President Trump is now trying to distance himself from the resounding chant of “Send her back! Send her back!”, but for the four progressive Democrats who’ve dubbed themselves “the squad,” the chant that began at a Trump rally Wednesday night is still ringing in their ears.
And they say it’s changed everything.
“I think it was a great unveiling,” Rep Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) told a pack of reporters and camera crews trailing her at the Capitol on Thursday. “There are so many people who cannot and were not willing to accept the kind of fascist rhetoric that was coming from this president and his base, and I think there is now a clear picture.”
At one point in the scrum, AP photographer Scott Applewhite took a nasty spill, breaking some of his gear as he hit the steamy sidewalk.
“For the sake of a story, don’t kill each other, OK?" Omar said, bending down to help him up. "Everybody’s going to be alright.”
She and the other "squad" members targeted by Trump spent the day dealing with the fallout from the “Send her back” chant, which echoed the president's recent tweets that they should “go back to the countries" they came from. Three of the women of color were born in the U.S., and Omar immigrated to the U.S. from Somalia at age 12.
Once the impromptu caravan was moving again, Omar was asked if being personally targeted by the president made her fear for her safety.
“I am not. What I am scared for is the safety for people who share my identities. When you have a president who clearly thinks someone like me should ‘Go back,’ the message that he’s sending is not for me; it is to every single person who shares an identity with me,” Omar said.
“He’s telling them that this is not their country, and what we tell them is that this is and they are welcome here,” Omar continued. “What I said on my election night was that in Minnesota we don’t just welcome refugees, right? We send them to Washington.”
Later on Thursday, Trump attempted to disavow the chant that rose up from the crowd in the North Carolina arena as he blasted Omar. “I was not happy with it — I disagree with it,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
While only four Republicans had voted to condemn the president’s earlier Twitter attacks on the squad as racist, many others weren’t exactly jumping at the chance to defend “Send her back.”
Rep. Richard Hudson (R-N.C.), who represents a district not far from the rally, didn’t say a word when VICE News asked what he thought of it. And Matt Gaetz, one of Trump’s closest allies in the GOP, told reporters the party’s base is restive with lawmakers like Omar because of fears of terrorism.
“I think Ilhan’s story is an inspiring one of what someone can do here to be successful. That said, there are also a lot of people in the country who resent deeply the fact that the state in America that has contributed the most fighters to ISIS has been Minnesota,” the Florida congressman said.
Then he endorsed the president’s sentiments. “People need to respect America, and if folks just want to be critics of this country, this isn’t Cuba – you have a right to leave if you don’t like it,” Gaetz continued.
That’s why other members of the so-called squad — who found themselves the target of a negative smear campaign more than a year before the election — aren’t surprised by this latest in a string of racist incidents.
“We’re dealing with dynamics that we already believed were there, so it’s not as though it’s a shocking turn of events.” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told VICE News just off the House floor. “Really we are talking about fascistic government, and this is no longer about political debate.”
“There are ways in which everyday people can organize against authoritarian governments, and that I think is part of where we’re at,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “But it takes a lot of different segments, right? Because some folks may not think we’re there. Other folks strongly believe we are.”
Many other Democrats are now calling for Omar — at the very least — to be assigned a security detail, which is rare for lawmakers who don’t hold leadership posts. They argue it’s necessary, because the president has now targeted these women on the national stage, again and this time on prime time.
“Of course I do. As a former law enforcement officer: He’s inciting violence, but I don’t think he cares about that,” Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), the former chief of the Orlando Police Department, told VICE News just off the House floor. “He only cares about dividing the country, because he thinks that’s the way for him to get reelected which means he’s willing to get elected at any cost.”
Cover: Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) listen during a press conference, to address remarks made by US President Donald Trump earlier in the day, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC on July 15, 2019. (Photo: BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)