuse her of trivializing the attacks; Trump tweeted a video interspersing her remarks with footage of the Twin Towers collapsing. This all unfolded as Omar was receiving death threats, including one from a New York man who threatened to “put a bullet in her fucking skull.” Soon after, following the president’s suggestion that she and three other Democratic congresswomen “go back” to where they came from — despite all four being U.S. citizens — a Trump rally crowd in North Carolina greeted her name with chants of, “Send her back.”
So it was in character when, over the weekend, the Alabama Republican Party passed a resolution urging its U.S. congressional counterparts to “proceed with the expulsion process” to remove Omar from office. The local party’s desire to subvert the will of 78 percent of voters in Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional District – in another state, more than 1,000 miles away — stemmed from concerns about Omar’s alleged anti-Semitism, lack of American values and patriotism, and seeming habit of sympathizing with terrorists. Its evidence for the latter was her aforementioned criticism of American Islamophobia and request for a “restorative justice” approach to a man convicted in 2016 of conspiring to join ISIS — as opposed to decades in federal prison, which is a known incubator for radicalization. Its evidence for her lack of American values and patriotism was a 2017 tweet where she accused U.S. soldiers of killing “thousands” of Somalis during the 1993 “Black Hawk Down” military operation. More reliable estimates place the number between 350 and 1,000. The anti-Semitism allegations stem from Omar’s support of the “Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions” campaign targeting the Israeli government’s treatment of Palestinians. The congresswoman has at times appeared to invoke anti-Semitic tropes in her criticism of Israel’s human-rights record — a pattern about which she’s claimed ignorance and apologized.
The sincerity of these Republican concerns is dubious. Omar’s remarks that U.S. support for Israel is driven by lobbyists — “all about the Benjamins,” in her words — who have normalized “allegiance to a foreign country” might be worth parsing if done so in good faith. Instead, the GOP has cast her as an unrepentant anti-Semite while saying nothing about Trump’s claims that Jews who vote for Democrats are “disloyal” to Israel; that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “your prime minister” in reference to Jewish Americans; and invoking stereotypes about Jews loving to negotiate while promoting tweets that describe him as the “King of Israel.” But even aside from the Alabama GOP’s unseriousness — neither they nor their counterparts in the House of Representatives have the power to remove Omar from office — its hypocrisy serves a more insidious goal. Efforts to cast Omar as an un-American bigot are Islamophobic in origin, as articulated by Mo Brooks: “Keep in mind, Muslims more so than most people have great animosity towards Israel and the Jewish faith,” the Alabama congressman said last week. But they also raise the question of what a non-bigoted American patriot worthy of elected office actually looks like to Alabama Republicans.
The answer seems to be Roy Moore. Soon after the former Alabama Supreme Court justice and 2017 U.S. Senate candidate was accused by multiple women of pursuing sexual relationships with them when they were minors and he was in his 30s, the state’s GOP doubled down on their support for his campaign against Democrat Doug Jones, who was best known for prosecuting members of the Ku Klux Klan. “Judge Moore has vehemently denied the allegations made against him,” party chairwoman Terry Lathan said, according to the New York Times. “He deserves to be presumed innocent of the accusations unless proven otherwise.” Yet even if the claim that Moore made a 14-year-old girl touch his erect penis was false, he’d spent years making remarks that would be disqualifying if the Alabama Republican Party actually cared about bigotry, rebuking terrorism, and showing proper respect for 9/11 victims. Moore is a homophobic theocrat who inveighs regularly against anal sex and fought to prevent same-sex marriage licenses from being issued in Alabama when he was a judge. He was a leading voice in the “birther” movement that sought to delegitimize the Obama presidency, and has said that Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to serve in Congress. He tweeted on Wednesday, “President Trump was right, [Omar] should go back to Somalia from whence she came.” When asked in 2017 what the last “great” era was in America, he said “slavery.” He has claimed that the 9/11 attacks were God’s punishment for Americans’ permissive attitude toward abortion and anal sex. The notion that Ilhan Omar is an un-American bigot in the eyes of Alabama Republicans, while Moore’s Senate campaign deserves a full-throated endorsement, is laughable given this context. But it also lends crucial insight into the party’s concept of morally-upstanding political leadership. And that might be the most disturbing takeaway.