Top leaders of the Illinois Republican Party launched an effort at damage control Sunday after a social media post echoed President Donald Trump's criticism of four Democratic congresswoman and went further, referring to them in a movie-type poster of being a "jihad squad" and contending they believe any criticism is racist.
The post was made to the Illinois Republican County Chairmen's Association Facebook page on Friday night but gained publicity over the weekend. It displayed images of Democratic U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, and topped by a hijab-wearing Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. The four, all women of color, have been dubbed "the squad."
"Political jihad is their game," the Facebook post said. "If you don't agree with their socialist ideology, you're racist."
The post also displayed the logo of the association.
The four members of Congress have been at the center of Trump's social media posts for a week, after he initially told members of the group in a tweet "to go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came."
All four are citizens, and three of them were born in the United States.
Trump initially defended his tweet, then said it was not meant to be racist. He then traveled to a North Carolina rally, during which he criticized Omar as a crowd chanted, "send her back." A day later he disavowed those saying the chant, but the next day defended those who chanted as "patriots."
The Democratic-controlled U.S. House passed a resolution last week rebuking Trump's tweets, calling them "racist comments."
The Illinois' state Republican chairmen group's Facebook post was roundly criticized in comments, and as news of the posting spread, state GOP Chairman Tim Schneider, the handpicked chairman of former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner, acknowledged it represented "bigoted rhetoric."
"The recent social media post coming from the IRCCA does not reflect my values or the Illinois Republican Party's values," Schneider said in a statement. "My intense disagreement with the socialist policies and anti-Semitic language of these four congresswoman has absolutely nothing to do with their race or religion. I urge everyone who opposes them to keep the rhetoric focused on policy and ideology."
Mark Shaw, the Lake County GOP chairman who heads the state county chairmen's group, said the posting was "not authorized by me" and said he was "sorry if anyone who saw the image was offended by the contents."
Shaw said the post had been deleted, and he called it an "unfortunate distraction" from the ideological issues involving the four progressive congresswoman.
On Facebook, Shaw called the posting "unauthorized." Then he explained how the group has a "multistage, approval process for all social media posts on any of its social media properties." That process, he said, is being "reevaluated."
Shaw was named to head the county GOP chairmen's group and given the title of state Republican co-chairman in an attempt to heal the party and forestall a challenge to Schneider following Rauner's near defeat in his bid for renomination in the 2018 March primary against former state Rep. Jeanne Ives of Wheaton. Ives contended Rauner failed social conservatives by expanding abortion, transgender and immigrant rights.
Rauner went on to lose the general election to Democrat J.B. Pritzker, removing the biggest source of cash and loyalty to the state GOP. Neither Schneider nor Shaw addressed Trump's original tweets in their statements.
Democratic state Sen. Cristina Castro of Elgin said Sunday she was speaking with the American Muslim Council when she received word of the Facebook posting.
"We were talking about Islamophobia and creating a welcoming community in Illinois and there's this posting," Castro said. "What is the Illinois Republican County Chairmen's Association thinking?" she said. "They have become the party of Trump. They fan the flames. It's actually really racist rhetoric. You can disagree with people on their viewpoints, but with this, you are continuing to divide and fan the flames."
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