Illinois GOP group apologizes for sharing meme calling 4 Democrats 'Jihad Squad'
Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar's face is contorted into an attitude-filled pout and she appears to be toting a large gun. Below her are the doctored images of three other Democratic congresswomen: Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.
According to the movie poster-style picture that was recently shared to an official Facebook page for Illinois Republican leaders, the four minority lawmakers are the stars of "The Jihad Squad."
"POLITICAL JIHAD IS THEIR GAME," reads all-caps text on the fake poster. "IF YOU DON'T AGREE WITH THEIR SOCIALIST IDEOLOGY, YOU'RE RACIST."
The meme, which reportedly appeared Friday on the Facebook page of the Illinois Republican County Chairmen's Association, has since drawn widespread backlash from top state leaders in both parties. On Sunday evening, the association's president, Mark Shaw, apologized and announced the post had been taken down. It is unclear if the poster was created by the organization, but its logo was featured on the image.
"A couple of days ago, an image which was not authorized by me was posted on the Facebook page of the Illinois Republican County Chairmen's Association," Shaw wrote in a statement. "I condemn this unauthorized posting and it has been deleted. I am sorry if anyone who saw the image was offended by the contents."
The post, Shaw added, "is an unfortunate distraction from the serious debate surrounding the policies advocated by these four socialist members of the United States House of Representatives of which I strongly disagree."
The controversy comes six months after Shaw, who is also the chairman of the Lake County Republican Party, defended a social media post that mocked U.S. Sen. and Democratic presidential hopeful Elizabeth Warren's claims of Native American heritage. The meme, posted to the Lake County GOP's Facebook page, featured puffs of smoke rising into the sky followed by text that read, "Actual photo of Elizabeth Warren announcing her candidacy for president of the United States."
At the time, Shaw dismissed concerns about the meme, calling it a joke.
"I think, unfortunately, in these days and times, people are becoming hypersensitive about everything," Shaw told the Daily Herald Jan. 3.
After releasing the statement about the latest social media posting, Shaw did not respond to a call for additional comment Monday.
The poster marks yet another ugly broadside against the congresswomen after President Donald Trump's racist tweets last Sunday in which he suggested the four women of color should "go back" to the "totally broken and crime infested places from which they came." Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley were born in the United States and Omar, a Somali refugee, became a citizen when she was 17.
Rather than walk back the widely condemned comment, Trump has continued to publicly rebuke the freshman representatives, who have become collectively known as "the Squad" -- and others have joined in. On Monday in a tweet, he called them "very Racist" and "not very smart."
In Illinois, however, the state's top Republican leaders quickly agreed "The Jihad Squad" meme went too far, joining their Democratic counterparts in denouncing it. The poster, based on the 2013 crime film "Gangster Squad," featured unflattering images of the congresswomen. The "jihad" references were likely directed at Omar and Tlaib, who are the first two Muslim women to serve in Congress.
"I strongly condemn evoking race or religion as the basis for political disagreement," Tim Schneider, chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, wrote in a statement. "Bigoted rhetoric greatly distracts from legitimate and important policy debates and further divides our nation."
He continued: "My intense disagreement with the socialist policies and anti-Semitic language of these four congresswomen has absolutely nothing to do with their race or religion. I urge everyone who also opposes them to keep the rhetoric focused on policy and political ideology."
Sean Morrison, chairman of the Cook County Republican Party, said in a statement he was "appalled" by the post's "use of hateful rhetoric."
"There are civil ways to express political differences that do not involve going to racist extremes," Morrison said, adding the country "should instead strive for an intelligent, civil and thoughtful discussion of the philosophical differences between Republicans and Democrats."
On Facebook, the Cook County Democratic Party expressed support for the congresswomen and accused the GOP group of sharing a post that "perpetuates the recent attacks by President Trump, promoting lies and racism to alienate immigrants, women, and people of color."
Shaw explained Sunday the Republican chairmen organization "has a multi-stage, approval process" for posts on any of its social media pages. He noted the association's internal review process is under "re-evaluation to ensure that any content posted in the future represents the 'big-tent' nature of the Republican Party."
Meanwhile, the Kankakee County Democrats Facebook page is also being condemned for posts that appeared Thursday asking, "What's the difference between a Klan hood and a MAGA hat?" and answering, "The Klan hood was made in America," ABC 7 Chicago reported. On the hood was Trump's "Make American Great Again" slogan modified to say "Make American Hate Again."
In a statement, The Democratic Party of Illinois said: "Heated racist rhetoric has no place in Illinois or American politics. We denounce hateful speech of any kind and implore the President to stop fanning the flames of racism with his own divisive speech."
The post was deleted, but Kankakee County Democratic Chairman John Willard defended the post in an interview with Crain's Chicago Business. he said he posted the image because "for me, it's all about the hypocrisy of this president." But he conceded "it wasn't in good taste."
In fact, official MAGA hats are made in a California factory.