Washington – The Rev. Jesse Jackson said Monday that President Donald Trump should stop attacking U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, and that he is worried that the president's focus on the Democratic congresswoman from Minnesota is putting her in danger.
"She should not be attacked and vilified by the president for taking the positions she takes," Jackson said in a phone interview. "It's not fair but it's also very dangerous."
Jackson's office contacted the Star Tribune to say he had thoughts on Trump and Omar that he wanted to share. A modern civil rights icon and one-time Democratic candidate for president, Jackson drew a parallel with Martin Luther King, whom he worked alongside in the 1960s in pursuit of equal rights for black Americans
"The government defamed Dr. King. And made him an object of hate. And he was killed," Jackson said. "For marching, he was vilified by the government. He was made an object of fear."
Members of King's family and others who were close to him have long believed that his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee in 1968 stemmed from a conspiracy by the U.S. government.
Of Trump, Jackson said: "He's making people afraid of her, and it's going to produce violence. Her safety is at stake."
The White House declined to comment on Jackson's remarks. Omar's office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In recent weeks, Trump has repeatedly criticized Omar and three other Democratic congresswomen of color in public remarks and on Twitter. He has particularly singled out Omar, asserting falsely that she has said she hates the United States and loves al-Qaida. He has also called her anti-Semitic; Omar has apologized for several remarks she made earlier this year that were condemned by many Jewish groups and leaders for playing on anti-Semitic tropes.
Last week at a political rally in North Carolina, Trump's attacks on Omar prompted the crowd to start chanting "send her back." Omar was born in Somalia and became an American citizen in 2000.
Trump disavowed the chants the day after the rally amid rebukes from some prominent Republicans. But he has since called those in the audience "incredible patriots."
Jackson is founder and president of the Chicago-based Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, a group that works to further civil rights and social justice. He said he believes Trump is intentionally employing racist appeals and cracking down on immigrants and refugees in order to "distract, divide and conquer" the American people.
"It gives him a way to gain a kind of momentum he thinks he needs," Jackson said. He also said he believes that more of Omar's colleagues in Congress should be vocal in defense of her and the three other congresswomen whom Trump has attacked.