ILLINOIS (WCIA) — Ripples of President Donald Trump’s attacks that targeted four American Congresswomen of color splashed onto the Facebook page of the Illinois Republican County Chairman’s Association and lingered there for an entire weekend until state party leaders eventually denounced it on Sunday as racist and bigoted.
The group’s leader, Mark Shaw, who also co-chairs the Illinois Republican Party, described the mock movie poster titled “Jihad Squad” as an “unauthorized posting,” but also curiously said it and other social media content is filtered through a “multi-stage approval process.”
Several people have access to the administrative Facebook page, including some employees at American Strategies, sources confirmed to WCIA on Sunday. According to campaign finance records, the IRCCA pays the consulting firm for graphic design, website management, and advertising. Sources within the company confirm they were aware of the image before it was posted to Facebook, but would not say for certain who posted it online, or if it came from another page administrator.
Reached by phone on Sunday, the firm’s CEO Tom Mannix would not initially comment for this story, but later denied any involvement with the image in this statement:
“Neither I, nor anyone associated with, employed by or subcontracted by American Strategies created, authored, authorized, or approved the image regarding the Democratic Congresswomen,” Mannix said. “American Strategies is not a legal or media representative of the RCCA and all questions regarding this matter must be referred to the RCCA.”
Shaw, the CEO of the RCCA, did not respond to multiple texts, phone calls and emails asking who posted the content to his group’s Facebook page.
The image, which bore a photoshopped logo watermark of the IRCCA, pre-dates the group’s since-deleted Facebook post. Its origins are hazy, but its inspiration is clear: the inflammatory meme drew on ethnic, religious, and racial themes embedded in the President’s attacks against four Congresswomen of color and the countries they were “originally” from.
Fact check: the day after posting his initial tweet, the President stated he did not actually know which countries the women were from. In fact, three of them were born in the United States. The fourth, Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) fled Somalia with her family as a refugee of war when she was a child. She has since become a naturalized American citizen, and one of the first Muslim-American women in Congress.
From the President’s thumbs to the computer monitors and smartphone screens of his most ardent supporters, the ideas were crafted into imagery, incubated in the dark, most racist corners of the Internet, then amplified on far right-wing websites, carried even farther on blogs hosted by religious fundamentalists, before it was shared by veterans groups on Facebook, and it was ultimately emblazoned with the logo of a state level Republican organization.
The online channels can be confusing, often anonymous, and sometimes hard to trace, but the content is consistently and undeniably in lockstep with the President’s strategic plan for re-election in 2020: to combine a virulent cocktail of race, religion, ethnicity, and culture, sprinkle in a dash of insult posing as a sincere policy debate, and serve it to an audience thirsty for ideological validation and half-drunk on distrust of the “other.”
According to Illinois Republican Party leaders, consuming large doses of such a concoction should come with a warning label. While some of them still remain reluctant to stand up to the personality of the President or dare to directly challenge the power of his energetic base, they showed little hesitation in scolding the invective of his rhetoric when it was repurposed by an anonymous staffer, intern, or perhaps paid consultant, on a little-known Facebook page with fewer than 500 followers.
Calling it “bigoted rhetoric,” ILGOP chair Tim Schneider said he “strongly condemns evoking race or religion as the basis for political disagreement.”
Senate Minority Leader Bill Brady (R-Bloomington) said through a spokesman, “This type of post has no place in our political discourse. I am pleased it’s been taken down, and remain hopeful we can debate our political differences in a respectful manner.”
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) said through a spokeswoman, “The post was irresponsible, disrespectful, and wrong. The imagery and rhetoric that was used hurts our democracy and does nothing to move our state or our nation forward. Those responsible have no place in the Republican Party.”
Cook County GOP Chair Sean Morrison says he was “appalled” by the “hateful rhetoric” and “racist extremes” found in the imagery.
The Democratic Party of Illinois said the GOP was “fanning the flames of racism and hatred,” and demanded an explanation.
For his part, Shaw offered an apology to anyone who may have been offended by the racial or religious bigotry before taking the occasion to lob broad political attacks against the Democratic members of Congress for their support of the “‘Green New Deal’, elimination of all private health insurance, open borders and anti-Semitic posturing,” he wrote on Facebook.
Copying the playbook of the President, Shaw’s bait-and-switch strategy drew attention to the race and religion of “the Squad,” then once people started to protest or gawk at the crude insult, he offered only the slightest hint of desire for sincere policy debate, and then hastily attempted to brand the entire Democratic party by the views of its most radical far-left members.
Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN) has apologized for comments she made when questioning the allegiance of American members of Congress to lobbyists for Israel.
On Saturday, in an interview with CBS News’ Major Garrett, Vice President Mike Pence rebuked Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s “reckless rhetoric” for comparing migrant detention centers at our southern border to concentration camps, though even some Holocaust survivors and nearly 600 Holocaust scholars agreed with her characterization.
At a rally last Wednesday in Greenville, North Carolina, President Trump escalated his attacks, claiming the four Congresswomen “are helping to fuel the rise of a dangerous militant hard left,” falsely painting their views as supportive of political violence.
The first images of the “jihad squad” movie poster surfaced online the very next day, swapping out the faces of actors and switching the title of the 2013 movie “Gangster Squad.” It was shared on the state party organization’s Facebook page the day after that.
On Sunday morning, the President again tweeted at the same four women, claiming he does not believe they are “capable of loving our country,” seeking to sanitize his racist attacks as indictments of their patriotism, and implying without evidence that American women elected to Congress are traitors to the districts that elected them, and to the nation they swore to support and defend.
Editor’s note: This story was updated to include a statement from American Strategies CEO Tom Mannix.