On Sunday evening, the discredited rightwing provocateurs of Project Veritas released what they touted as a bombshell investigation: Minnesota Representative Ilhan Omar, the group claimed, had spearheaded what the group described as a voter fraud scheme, one in which she had engaged in “illegal ballot harvesting.” This accusation was based on a lie—collecting and turning in people’s ballots was perfectly legal at the time—and ludicrous; Omar is hugely popular in her district and coasted to victory in her primary. But these facts are beside the point. Their goal, as always, was to generate yet another manufactured controversy, one based on deliberate lies and unverified “proof” submitted by unnamed people. I suspect Project Veritas chose Omar, in part, because they knew targeting her would go viral. “It’s almost time to break the internet,” Project Veritas crowed in a tweet.
And “break the internet” it did, or at least the rightwing internet, with everyone from the president himself to Don Jr. to Sean Hannity screaming for Omar to be investigated. In a sign of how widely the propaganda has spread, an edited video of Project Veritas’s “investigation” posted to the group’s Twitter account racked up more than four million views in less than a day.
It’s easy to see why this particular lie made people, primed for years by the far-fight to believe these sorts of accusations, practically froth at the mouth. The Project Veritas story combined many of the right’s favorite imaginary villains into one convenient package—the largely nonexistent threat of voter fraud and Omar, who has been the target of racist threats from those who see an unabashedly leftist Black woman in a hijab as the embodiment of the America they don’t want.
Since she won her race for Congress, Omar has had a target put on her back. Last year, one of Omar’s Republican challengers was banned from Twitter after she called for Omar to be hanged for treason. Donald Trump has used his bully pulpit to fan the flames of violence against Omar—after he tweeted out a misleadingly edited video of Omar earlier that year in April, the same month that a man in New York was arrested after he threatened to murder Omar, the number of death threats she received shot up. At the beginning of September, Congressional candidate Marjorie Taylor Greene burnished her brand by posting an image of her holding an assault rifle, superimposed over the photos of Omar as well as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib. Calling for violence against Omar has become an easy way for Republicans to signal who they are and what they stand for, a sort of terrifying shorthand that’s become normalized.
The danger of Project Veritas’s campaign targeting Omar is obvious. It’s even more dangerous now, in a time when the violent fantasies of the right are turning into real acts of violence. As Slate’s Christina Cauterucci put it recently, the rightwing glee over “owning the libs” is morphing into full-throated support of “killing the libs.” There’s no better example of the latter than the praise heaped upon Kyle Rittenhouse, the teenager who shot and killed two people and injured another at an anti-police brutality protest in Wisconsin this summer and has now become a martyr for those who see themselves as part of a heroic battle in defense of white America. “This applause for the killing of the right’s political nemeses is everywhere these days, popping up wherever the GOP can be found,” Cauterucci noted. “The quiet part,” she wrote, “is just getting louder.”
It’s no exaggeration to say that Project Veritas and all of the rightwing goons who have been breathlessly posting about this latest smear campaign are willfully and deliberately putting Omar’s life at risk. The endless pantomiming of violence, after all, has a built-in, unstated hope—that eventually, someone will take them up on their suggestion.