It’s time to see Trump’s online hate speech as a danger to civil rights
Last Friday, President Donald Trump tweeted an edited video that cut between images of 9/11 and clips of Representative Ilhan Omar speaking at a Council on American-Islamic Relations event. Omar, a freshman member of the House of Representatives, was one of the first female Muslims elected to Congress.
The intent of Trump’s message was self-interested — he used Omar as a political weapon to equate Muslims with terrorism, a clear tool to elevate his 2020 re-election campaign. After all, this strategy worked for him in 2016, when he stigmatized Muslims by discussing the creation of a Muslim registry in the U.S. and claiming that thousands of Muslims supported 9/11. While this language proved polarizing for many voters, it also attracted some of his most supportive backers. In the South Carolina Republican primary in February 2016, for example, exit polls showed that 75% of voters favored his proposed Muslim ban, according to The New York Times.
In the tweeted video, Omar is quoted multiple times saying that “some people did something” in reference to the 9/11 attacks — an attempt to make it appear that she was minimizing the severity of the attacks during her speech. In reality, Omar said that Muslims had “lived with the discomfort of being second-class [citizens]” and that “every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it.” She added that the council was created 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.” (The Council on American-Islamic Relations was actually founded in 1994.)
The consequences of this kind of message from the president go far beyond the confines of online hate speech. Placing images of a tragic terrorist attack next to a Muslim individual perpetuates Islamaphobia. Anti-Muslim sentiment in America increased after 9/11, but the fact that this ideology is now being explicitly expressed by the president has real consequences for the safety and civil liberties of America’s 3.45 million Muslims.
“Since the president’s tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life — many directly referencing or replying to the president’s video,” Omar said on Sunday. “This is endangering lives. It has to stop.”
With Trump tweeting constantly, many Americans have become desensitized to his hateful language online, assuming that his tweets won’t have a real effect on people’s ideologies or actions.
Throughout Trump’s presidency, however, messages that began on Twitter have become tragic realities. Take his hateful messages about journalists, for example. Five journalists were killed at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Md. last June, and bombs were mailed to the CNN offices in New York and notable Democrats in November. Hateful, incendiary messages from the most powerful man in America don’t do anything to promote safety and equality.
The way we interpret what’s on the internet has real-life consequences. The Editorial Board urges readers to take online messages — both from Trump and other outlets — more seriously and to look into the context in which those messages are being produced.
Written by: The Editorial Board