Fake News: Media Outlets Blame Ilhan Omar 9/11 Poster on ACT for America

Last Friday, Democrats shared photos and video of a display in the West Virginia State Capitol connecting Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) with the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The horrific poster was in a display along with a large logo for ACT for America, a national security organization that warns against sharia (Islamic law). ACT for America quickly clarified that they had no connection to the display and denounced the poster. Yet media outlets persist in connecting the display to ACT for America.

Media outlets may be biased against ACT for America in part because the discredited left-wing smear factory the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has designated the organization an "anti-Muslim hate group."

The poster emerged when the West Virginia Democratic Party shared a video of it on Twitter. The image showed a photo of the World Trade Center burning on 9/11.

Mike Pushkin, a Democrat in West Virginia's House of Delegates, shared an image of the poster on Twitter.

The state's Republican Party rushed to denounce the disgusting poster. West Virginia GOP Chairman Melody Potter called the poster "hate speech," explaining that the party "did not approve" and does "not support" the poster. "We do not endorse speech that advances intolerant and hateful views," Potter declared.

The poster caused quite an uproar at the West Virginia State Capitol, the Washington Examiner reported. Sergeant at Arms Anne Lieberman resigned after she was accused of saying, "All Muslims are terrorists." Democratic Delegate Mike Caputo kicked open the entrance to the chamber, injuring a doorkeeper who was holding the door shut during the daily prayer and the Pledge of Allegiance.

Amid all this news, ACT for America rushed to denounce the poster.

"This was NOT an ACT for America display; ACT for America was not aware of the display, the poster, or the event itself; and ACT for America did not have any staff in the state of West Virginia at the time," the organization said in a statement. "Anyone who claimed to be with ACT for America was doing so without the permission and approval of ACT for America."

"ACT for America has a strict zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination, and anyone engaging in rhetoric or behavior contrary to our stated values does not speak on behalf of ACT for America," the organization continued. "While we find many of the views and actions of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar to be reprehensible, the display in the Capitol rotunda would have never been approved or endorsed by our National Office."

The woman who put up the poster, Brenda Arthur, wrote in a letter to a local news outlet affirming that the organization was not behind the Ilhan Omar-9/11 attack.

"Firstly, I want to make it clear that ACT for America’s National office had no involvement or prior knowledge of the materials I used at the GOP Day at the Capitol in Charleston, West Virginia, on Friday, March 1, 2019," Arthur wrote. "ACT for America’s National office was not aware of or sanctioned my participation in the event. I did not seek prior approval of ACT for America for the articles, posters, or any of the materials I used at the event. I attended the event acting on my own behalf."

Many news outlets rightly noted the group's statement, including the Associated Press and National Public Radio's Sasha Ingber. The statement was clearly available, and the organization sent it to some of the reporters who connected the organization to the poster without mentioning the statement.

Many other news outlets connected the display to ACT for America, and even uncritically cited the SPLC's "hate group" label, however.

The Washington Post's Eli Rosenberg not only connected the poster to the organization but referred to the group as "ACT of America" in an early version of his article, immortalized by the Los Angeles Times (the LA Times published his article, citing The Washington Post, as a syndicated column).

"Photos of the poster show it next to a placard promoting ACT of America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has classified as an anti-Muslim hate group. ACT of America did not immediately respond to requests for comment," Rosenberg originally wrote.

The Washington Post rightly fixed the embarrassing typo on March 2, the same day ACT for America released its statement. The Post did not append a correction to the article, nor did the outlet refer to the statement.

"Photos of the poster showed it next to a placard promoting ACT for America, which the Southern Poverty Law Center has designated an anti-Muslim hate group. ACT for America did not immediately respond to requests for comment," Rosenberg wrote in the updated version of the story. A photo of the poster included the caption: "The poster featuring Omar was next to a placard for ACT for America, designated by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim hate group. (Mike Pushkin)"

Thomas Hern, national grassroots director for ACT for America, confirmed that the organization sent Rosenberg its statement. "Misquoting our organization's name just shows the mob mentality of the Left — it's like a game of telephone over there — one publication posts about us and they all are so eager to echo the same talking points (even if they aren't verified or true)," Hern told PJ Media.

