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Ilhan Omar’s constituents ‘proud to stand by her’ over Trump’s racist words

When Donald Trump began targeting Ilhan Omar and other progressive congresswomen of color with racist attacks, demanding they leave the country, Erica Mauter knew she had to counter his dangerous message.

“If [Trump] was going to let that message be the one that resounds and resonates from him, then if she was indeed coming back home to Minnesota, we’re going to welcome her,” said Mauter, who lives in the state’s fifth district, which Omar represents. “We wanted to affirm that we miss her and want her to keep doing what she’s doing.”

Mauter was one of about 150 supporters who greeted Omar, one of the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress, when she arrived home from Washington on Thursday, a day after the president lashed out at her at a rally in North Carolina that culminated with his supporters chanting: “Send her back! Send her back!”

That racist rallying cry – from which Trump later attempted to distance himself – was the culmination of close to a week of bigoted broadsides, beginning with tweets calling on Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came”.

Omar is an American citizen born in Somalia. The other three lawmakers were born in the US. All four have been sharp critics of Trump, particularly on immigration.

Trump’s comments and his supporters’ racist chanting drew widespread criticism and a formal rebuke from the Democrat-held House. But Republicans offered silence, mild criticism or even outright defence.

“We all know that [the lawmakers] are a bunch of communists,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the president’s key supporters on Capitol Hill. “They hate their own country.”

With Trump and his allies attacking Omar and the rest of the so-called “Squad” as anti-American, Mauter and others went to the Minneapolis airport to show solidarity – and to send a message that Omar’s constituents have her back.

“Her district is totally behind her,” Mauter told the Guardian.

Omar, 37, came to the US as a refugee from Somalia in 1992 and became an American citizen in 2000. She was elected in 2018 to serve the most diverse district in Minnesota, covering Minneapolis and some of its suburbs, and has been one of the most progressive Democrats in Washington.

But she has also faced criticism, including for her language in messages meant to scrutinize US policy on Israel. Omar has apologized for using phrases like “all about the Benjamins”, which was slammed as antisemitic. Much criticism has been in bad faith. Trump has spread several lies, including a far-right conspiracy theory that she was once married to her brother and the claim she is a terrorist sympathizer.

“The statements by President Trump against Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and her colleagues are racist,” Minneapolis city council member Abdi Warsame, who is also Somali-American, told the Guardian by email.

“Any citizen of the United States uttering those words brings shame to our country. This adds to the long list of things President Trump has done that tarnish the legitimacy of our highest office both domestically and abroad.”

‘She’s got the bold ideas’

With Omar under attack, supporters within her district, which she won with a stunning 78% of the vote in 2018, are rallying behind her.

“What’s happening right now is so horrifying that standing with her in solidarity is so important,” said Rita Farmer, a fifth-district resident from north-east Minneapolis. “Not only to send a message to her that we support her, but to the rest of the world that we stand by her.

The Trump crowd at his rally in North Carolina on Wednesday.





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The Trump crowd at his rally in North Carolina on Wednesday. Photograph: Jonathan Drake/Reuters

“That support isn’t going away. If anything, these recent attacks on her just strengthen it.”

Omar grew up in Minneapolis, which has a large Somalian and East African community. Her district includes Little Mogadishu, the base of the Somali community in Minneapolis, and previously elected Keith Ellison, the first Muslim to serve in Congress who is now state attorney general.

To Farmer, “appalling” attacks from Trump need to be called out. But the fact that Omar has continued to focus on her agenda, including support for Medicare for all, which she touted in a town hall on Thursday evening in Minneapolis, has made Farmer “that much prouder to stand by her”.

“People aren’t just standing by her for symbolic reasons,” Farmer said. “She’s got the policy proposals. She’s got the bold ideas to back it up. That’s what really excites people and keeps them coming back.”

Erica Mauter was heartened that the community rallied round. But the president’s attacks chilled her, raising concerns about the congresswoman’s safety – and her own.

“He put a target on her back,” Mauter said. “I’m a black woman – that can be me.”

On Friday, Trump abandoned his attempt to distance himself from the racist chant, praising the North Carolina crowd as “incredible people” and “incredible patriots”.

Some analysts suggest he has at least in part been seeking to exploit divisions among Democrats. But the party has stood together.

Mara Glubka, a politically active fifth-district resident, told the Guardian she showed up to the airport on Thursday because she and other constituents felt compelled to “defend” their representative.

“It felt really good,” she said of witnessing “love and enthusiasm” for Omar.

Glubka, who is trans, said the congresswoman has been strong on LGBTQ issues, fulfilling promises made to constituents. Trump’s attacks have only appeared strengthened her support.

“I’m proud of Ilhan Omar,” Glubka said. “If there’s any ‘sending back’ that’s gonna happen, it’s gonna be sending her back to the United States Congress.”

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