Trump’s attacks on the impeachment process and Minnesota’s Somali-refugee community are an appeal to America’s far-right militia movement, say professors Joe Lowndes and Gerald Horne.
JAISAL NOOR Welcome to The Real News. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore. Thousands in Minneapolis, Minnesota protested outside as President Donald Trump used a campaign rally to promote conspiracy theories and blast the impeachment inquiry against him as a brazen attempt by Democrats to overthrow him, vowing the attempt to remove him from office would backfire. Here’s a clip.
DONALD TRUMP The Democrats’ brazen attempt to overthrow our government will produce a backlash at the ballot box the likes of which they have never, ever seen before in the history of this country
JAISAL NOOR Trump also attacked Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar and Minnesota’s Somali refugee community, one of the largest in the nation. Here’s another clip.
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DONALD TRUMP Congresswoman Omar is an America-hating socialist. She minimized the September 11th attack on our homeland, where far more than 3000 people died, saying, “Some people did something. Big deal. Some people did something.” She pleaded for compassion for ISIS recruits right here in Minnesota. Omar laughed that Americans speak of Al-Qaeda. You remember that tape? Speak of Al-Qaeda.
JAISAL NOOR Just about all of what you heard are lies. The rally comes as Democrats’ impeachment probe against Trump is gaining support in the polls. Trump, of course, built his campaign on fueling anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim bigotry. Just last year, three Trump supporters were found guilty of plotting a terror attack against Somali refugees.
Well, now joining us to discuss all of this are two guests. Joe Lowndes is an expert on social movements, the GOP, race, and elections. He’s an associate professor of political science at the University of Oregon. And welcome back to Dr. Gerald Horne, the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African-American Studies at the University of Houston and author of many, many books. Thank you both for joining us.
DR. GERALD HORNE Thank you.
JOE LOWNDES Thanks for having us.
JAISAL NOOR Let’s start with you, Professor Horne. Trump again lashed out at Democrats, singled out Rep. Ilhan Omar and her Somali-American community. I want to play one more clip.
DONALD TRUMP For many years, leaders in Washington brought large numbers of refugees to your state from Somalia without considering the impact on schools and communities and taxpayers. I promise you that as president, I would give local communities a greater say in refugee policy and put in place enhanced vetting and responsible immigration control.
JAISAL NOOR Dr. Horne, nothing we haven’t already heard before. What’s your response to Trump’s speech yesterday?
DR. GERALD HORNE Well, it doesn’t surprise me that there is a specific attack on Congresswoman Omar, who is despised by the Israeli lobby, which is one of Mr. Trump’s major supporters, who are afraid to say that Congresswoman Omar checks a number of boxes in terms of being an object of attack. She’s a woman. She’s of African origin, from one of these so-called s-hole countries. She’s a Muslim and she’s a immigrant.
Now, with regard to Somalia, I think Mr. Trump would be well-advised to brush up on his history. Some of us recall that in the 1970s, Somalia had a government and a regime that albeit was nationalist, but was at least operative. Then the US agencies in Washington helped to induce that particular regime to engage in a disastrous attack on neighboring Ethiopia over the Ogaden, and that led to a downward spiral of Somalia, leading to a nonfunctioning government, what oftentimes has been referred to as a failed state, and the rise of a group called Al-Shabaab, which the United States steadily bombs, creating refugees, some of whom wind up in Minnesota. Now, I assume that that story is too complicated to recount to that audience of adoring Trump lovers, but I dare say that if we were to dig ourselves out of this hole in which we find ourselves, that is to say, burdened by the burdensome nature of this 45th U.S. President, we will have to recount this history.
JAISAL NOOR Professor Lyons, I mentioned the three Trump supporters convicted of plotting a 2017 terror attack against Somali refugees, and we know that a Rep. Omar, she gets death threats whenever Trump singles her out. Talk about the people in the audience, the people that are eating up this rhetoric and what it means to them.
JOE LOWNDES Well, you know, as Professor Horne said, Representative Omar checks a lot of boxes already in terms of the kind of demonization that Donald Trump engages in. But he has been really focused on… he and Stephen Miller, his advisor, also his immigration advisor, on Somalia. They’ve been really fixated for years. There’s a new book by… I think her name’s Davis and Shear… called something like Trump’s Border Wars. There, Somalia is something that sticks out. It sticks in Trump’s craw, particularly around issues of Islamic militancy and other things of the things, which is partly, I think, what drives the social violence that we see. But the other thing is that within Minneapolis itself, the Somali community has been a really dynamic, vibrant force in the working class of both Minneapolis and St. Paul. They’ve been deeply involved leaders in the protests around the Amazon major shipping centers and in Shakopee and other suburban areas in Minneapolis. They also were a key to struggles of unionized janitors in Minneapolis. There’s a way in which Somalis play a key role in terms of labor struggles in Minneapolis, which probably appeals to some local Republican leaders as well there.