While one Associated Press story rightly referenced the ACT for America denial, another story run in Britain's Daily Mail and written by the Associated Press's Michael Nam left out any mention of the statement.

"An unidentified woman set up the display in the West Virginia state capitol for ACT for America, an organization known for strong anti-Muslim rhetoric and listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center," Nam reported in captions for the Daily Mail. "The ACT for America table also displayed pamphlets making additional extreme comments about Muslims."

The story also included photos of Brigitte Gabriel, the organization's founder. The caption reported that Gabriel "has been continually attacking Rep. Omar on Twitter."

The text of the article only mentioned the group once, but included the "hate group" designation and made no suggestion that ACT for America had denounced the display. "The group whose name appeared on a sign next to the display, ACT for America, has been designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center," Nam wrote.

Yahoo News ran an article first written for GQ magazine by Luke Darby. "The poster was reportedly supplied bu [sic] the anti-Muslim hate group ACT for America, and according to NPR, the responses from state Republicans ranged from condemnation to citation of the First Amendment," Darby wrote.

Time magazine's Tara Law reported that the display was "set up by the anti-Muslim group WV ACT for America." Not only did Tara Law connect the poster to the group, but she slammed ACT for America as "anti-Muslim," without any reference to the source of that smear, the SPLC.

Where did Luke Darby and Tara Law get the idea that ACT for America "supplied" or "set up" the poster? Jake Jarvis, with the local outlet WV News, "reported" exactly that.

"The signs and pamphlets were part of a display of a local affiliate of a group called ACT for America," Jarvis wrote. "The group has been labeled the largest the nation’s [sic] anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, which regularly tracks extremist and hate groups across the country."

Jarvis went on to describe the poster as part of an "ACT for America display."

"The Muslim congresswoman referred to in the ACT for America display is Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar, who came to the United States as a refugee from Somalia. Omar is one of the first two Muslims to be elected to Congress, and she is the first member to wear a hijab on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives," the local reporter wrote.

While it may be defensible to report that a local chapter of ACT for America had erected the display — Brenda Arthur was wearing a t-shirt with the organization's logo, and one of her posters also included the logo rather prominently — these news outlets should have made clear that ACT for America did not endorse or erect the poster.

Some of the articles — like Luke Darby's GQ article — came one day after ACT for America's statement. Michael Nam's Daily Mail article was published on March 4, two days after the statement.

The poster connecting Ilhan Omar to the 9/11 attacks is both insulting and horrific. Even Americans who rightly oppose Ilhan Omar as a member of Congress should condemn it because there is no connection between the congresswoman and the terrorist attacks except her Muslim faith.

While many branches of Islam support terrorism, Ilhan Omar has not endorsed and was not responsible for the 9/11 attacks. Critics are right to oppose government enforcement of sharia and to warn against radical Islamic terrorists, but many Muslims support peace and American freedoms. The Somali community in Minnesota from which Omar comes does tend to yield Islamic State (ISIS) radicals, but none of this justifies connecting Omar to 9/11.

Most importantly, there are many good reasons to attack Omar, from her comparing Israel to Iran to her effort to win leniency for men who attempted to join ISIS. Jumping to the extreme of linking Omar to 9/11 only delegitimizes more accurate critiques.

If ACT for America as a national organization did indeed support the poster, the SPLC's "anti-Muslim hate group" label might have some merit. Indeed, the organization's rush to denounce the poster only confirms what many conservatives already know — that the SPLC's labels are often unjustified smears against conservative and Christian organizations.

These news outlets need to stop uncritically citing the SPLC's label, and they need to make it clear that ACT for America did not endorse this poster.

Follow Tyler O'Neil, the author of this article, on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.