Facebook Twitter Tumblr Close Skip to main content
A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Trump’s and Miller’s Attacks on ‘The Squad’

President Donald Trump and his top immigration adviser continue to criticize four progressive Democratic congresswomen known as “the squad,” but some of their claims twist the women’s words.

We’ve dealt with a couple of these assertions before, including a false claim that Rep. Ilhan Omar has expressed pride for al Qaeda. But Trump and senior adviser Stephen Miller have pointed to other instances in which they claim the lawmakers expressed anti-American or anti-Semitic remarks. Below, we present some of these claims and a fuller context of the comments made by the congresswomen.

The president sparked controversy with tweets on July 14 telling the four lawmakers — Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Ayanna Pressley and Ilhan Omar — to “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested [countries] from which they came.” 

The controversy continued when, during Trump’s extended criticism of Omar at a rally in North Carolina on July 17, audience members began chanting, “Send her back.” The next day, Trump said he was “not happy when I heard that chant.” He claimed that he tried to quell the chants by “speaking very quickly.” But the video shows he did not.

Since then, Trump has kept up his attacks, saying recently of the congresswomen, “they’re very bad for our country” and tweeting that they are “a very Racist group of troublemakers who are young, inexperienced, and not very smart.” Miller went on “Fox News Sunday” to defend the president’s words. The two continued, however, to back up their criticism with some claims that distort what the lawmakers actually said. In other cases, more context may be helpful to readers.

The ‘Garbage’ Quote

The claim: Ocasio-Cortez “call[s] our country and our people ‘garbage.'” — Trump, remarks at the White House, July 19
“She’s saying that America in her view right now is garbage.” — Miller, “Fox News Sunday,” July 21

What Ocasio-Cortez said: “But where we are is not a good thing. This idea of 10 percent better from garbage shouldn’t be what we settle for.” — Ocasio-Cortez, South by Southwest festival, March 9

The conversation was about “incrementalism,” and Ocasio-Cortez talked about the need “to take really bold stances” on behalf of “working people who were struggling,” with policies like Medicare for All, a Green New Deal and a $15 minimum wage. Those kinds of policies may sound “radical,” she said, but only because of “a slow erosion … away from what we’ve always been.”

“And I think the thing that is really hard for people to sometimes see, is that we are on this path of a slow erosion, and a slow, slow, slow move away from what we’ve always been,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “So when someone is talking about our core, it’s like, ‘Oh this is radical.’ But this isn’t radical, this is what we’ve always been. It’s just that now we’ve strayed so far away from what has really made us powerful and just and good and equitable and productive. And so, I think all of these things sound radical compared to where we are. But where we are is not a good thing. This idea of 10 percent better from garbage shouldn’t be what we settle for. It feels like moderate is not a stance, it’s just an attitude toward life of like, ‘meh.'”

On “Fox News Sunday,” host Chris Wallace questioned Trump’s characterization of Ocasio-Cortez’s use of the word “garbage.” “She didn’t say the country was garbage,” Wallace said. “She said some of the policies she opposes are garbage. … She said: This idea of 10 percent better from garbage shouldn’t be what we settle for. She’s talking about her proposal.”

Miller responded that it is “literally impossible to read the quote that way.”

“Her point is we’re starting at garbage, so I want to go a little better than garbage,” Miller said. “She’s saying that America in her view right now is garbage.”

It is certainly arguable that Ocasio-Cortez was saying that the starting point on some policies in the U.S. is garbage. But she did not say, as the president falsely claimed, that “our people” are “garbage.”

Anti-Semitism Claims

The claim: “They can’t talk about ‘evil Jews,’ which is what they say: ‘evil Jews.'” — Trump, July 19

What Omar said: “Israel has hypnotized the world, may Allah awaken the people and help them see the evil doings of Israel.” — via Twitter in November 2012. It has since been deleted.

To be clear, we could find no evidence that any of the four congresswomen have ever uttered the phrase “evil Jews.”

The president is likely referring to Omar’s November 2012 tweet above. At the time, Omar was a child-nutrition outreach coordinator for the Minnesota Department of Education.

In May 2018, while Omar was serving as a state senator in Minnesota, a conservative blogger resurfaced the tweet, and cited it as evidence that Omar is a “proud Jew hater.” Omar responded, via Twitter on May 31, 2018, saying, “Drawing attention to the apartheid Israeli regime is far from hating Jews.” She followed that tweet with another one that sarcastically read, “Well you know, if a Muslim says something negative about Israeli government, they must hate Jews. Didn’t you get that memo.”

When asked about the tweet in a CNN interview in January, Omar again defended it, saying, “I don’t know how my comments would be offensive to Jewish Americans. My comments precisely are addressing what was happening during the Gaza War and I’m clearly speaking about the way the Israeli regime was conducting itself in that war.”

