WASHINGTON: White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Sunday defended Donald Trump against accusations that he was inciting violence against a Muslim congresswoman after the president tweeted a video of her spliced with footage of the 9/11 attacks.
Ilhan Omar, a Democratic lawmaker from Minnesota, has been at the centre of an escalating row following a speech she made about Islamophobia in which she was accused by conservatives of downplaying the deadliest attacks on US soil by characterising the event as “some people did something.”
Trump on Friday tweeted a video that juxtaposed the snippet, to a backdrop of menacing music, with images of the destruction wrought by the hijacked planes slamming into the Twin Towers which once dominated New York’s skyline.
The clip, which has been viewed more than nine million times as of Sunday, ends with the words: “SEPTEMBER 11 2001 WE REMEMBER.”
Prominent Democrats including Beto O’Rourke, Kamala Harris and Omar’s fellow first-time Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have rushed to Omar’s defence, accusing the president and other Republicans of deliberately taking her remarks out of context and endangering her life.
Sanders, however, defended Trump Sunday, telling ABC News: “The president is wishing no ill will and certainly not violence towards anyone.”
But, she added: “The president is absolutely and should be calling out the congresswoman for her not only one-time but history of anti-Semitic comments.”
Sanders was referencing a previous controversy sparked by Omar speaking out against the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobby group in US politics.
The lawmaker has mounted her own trenchant fightback, tweeting Saturday: “No one person – no matter how corrupt, inept, or vicious – can threaten my unwavering love for America.
“I stand undeterred to continue fighting for equal opportunity in our pursuit of happiness for all Americans.”
The controversy arose after Omar delivered a 20-minute address to the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) shortly after the New Zealand mosque attacks in March.
“For far too long, we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it,” she said.
“CAIR was founded after 9/11,” she added, “because they recognised that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties.”
The civil rights group was in fact founded in 1994 but grew significantly after 2001.
The speech did not initially receive significant attention until the snippet in question was highlighted weeks later by controversial Australian personality Mohammad Tawhidi who refers to himself as the “Imam of Peace