Drawing a false equivalence between Ilhan Omar and Marjorie Taylor Greene is not only incorrect, but a dangerous standard to set when reporting on QAnon candidates
On August 11, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) won her primary campaign for reelection in Minnesota’s heavily Democratic 5th Congressional District. On the same day, Marjorie Taylor Greene, a supporter of the QAnon conspiracy theory, also prevailed in her congressional primary in Georgia, almost definitively securing her a spot in Congress from her Republican-majority district.
The two could not be more different as political candidates -- Omar is the whip of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, while Greene has long supported the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory -- yet reporters and news outlets are falling into the disingenuous trap of decrying their supposedly shared radicalism and drawing false equivalencies between their beliefs.
In doing so, news outlets are both normalizing the violence-linked QAnon conspiracy theory and helping to push a targeted smear campaign against Omar.
The idea that Greene is somehow the Ilhan Omar of the Republican Party — an idea the National Republican Congressional Committee communications director alluded to when asked about Greene — is not only unfounded, but also a deflection on the part of Republicans to avoid any accountability for Greene’s QAnon roots.
Who is Marjorie Taylor Greene and what is her connection to QAnon?
Greene ran as a Republican and won her runoff GOP primary in Georgia’s 14th Congressional District, functionally securing her a seat in Congress. Greene is an outspoken QAnon supporter and a 9/11 conspiracy theorist who, according to The Washington Post, “has also made racist, anti-Semitic and Islamophobic comments.”
While some Republicans initially distanced themselves from Greene after reports of her QAnon support and other comments surfaced, many embraced her in the wake of the primary election. President Donald Trump enthusiastically praised Greene’s win on Twitter, calling her a “future Republican Star.”
An internal FBI memo published by Yahoo News in 2019 classified QAnon as a domestic terrorism threat because of its ties to violence. The memo explained that the conspiracy theory revolves around a supposedly high-level government official known as “Q” who “posts classified information online to reveal a covert effort, led by President Trump, to dismantle a conspiracy involving ‘deep state’ actors and global elites allegedly engaged in an international child sex trafficking ring." These violent ties include a man who murdered his brother with a sword and another who threatened to kill YouTube employees.
Why the false equivalence?
In 2019, Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) publicly criticized Israel’s occupation of Palestine. Republican House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) called their comments worse than those of infamous white supremacist Rep. Steve King (R-IA), who had recently been stripped of his committee assignments. Omar then tweeted, “It's all about the Benjamins baby,” in response to an article reporting that McCarthy was working to punish members of Congress critical of Israel. Omar later apologized for some of her phrasing and accidental use of anti-Semitic tropes while also doubling down on her criticism of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) lobbying group.
A month later, Omar again drew controversy for her remarks about lobbying by AIPAC:
Some Jewish leaders said she then revived an old trope about divided loyalties among Jewish-Americans when she said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”
She added, “I want to ask, ‘Why is it OK for me to talk about the influence of the (National Rifle Association), or fossil fuel industries or Big Pharma, and not talk about a powerful lobbying group that is influencing policy?’”
Omar’s critical stance gave rise to disingenuous attacks against her by right-wing media figures who claimed that her criticism of Israeli policies makes her horribly anti-Semitic.
Right-wing media outlets have now begun to compare Omar to Greene, falsely claiming that Greene is simply the Republican version of her.
What makes the comparison between the two women particularly outrageous is the fact that Politico unearthed hours of racist and anti-Muslim video rants from Greene’s Facebook, some of which specifically targeted Omar.
Greene described the election of Omar and Tlaib as “an Islamic invasion into our government offices” and called Omar “that woman out of Minnesota" who “has got to wear a head covering." She said, “If you want Islam and Sharia law, you stay over there in the Middle East. … You stay there, and you go to Mecca and do all your thing. And, you know what, you can have a whole bunch of wives, or goats, or sheep, or whatever you want. You stay over there. But in America, see, we’ve made it this great, great country. We don’t want it messed up."
In fact, following the AIPAC controversy, Greene traveled to Capitol Hill in 2019 and filmed herself attempting to confront Omar and Tlaib, who she falsely claimed are “illegitimate members of Congress because they took their congressional oaths of office on the Quran” (Greene said she wanted to make them retake their oath on the Bible). “She also said she wanted to tell them they ‘really should go back to the Middle East if they support Sharia.’”
Greene’s racist rants reportedly include a statement that Black people are being “held slaves to the Democratic Party.” She has also posted “an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory that [liberal philanthropist George] Soros, a Holocaust survivor, collaborated with the Nazis” and secretly controls “every single Democrat politician.”