But after the CNN interview, Omar tweeted that she “heard from Jewish orgs. that my use of the word ‘Hypnotize’ and the ugly sentiment it holds was offensive.” As New York Times columnist Bari Weiss put it, the term played into the conspiracy theory of Jewish people as “the duplicitous manipulator.”

It’s now apparent to me that I spent lots of energy putting my 2012 tweet in context and little energy is disavowing the anti-semitic trope I unknowingly used, which is unfortunate and offensive,” Omar said via Twitter. She added that her comments about the Israeli government’s actions were not an attack on people of Jewish faith. “It is important to distinguish between criticizing a military action by a government and attacking a particular people of faith,” Omar said.

In an interview on “The Daily Show with Trevor Noah,” Omar reiterated that her criticism of actions by the Israeli government were not attacks on the Jewish faith.

Omar has drawn criticism for other, more recent, tweets she has posted about Israel. In February, she again came under fire for a tweet in which she responded to a report that House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy was threatening to punish Omar and Tlaib for their criticism of Israel. “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” Omar tweeted, drawing rebuke from Democratic and Republican leaders who said it drew on anti-Semitic narratives about money from wealthy Jewish people unduly influencing world politics.

Omar later released a statement saying she “unequivocally” apologized for the comment.

“Anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on the painful history of anti-Semitic tropes,” Omar said. “My intention is never to offend my constituents or Jewish Americans as a whole. We have to always be willing to step back and think through criticism, just as I expect people to hear me when others attack me for my identity. This is why I unequivocally apologize. At the same time, I reaffirm the problematic role of lobbyists in our politics, whether it be AIPAC, the NRA or the fossil fuel industry. It’s gone on too long and we must be willing to address it.”

Omar created further controversy, when, at a forum at a Washington, D.C., bookstore on Feb. 27, she said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is OK for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.”

In the wake of the backlash, the House passed a resolution on March 7 condemning anti-Semitism, Islamophobia, racism and other forms of bigotry. Although it did not name Omar, the resolution condemned “imputations of dual loyalty” and stated that, “accusing Jews of being more loyal to Israel or to the Jewish community than to the United States constitutes anti-Semitism because it suggests that Jewish citizens cannot be patriotic Americans and trusted neighbors, when Jews have loyally served our Nation every day since its founding.” Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, Pressley and Tlaib all voted for it.

Omar and Tlaib have been outspoken supporters of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which calls for individuals and companies to boycott and divest from Israel over its policies toward Palestinians. On July 19, Trump said Omar had that week “put in a sanctions bill against Israel, and other things beyond sanctions.” On July 16, Omar introduced a resolution “[a]ffirming that all Americans have the right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights at home and abroad, as protected by the First Amendment to the Constitution.” That resolution stands in contrast to a bipartisan resolution introduced in March “[o]pposing efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement targeting Israel.” The resolution in opposition to BDS has 346 cosponsors.

Clearly, Omar’s policies and comments about Israel have rankled some of her colleagues in Congress — both Republicans and Democrats. But neither she, nor any other member of “the squad,” has used the term “evil Jews.”

‘Acting More American’

The claim: “Saying, as Rep. Ocasio-Cortez did, that illegal immigrants are in effect more American than Americans is fundamentally an anti-American statement.” — Miller, “Fox News Sunday,” July 21

“Cortez said that illegal immigrants are more American than any person who seeks to keep them out ever will be.” — Trump, political rally in North Carolina, July 17

What Ocasio-Cortez said: “Every day, immigrants commit crimes at a far lower rate than native-born Americans. And not only that, but the women and children on that border that are trying to seek refuge and seek opportunity in the United States of America with nothing but the shirt on their backs are acting more American than any person who seeks to keep them out ever will be.” — interview on MSNBC, Jan. 8

Ocasio-Cortez made this statement in early January on “The Rachel Maddow Show” during the government shutdown, speaking after Trump gave a speech from the Oval Office on illegal immigration and his request for funding for a border wall. Ocasio-Cortez referred to “women and children on the border” seeking “refuge,” not all “illegal immigrants,” as Trump and Miller said. She also didn’t say they are “more American than Americans,” as Miller claimed, but rather they “are acting more American” than anyone “who seeks to keep them out.”

Later in the show, Ocasio-Cortez said these women and children were “acting more in an American tradition” than the president: “And again, those women and children trying to come here with nothing but the shirts on their back to create an opportunity and to provide for this nation are acting more in an American tradition than this president is right now,” she said.

