During an Oval Office media session with the US Special Olympics team on Thursday, President Donald Trump made a desperate attempt to distance himself from one of the ugliest moments of his presidency — one his words directly incited, despite what he’d now have people believe.
ABC’s Jonathan Karl asked why he didn’t do something to try to stop the “send her back!” chants that were directed toward Somali refugee-turned-Rep. Ilhan Omar during his rally the night before in North Carolina. Trump defended himself by simply lying.
“Well, number one, I think I did. I started speaking very quickly,” Trump said. “I disagree with [the chants], by the way. But it was quite a chant, and I felt a little bit badly about it. But I will say — I did, and I started speaking very quickly. But it started up rather fast.”
Trump went on to try to draw a contrast between what he said and what his supporters chanted.
“I didn’t say that, they did,” Trump said, prompting Karl to point out that the chant seemed to be directly inspired not only by his misleading attacks on Omar during the rally, but also by tweets he posted on Sunday urging Omar and other Democratic women of color in Congress who are critical of him to leave the country.
“If you examine that, I don’t think you’ll find that,” Trump said, unconvincingly. He then moved on to taking questions from other reporters.
Trump isn’t shy about gaslighting — during a speech last summer, he advised his supporters to “just remember, what you’re seeing and what you’re reading is not what’s happening.” But his claim that he “started speaking very quickly” is directly contradicted by video footage of Wednesday’s event.
Here’s what really happened
After Trump spent about two minutes lambasting Omar during his rally in North Carolina — going as far as to falsely accuse her of sympathizing with al-Qaeda — the “send her back!” chants broke out. But instead of trying to stop them, Trump briefly basked in the chants before moving on with his speech.
He gave no indication that he disagreed with the sentiments expressed by his supporters. In fact, given that he admonished Omar and other congresswomen of color “to go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came” in the aforementioned tweet, the idea that he’s opposed to such sentiments is a huge stretch.
Here’s the full clip of the chants and what led up to them:
The chants quickly became the major headline from the speech, in a week when Trump has continued his racist attacks on Democratic women of color. Journalists and politicians compared the outburst to scenes from fascist rallies, including Nazi Germany.
Even Trump and his supporters seem to realize that this is a bad look. But instead of apologizing, they’re lying. For instance, during his weekly press conference on Thursday, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) tried to portray the fact that Trump continued with his speech after the chants as though it constituted a bold stand against bigotry.
White House spokesperson Hogan Gidley echoed McCarthy during a Fox News interview later that day. “He didn’t let the chant go on very long,” Gidley said, adding that “it’s tough to hear what they were chanting.” (It was not tough to hear what people were chanting.)
While the White House and McCarthy try to rewrite history, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) said the quiet part loud. Asked about the anti-Omar chants during a press gaggle on Thursday, Graham suggested that Trump and his supporters are only interested in deporting refugees who don’t support the president politically.
“If you’re a Somali refugee wearing a MAGA cap, [Trump] doesn’t want to send you back,” Graham said. “What does that tell me? That it’s about the criticism, not the critic.”
Refugees, however, have just as much of a right to criticize the president as anybody else — no matter how much Trump and his supporters may dislike it.