Ilhan Omar
Credit: Lorie Shaull/Flickr

When the term “fake news” first came on the scene, it referred to propaganda and conspiracy theories cooked up mostly for the benefit of those who travelled around right-wing websites and spread lies on social media. Then Donald Trump co-opted the term and applied it to any story he didn’t like.

But in its original usage, fake news is the best description of the current wave of interest in the smear campaign against Representative Ilhan Omar. Ever since Trump went after the Squad and revved up his supporters to chant “send her back,” one particular fake news story has been revived from the days it first appeared on the scene three years ago.

Will Sommer provides a fascinating account of how this one went from the fever swamp to the White House. But before we get to that, this story focuses on Omar’s marriage history, which is, indeed, a bit complicated.

In 2002, Omar was married in a religious ceremony to a man named Ahmed Hirsi, but the marriage was never legally ratified. In 2008, Omar separated from Hirsi after having two children with him.

A year later, in 2009, Omar legally married Elmi. They separated and religiously divorced two years later, in 2011, but did not legally divorce.

In 2012, Omar was reunited with Hirsi and had another child with him, but did not legally marry him.

As Omar was competing in a primary for the seat she eventually won in the Minnesota state legislature, a user named “AbdiJohnson” posted on a Somali message board that Elmi, who Omar married in 2009, was her brother. The anonymous poster stated that she married him in an attempt to make it easier for him to enter the United States.

Someone apparently sent that post to Scott Johnson, who picked it up at the PowerLine blog. While the poster named “AbdiJohnson” had provided no evidence for his claim, Johnson’s investigation amounted to contacting Omar’s campaign and asking them about it. When the response was dismissive, he concluded that it was “confirmation of a major local story with national implications.”

Other than traveling around some local Minnesota sites, the story went quiet until just before Omar was elected to the U.S. House in 2018. At that point, David Steinberg of PJ Media picked it up. His one addition was to learn from some students who went to high school with Elmi that his father “was identified as the same man Ilhan Omar has always publicly referred to as her own father.” In other words, gossip from 16 years ago was all the proof he needed to keep the lies going.

By this time, a story that was based on nothing other than an anonymous post on a message board had gained legs in the right-wing fever swamp. It was picked up by Jim Hoft at Gateway Pundit and Luke Rosiak at the Daily Caller. Next came the big name personalities, like Dinesh D’Souza and Rush Limbaugh.

With this story swirling around right-wing media, it was only a matter of time before it was mentioned by the president. That came last week.

On Wednesday, President Trump gave credence to a smear against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) when he told reporters that there was “a lot of talk about the fact that she was married to her brother,” and that he was “sure that somebody will be looking at that.”

There you have the president of the United States giving credence to a story that Sommer states is a “completely unproven idea…based entirely on a single, anonymous, unsourced allegation initially made on an obscure internet forum.” This is the same president who claims that climate change and Russiagate are nothing but hoaxes. Of course, it is not as if it is news to anyone that he is wholly unacquainted with the concept of truth.

When Trump says that “somebody will be looking at that,” the folks at Judicial Watch want to prove him right. On Tuesday, they filed an ethics complaint accusing Omar of committing fraud. As evidence, they cite “investigations” by folks like David Steinberg and Scott Johnson. In other words, they affirm the fact that the fever swamp of right-wing media feeds on itself with nothing more than lies and conspiracy theories. Right now, they’re trained on Ilhan Omar.

Nancy LeTourneau

Follow Nancy on Twitter @Smartypants60.