Experts say Boebert's Islamophobic comments are a threat to all US Muslims


Lauren Boebert continues to target Ilhan Omar with anti-Muslim comments. Republicans aren't stopping her.

Rep. Lauren Boebert (R-CO) is facing blowback for Islamophobic remarks targeting Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), who is Muslim. Experts say her words,  beyond being offensive stereotypes, have the potential to incite violence against the Muslim community.

On Thanksgiving, video surfaced of Boebert telling a crowd about a purported elevator run-in she had with Omar. Boebert claimed she had assured a concerned Capitol Police officer who was rushing to protect her that there was nothing to worry about because Omar didn't "have a backpack," implying there was a threat that the Minnesota congress member might be carrying a bomb because she is Muslim. Boebert also bragged that she insulted Omar in the elevator by saying, "Oh, look, the jihad squad decided to show up for work today."

Boebert tweeted an apology on the morning of Nov. 26, but then reportedly went on the offensive during a call with Omar on Monday, insisting that Omar "make a public apology to the American people for her anti-American, antisemitic, anti-police rhetoric."

Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have demanded that House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy take action to punish Boebert, but he has thus far refused to condemn her.

Boebert's comments put Omar at risk, extremism experts argue.

"Anytime bigotry is allowed to run completely unchecked, you're going to have people who, whatever their life circumstance is, are going to consider violence," Wendy Via, co-founder and president of the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, told the American Independent Foundation. "It may not be a mass shooting. It could be a hate crime, it could be vandalism, or it could be harassment, or it could be physical assault. The range is huge."

"One of the things that the research shows is that when derogatory stereotypes are circulated, they have added effect when done by key influencers in a freewheeling social media environment," Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism, explained. "This is horrendous."

By referring to Omar as part of a "jihad squad" and repeating a harmful stereotype about Muslims, Boebert is "legitimizing the threats made against Omar in her own words, providing ammo to individuals who already espouse these views," Iman Awad, deputy director of Emgage Action, a Muslim American advocacy organization, said in a phone call with the American Independent Foundation.

Omar, who came to the United States as a Somali refugee and is one of only two Muslim women ever elected to Congress, along with Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib, has endured hundreds of threats since taking office in 2018.

In 2019, the Washington Post reported that a New York man was arrested by Capitol Police for telling one of Omar's staff members that he would "put a bullet in her [expletive] skull."

A week after that incident, President Donald Trump tweeted an Islamophobic video of Omar interspersed with footage of the burning Twin Towers in Lower Manhattan on 9/11. The tweet prompted Pelosi to request heightened security for Omar.

Beyond putting one member of Congress in danger, Boebert's remarks are also harmful to the Muslim American community at large, Awad says.

"She has constituents, she has individuals who follow her, and, at some point, when you see an elected official using this kind of rhetoric, it gives the rhetoric legitimacy," Awad added.

Hate crimes against Muslims living in the United States first spiked following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001. They surged again in 2015 during the presidential campaign cycle, resulting in more harassment, mosque attacks, vandalism, and physical assaults against Muslims. Experts have linked the increase in crime to anti-Muslim rhetoric used by political candidates.

In 2015, then-candidate Trump was proposing that America "watch and study the mosques," create a database to monitor Muslims, and ban Muslims from coming into the country.

"In the U.S. there has been a growing animus against the Muslim community for years, and it's not improving," Via said. "People like Boebert or Trump, what they do is they find a fear that they can play on and exacerbate and really hype to rile people up and to make it seem as if brown people are dangerous everywhere you turn."

Some recent Islamophobic attacks rely, in part, on the so-called "great replacement" conspiracy theory, the idea that immigrants, refugees, and people of color will seize control of a country's white majority through immigration, Via said.

That white supremacist theory has underlaid a number of recent mass shootings and tragedies, from the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh, in which Jews were targeted for their support of a refugee aid organization, to the mosque shootings in Christchurch, New Zealand, the perpetrator of which had issued a document titled "The Great Replacement."

Attacks on Muslims can also translate into anti-Muslim policies. What begins as a broadside about a Muslim person being a suicide bomber can turn into an assertion that all Muslim people are dangerous, which can then become a demand for policies banning Muslims from the country, Via explained.

"It funnels upward," she said.

After he was elected, Trump followed through on his campaign promise, instituting a ban on immigration from Muslim-majority countries during his presidency that kept families separated and prevented refugees from seeking asylum in America.

And experts say the Boebert attack is not an isolated incident but part of a pattern of Republican lawmakers promoting violence while facing no repercussions from their caucus.

Earlier this month, Rep. Paul Gosar (R-AZ) shared an animated video in which he was depicted slaying Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) and flashing swords at President Joe Biden. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia faced a backlash for endorsing violence against her Democratic peers and making antisemitic, conspiracy-theory-laden remarks.

Democrats censured Gosar on the House floor and stripped Greene of her committee assignments, though Republicans largely defended their controversial actions.

"We need to understand that what we see, especially with our elected officials, is getting worse. We've seen it with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, we saw it with Rep. Gosar. This is not something new this community is facing, but it's getting more and more public," Awad said. "It's accelerating."

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.