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What’s New and What Isn’t New About the Fascist Attacks on Ilhan Omar

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There’s no question about Trump’s extremely disturbing and openly fascist attacks on Ilhan Omar. But they also need a little context. There are some parts of this story that are genuinely new: primarily that a president has never before held fascist rallies where he whipped up thousands of people to delegitimize a member of Congress by name. That’s really messed up.

However, U.S. presidents have a very long history of delegitimalizing foreign born radicals and either deporting or attempting to deport them, not to mention repressions on radicals in the country. The Wilson administration was most notorious for this, but it existed at some level from that point through the Eisenhower years. Sarah Jaffe has a short article reminding us of some of this

One hundred years before Trump announced a new round of ICE raids, the Palmer Raids rounded up suspected troublemakers, anarchists, and others, and deported around 800 people. One of those “sent back” in the first Red Scare was Jewish anarchist agitator Emma Goldman. In 1955, the U.S. used the McCarran Walter Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 to deport Claudia Jones, a black Communist organizer, writer, and editor born in Trinidad. (The act was used to revoke passports of U.S. citizens as well, including the leftist entertainer Paul Robeson.) Neither Jones nor Goldman, of course, held elected office, but the shouts of “send her home” directed at Omar will undoubtedly fall on others with less power, as those ICE raids come. 

Trump targets Omar because she is black and an immigrant and Muslim, of course. But he also targets her because she has been one of the loudest voices challenging the hegemony of U.S. power, which has always relied on brute force to say who’s in and who’s out, both inside and outside of its borders. She is unwilling to accept the bipartisan consensus that has ruled in Washington for too long, that says some people count and the lives—and deaths—of others do not. And that makes her dangerous.

It’s really, really important as this all goes forward–no matter what happens–that this is not some new under the sun moment in American history. Rather, it is bringing back long histories into the present, histories that the nation has barely ever admitted or done anything to reconcile over.

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