During a rally in North Carolina Wednesday night, Donald Trump launched a tirade against Congresswoman Ilhan Omar that inspired the crowd to chant, “send her back.” Omar, a Muslim woman who came to the United States as a Somali refugee, has been the target of right-wing ire for months, hounded by accusations of anti-Semitism and sympathizing with terrorist organizations. The fact that she’s an outspoken progressive is bad enough, but to be a progressive, as well as a black Muslim woman, works as a kind of bait that Trump supports can’t pass up. Omar is their new villain and “send her back” is the new “lock her up.” This kind of sexist and racist rhetoric is the connective tissue of the Trump rally.
The crowd was bolstered by Trump’s comments earlier in the week, telling Omar, as well as Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, and Rashida Tlaib, to go back to their countries of origin if they had grievances about America. But even the slight semantic shift of “go back home” to “send her back” summons up the same abusive language that defined Trump rallies throughout the 2016 election.
“Lock her up,” the rallying cry directed at Hillary Clinton, employed a similar kind of malice—although the implications of the chants against Omar feel more sinister given the overtly racist messaging in concert with the sea of death threats that she’s received in the last few months. Both “send her back” and “lock her up” rely on a kind of violence against women that Trump supporters seem to not only relish but need.
A Trump rally needs a villain; it needs a pesky woman to serve as its rhetorical punching bag, as the site of targeted abuse. As vile Wednesday night was, it’s the bread and butter of a Trump rally.