Despite ample evidence of Greene’s bigotry and racism, right-wing media are still comparing her politics to those of Omar.
Examples of right-wing media drawing false equivalencies
Right-wing media outlets are unapologetically comparing Omar and Greene, implying that they are both equally radical but on opposite sides of the political spectrum.
- The Daily Wire’s Ben Shapiro had a meltdown on the August 14 edition of his show over election coverage of Omar and Greene, claiming that Omar “is a radical anti-Semite who really, really, really hates Israel and says horrible things about the United States as well,” but the media cover her favorably compared to the way they report on Greene. “It’s worth covering Greene,” Shapiro continued, “but it’s also worth covering” how the media have treated Omar even though she has “said awful things beginning to end from the very moment that she entered Congress and actually well before.” Shapiro also concluded that Greene’s treatment is part of the “media double standard.”
- Prior to discussing this on his show, Shapiro had also tweeted a similar sentiment.
- ZeroHedge, a far-right conspiracy theory blog, posted an article both-sidesing Omar and Greene titled “‘Anti-Semite’ Ilhan Omar & ‘QAnon Believer’ Marjorie Taylor Greene Win Tuesday-Night Primaries.”
- On the August 12 edition of The Daily Briefing with Dana Perino, Fox News anchor Dana Perino made a further false equivalency between Omar and Greene as she displayed their photos while introducing a report on primary elections, saying, “Two of the most polarizing congressional candidates out there had a very good night.”
- On the August 12 edition of Fox News @ Night, conservative commentator Allie Beth Stuckey compared Omar to Greene, saying, “You know, it's hard not to see that characterization of both sides kind of being taken by their extremes, especially on the left when you've got a Democratic Party who for example won't denounce some of the things Ilhan Omar has said.” She concluded that “we have to resist though the fear that maybe both parties are gripped by the most extreme and, in some cases, the most bigoted parts of their party.”
- Fox contributor Doug Schoen published an op-ed on Fox News’ website claiming that while both elections “provide clear evidence of the ascendancy of fringe movements and candidates within both major parties,” Omar’s reelection is more dangerous than Greene’s primary win: “It is clear to me that Omar’s victory and the threat of the progressive movement overtaking the mainstream Democratic party poses a greater challenge to Joe Biden and the Democrats than Greene’s victory does to Donald Trump and the GOP.”
Even mainstream media are drawing comparisons
While often more subtle than right-wing media, some mainstream media reporters are just as guilty in comparing Omar and Greene. NBC News contributor Dave Wasserman irresponsibly compared Omar and Greene:
After Wasserman posted his tweet, National Republican Congressional Committee Communications Director Chris Pack quote-tweeted it, asking, “What's the (D)iffe(R)ence between the two?”
A number of mainstream media outlets categorized Omar and Greene together when reporting election results, describing them both as controversial without sufficient nuance.
- USA Today ran a piece headlined “Tuesday's primaries: Ilhan Omar fights for political survival and QAnon believer hopes to join the House,” calling them “the two biggest races to watch” for “some primary drama.”
- Politico grouped Omar and Greene together when reporting election night results, comparing the House resolution opposing anti-Semitism directed at Omar to future measures to be potentially taken against Greene.
Yet in a sign of how tight Trump’s grip is on the GOP, few Republicans — including those who campaigned against Greene — spoke out in the wake of her primary win. Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming and National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Tom Emmer of Minnesota had no comment on Wednesday.
A spokesperson to Emmer responded by invoking Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who came under fire for repeating Jewish tropes that many feel are anti-Semitic. Omar won her primary Tuesday night.
“Are Cheri Bustos and the DCCC going to support Ilhan Omar, given the concern House Democrats have expressed repeatedly with her racism and anti-Semitism?” NRCC spokesman Chris Pack said.
House Democrats responded to the Omar controversy last year by passing two resolutions decrying anti-Semitism, though the Minnesota Democrat wasn’t named in either measure.
McCarthy and GOP congressional leaders are hampered in how they can stop Greene by House rules and legal precedents. If Greene were to win in November, as expected, there’s no way the House can refuse to seat her, despite her incendiary comments.
Comparing Greene and Omar is not only incorrect, but normalizes QAnon
Falsely suggesting the politics and beliefs of Greene and Omar are equally “radical” is both dangerous and incorrect. Equating Omar’s critical stance on the Israeli occupation of Palestine with Greene’s well-documented support for QAnon, which is rooted in beliefs about Satan-worshipping pedophiles running the world, creates a dangerous normalization of the conspiracy theory at a time when she will be one of at least 20 QAnon supporters on the ballot in November.