Pressley on ‘Lived Experience’

The claim: “She thinks that people with the same skin color, all need to think the same. She said we don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be brown voices. We don’t need black faces, that don’t want to be a black voice.” — Trump, political rally in North Carolina, July 17

“You saw from Congresswoman Pressley this week that she was saying that if you are — if you’re brown, you have to speak like a brown person; if you’re black, you have to speak like a black person. That’s the kind of ideology the president is rejecting.” — Miller, “Fox News Sunday”

What Pressley said: “Yes, I do quote Shirley Chisholm a lot, who said, ‘if they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring your own folding chair.’ But I’ve amended that because I don’t want to bring a chair to an old table. This is the time to shake the table. This is the time to redefine that table. Because if you’re going to come to this table — and for all of you that have aspirations of running for office — for whatever lived experience and identity that you represent, if you are not prepared to come to that table and to represent that voice, don’t come. Because we don’t need any more brown faces that don’t want to be a brown voice. We don’t need black faces that don’t want to be a black voice. We don’t need Muslims that don’t want to be a Muslim voice. We don’t need queers that don’t want to be a queer voice. And if you’re worried about being marginalized and stereotyped, please don’t even show up. Because we need you to represent that voice.” — at the Netroots Nation convention, July 13

Pressley made those remarks at the annual Netroots Nation “conference for progressives” in Philadelphia earlier this month.

Some interpreted her comments to be a response to members of the Congressional Black Caucus, but she said, “This is completely false.”

She wrote on Twitter on July 13, “I was speaking to the collective impact of lifting up one’s lived experience, *whatever* that is, whatever your life walk. I was encouraging *everyone* to lean-in on & not run away fr lifting their unique lived experiences when in the corridors of power.”

She added, “In my riff, I cited #women #queer #disabled #black #brown et al I was empowering those in attendance that their voices matter & belong everywhere.”

“Congresswoman Pressley strongly believes that representation matters,” a spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Democrat told the Hill. “She has frequently stated that a diversity in thought and opinion leads to more innovative and enduring solutions. Without black voices or queer voices or Muslim voices or survivor voices or the like, we cannot achieve diversity in policy.”

Her office gave a similar explanation to the Washington Post.

‘Concentration Camps’

The claim: “And perhaps the most shocking of all, with the comments made by Rep. Ocasio-Cortez saying that our border agents are running concentration camps, and therefore they are Nazis, and therefore, everyone in that audience and you and me and everyone who supports our Border Patrol are by extension Nazis sympathizers.” — Miller, “Fox News Sunday”

What Ocasio-Cortez said: “The United States is running concentration camps on our Southern border and that is exactly what they are — they are concentration camps. … I want to talk to the people that are concerned enough with humanity to say that ‘never again’ means something. And that the fact that concentration camps are now an institutionalized practice in the ‘Home of the Free’ is extraordinarily disturbing and we need to do something about it.” – live on Instagram, June 17

Since addressing a live audience on Instagram, Ocasio-Cortez has continued to brand federal border detention facilities as “concentration camps,” which she has said is not a direct comparison to the camps used to kill millions of Jews during the Nazi occupation of Europe.

“We absolutely … have communicated with [Holocaust] survivors to indicate that this is not the same thing … as an extermination or a death camp,” she said in a June 27 interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper, who questioned Ocasio-Cortez about repeatedly using the term.

“And in fact, this is an opportunity for us to talk about how we learn from our history in order to prevent it from ever happening in any form, at any step, whether it’s a concentration camp or whether it is the final steps of that phase from happening,” she continued.

Ocasio-Cortez claimed that many in her congressional district and in the Jewish community had “rallied around this issue because when we talk about concentration camps, if we do not also talk about Japanese internment, if we don’t talk about the Boer War, if we don’t talk about the many times that this has happened in the history of humanity, then we also erase the suffering of those people.”

She also used the concentration camp description in a June 18 tweet in which she wrote, “This is not hyperbole. It is the conclusion of expert analysis.” Her tweet included a link to a June 13 Esquire magazine article that said experts and historians use a broader definition of concentration camps than the “Nazi death machines” that come to mind for most Americans.

“Not every concentration camp is a death camp — in fact, their primary purpose is rarely extermination, and never in the beginning,” Esquire said. “Often, much of the death and suffering is a result of insufficient resources, overcrowding, and deteriorating conditions.”

The magazine quoted, among others, Andrea Pitzer, author of “One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps,” who it said “contends we are operating such a system right now in response to a very real spike in arrivals at our southern border.”

Miller’s claim suggested that Ocasio-Cortez had said “therefore” border agents “are Nazis” and “everyone who supports our border patrol are by extension Nazis sympathizers.” But that’s his interpretation; she did not say that. 

Share the Facts
FactCheck.org rating logo FactCheck.org Rating:
Distorts the Facts
Ocasio-Cortez "call[s] our country and our people 'garbage.'"
Remarks at the White House
Friday, July 19, 2019
Share the Facts
FactCheck.org rating logo FactCheck.org Rating:
Reps. Omar, Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Pressley "can’t talk about 'evil Jews,' which is what they say: 'evil Jews.'"
Remarks at the White House
Friday, July 19, 2019