President Donald Trump’s praise of a nearly all white crowd’s “good genes” came during a Friday night rally in Bemidji where he also sharpened attacks on refugees.
He opened his speech by calling the group “hardworking American patriots” and raising alarms that Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would flood the state with Somali refugees. Trump said near the end of his wide-ranging, nearly two-hour speech that the state was pioneered by men and women who were tough and strong and braved the wilderness and winters to build a better life.
“You have good genes, you know that, right?” Trump said. “You have good genes. A lot of it is about the genes, isn’t it, don’t you believe? The racehorse theory. You think we’re so different? You have good genes in Minnesota.”
Some heard echoes of language Nazis used to justify their genetic superiority and which led to the killing of 6 million Jews during the Holocaust.
“For Minnesota Jews, it’s chilling to hear this language, which echoes the ‘race science’ used by the Nazis to justify the extermination of so many of our ancestors,” Carin Mrotz, executive director of Jewish Community Action, said in an e-mail Monday. “But we recognize that the president is choosing this language intentionally, celebrating the supposed genetic superiority of European immigrants here in Minnesota on stolen Native land that has become home to immigrants from all over the world, to sow division and hatred between us.”
Beltrami County GOP Chairman Rich Siegert described criticisms of Trump’s “good genes” remarks as overreaching.
“I can’t buy into that one at all, and I’m not going to criticize Trump for saying that because I think it’s just a manner of speech,” he said. Siegert interprets the “good genes” remarks to mean “we’ve got people up here that have a good mentality and they’re thinking positively and they’re thinking the way [Trump is] thinking, that’s what it is.”
He said he’s sure there are a lot of good Somalis, and that there was no intent to say “that Somalis are bad people. They’ve got a different culture and different beliefs.”
At the rally, the president said that Biden would fill the state with refugees from dangerous countries, echoing previous attacks on U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., who came to the country as a refugee from Somalia.
“Are you having a good time with your refugees?” Trump asked. As a supporter shouted “Omar!” he continued, “Omar, that’s a beauty. How the hell did she win the election?”
Bemidji, a town of 15,000, is 80% white and surrounded by the Red Lake, Leech Lake and White Earth Indian reservations.
It is the seat of Beltrami County, where commissioners voted 3-2 in January against allowing refugee resettlement after the Trump administration instituted a policy giving local communities a say in whether to take new refugees. Beltrami County was one of the few localities in the nation to vote against permitting new refugees, though a federal judge soon blocked the White House from enforcing the executive order.
Trump has vowed to win Minnesota this year, something no other Republican presidential candidate has done since Richard Nixon. His campaign is counting on a strong showing in rural areas like Beltrami County, where Trump got 50.6% of the vote in 2016, beating Hillary Clinton by nearly 10 percentage points.
Trump has attributed his own success over the years to good genes, even well before he became president.
But Veena Iyer likened Trump’s comments in Bemidji to eugenics advocates, including Nazis and U.S. policymakers, who about 100 years ago built an immigration system based on racial quotas.
“This statement hearkens to eras both in our own country and in other nations’ histories that we do not as a nation, as a state, as a community want to go back to because they don’t reflect our values,” said Iyer, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota. “…At the end of the day, there’s no reason that we should have any leader in our country in whatever context rallying a group of people based on their ‘good genes.’ ”
Opponents of refugee resettlement in Beltrami County pointed to the financial burden as a top reason. They noted that the county must first take care of its own residents in need before tending to outsiders. While commissioners who voted against refugee resettlement did not return phone messages Monday, Commissioner Tim Sumner pointed to racism as a deeper reason.
“I think it goes further than financial,” said Sumner, who voted to allow refugee resettlement and is a member of the Red Lake Nation. “Let’s be honest, it’s racism is what it is. And for the president to come to Bemidji, which is surrounded by three tribal nations, to spew hatred and racism is uncalled for, especially when we’re a county and a community that’s still dealing with racism and still trying to move forward from this refugee [vote].”