The New York Post is facing a barrage of criticism after its cover on Thursday featured an image of the World Trade Center, burning in the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, below a terse quote by one of the first Muslim women serving in Congress.
"Rep. Ilhan Omar: 9/11 was 'Some people did something,' " the cover read. A caption underneath added, "Here's your something ... 2,977 people dead by terrorism."
The quote came from a speech Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., gave last month. She was speaking at a banquet hosted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, discussing how terrorism has led to a rise in Islamophobia.
"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 told the crowd. "CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties." (The Sept. 11 attacks occurred in 2001. CAIR was was founded in 1994.)
Days after the banquet, critics zeroed in on her description of the terrorist attacks, inciting outrage that bore resemblance to the condemnation she received after making remarks about Israel.
On Fox & Friends, co-host Brian Kilmeade told viewers, "You have to wonder if [Omar] is an American first."
"This woman is a disgrace," Donald Trump Jr. tweeted.
This is ugly pic.twitter.com/R2XVyS4dq8— Harry Siegel (@harrysiegel) April 11, 2019
Rep. Dan Crenshaw, R-Texas, a former Navy SEAL who lost an eye in a bombing in Afghanistan, said it was "unbelievable." "You described an act of terrorism on American soil that killed thousands of innocent lives as 'some people did something.' It's still unbelievable," he later wrote on Twitter.
Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., and assistant speaker in the House, told MSNBC, "Those statements were not only hurtful to me, but extremely hurtful to everyone that was personally impacted by those terrorist attacks."
But the Post's incendiary cover, released at a time when owner Rupert Murdoch and Fox have come under intense scrutiny, has made it the target of a different strain of anger.
"Their intention was to be inflammatory, to generate sales at the expense of dividing our country," Hassan Shibly, head of CAIR's Florida chapter, tells NPR.
"Far too many people have tried to blame, even retaliate, against Muslim communities when we are victims of that attack just like all Americans," Shibly says.
Omar continues to receive death threats, he says. "Obviously the first hijab-wearing, American Muslim woman [in Congress] is going to be the first target," he says. "People's deep-seated hatred for the Muslim community is now being projected onto her."
Joseph Azam, one of Murdoch's former top executives, described the newspaper cover as "the virulent anti-Muslim bigotry being put out by various parts of the Murdoch empire." Azam recently told NPR he left his post because he was sickened by the coverage of Muslims, race and immigration in Murdoch's outlets. "They are going to get ppl killed - is that the goal?" Azam tweeted Thursday.
House colleagues came to Omar's aid. Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., tweeted, "The NY Post knows exactly what it's doing - taking quotes out of context and evoking painful imagery to spread hate and endangering the life of Rep. Omar. Shame on them, and shame on Rupert Murdoch."
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., called the cover "horrifying" and "hateful," before adding that Omar co-sponsored the September 11th Victim Compensation Fund. She told reporters that the wrath against Omar was "not a normal level of political debate or rhetoric."
The New York Post did not immediately respond to NPR's requests for comment.
On Friday, Omar herself quoted words uttered in the wake of Sept. 11 by former President George W. Bush, adding, "Was Bush downplaying the terrorist attack?"
The newspaper cover wasn't the first time Omar was linked to the Sept. 11 attacks. A poster at a winter event sponsored by the Republican Party of West Virginia showed a photo of the congresswoman, wearing a hijab, beneath a photo of the twin towers engulfed by flames.
A group called ACT for America, which had set up a table near that poster, describes itself as a national security organization and is labeled as an anti-Muslim hate group, promoted the Post cover on Twitter. It called Omar's rhetoric "dangerous."
According to a 2018 Pew Research Center estimate, Muslims made up about 3.45 million people in the United States in 2017, slightly more than 1 percent of the total population.