JAISAL NOOR Dr. Horne, Trump has been framing the impeachment as a coup, as illegitimate. He has vowed to not abide by by the subpoenas and a court today ruled that he has to disclose some of his financial information. Talk about where this country is headed in your view.
DR. GERALD HORNE Well, it does not look good. A recent op-ed in the New York Times suggested that the United States is in the midst of a constitutional crisis, insofar as the 45th U.S. President has sworn that he will not cooperate with this impeachment inquiry. He left an out that suggested that if there was a vote in the House to authorize this inquiry, he might cooperate. But I don’t see that coming around the bend. I think it’s important to recognize as well that this is a very complicated political moment for progressive forces, because despite all of Mr. Trump’s crimes and transgressions since November 2016 and before, it’s striking to know that what prompted Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker, to push the impeachment button was the fact that a dime was dropped on Mr. Trump by a CIA whistleblower.
It’s no secret that the national security hawks are upset with Mr. Trump. They are upset with him because he’s sacked uber-hawk National Security Advisor, John Bolton. He trashes the legacy of hawkish late Senator John McCain. He refused to bomb Iran, despite the fact that Iran was accused of attacking a Saudi oil facility. Apparently, in the midst of withdrawing U.S. forces… uninvited, by the way… from Syria, which has outraged senator Lindsey Graham, one of the main spokespersons for the national security establishment and the hawks, the hawks might have concluded that they would have an easier way and an easier sway if the Democrats would come to power, in light of what happened in 2011, with the Democrats folding like a cheap suit over the of Libya and the murder of Muammar Gaddafi. This is what makes this current moment so complicated.
DONALD TRUMP Professor Lowndes, the Oath Keepers were out in force. They promised to protect Donald Trump outside of that rally, but reports say that they were outnumbered by the thousands by local activists that showed up, including members of the Somali community that you mentioned. I was reading some reports that the Oath Keepers, they’re itching for armed conflict in this country. Who are they? And a little bit of this movement that is sort of coalescing around Trump, sort of as a Messiah figure. It’s Trump or nothing for them.
JOE LOWNDES Yeah. The Oath Keepers are part of a broader movement, this militia movement which goes back to the 1990s, where various organizations among them today are The Three Percenters and a few others. They see themselves as kind of armed paramilitary guardians of the American nation against the State. The Oath Keepers in particular are driven by a set of conspiracy theories about government authoritarianism that they see encroaching on the rights of everyday Americans, and so they continually feed this in their own recruiting. What’s interesting, though, is that these groups have been around for a while. They grew under the Obama administration. There are more and more of these paramilitary groups and more members of them. But really, what’s happened during the Trump years is that you see more connection between local and state Republican parties and these paramilitary groups than ever before.
In fact, those kind of connections were not official connections at all before, but now you see kind of a strange comfort that Republicans take in working with these paramilitary groups, which is really… That’s where things start to smack of proto fascism. Here in Oregon. it’s been the case for a couple of years. There’s lots of militia groups out here in Oregon. You’ve had Oath Keepers and this group I mentioned before, Three Percenters, being hired as security by Republicans for Republican events in the state, working closely with, with Republicans in Washington or, in a case here during the summer where Republican state legislators crossed the state line so they wouldn’t have to vote on a climate bill, the militia members claimed that they were going to protect them in armed conflicts with the state police, if necessary. They put out tweets to this effect, which then were retweeted by Republican party members. I think partly the issue here is the way in which the line is being crossed between official party politics and these paramilitary armed organizations. That’s what we saw yesterday in Minneapolis. I thought this had just been existing in the Pacific Northwest, but clearly other Republicans are willing to move that far to the right that they see this as a legitimate kind of thing, to have a private armed security force act in this way.
JAISAL NOOR Well, we’re going to keep certainly following all of these threads as this story continues to develop. Over the course of the next year, we can only expect to see more of this rhetoric, more of these actions, more armed protesters in the streets. Joe Lowndes, associate professor of political science at University of Oregon and Dr. Gerald Horne, John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African-American Studies at the University of Houston. Thank you both for sharing your expertise. Thank you for joining us.
DR. GERALD HORNE Thank you.
JOE LOWNDES Thank you for having us.
JAISAL NOOR Thank you for joining us at the real news network.
DHARNA NOOR Hey, y’all. My name is Dharna Noor and I’m a climate crisis reporter here at The Real News Network. This is a crucial moment for humanity and for the planet. If you like what we do, please, please support us by subscribing at the link below. Thank you.