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North Dakota lawmaker in Facebook post calls U.S. Rep. Omar 'a terrorist'

North Dakota lawmaker in Facebook post calls U.S. Rep. Omar 'a terrorist'

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A prominent North Dakota state senator drew a rebuke from U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar and a Muslim civil rights group Monday for sharing a debunked photo on Facebook alleging Omar is a terrorist.

Sen. Oley Larsen, R-Minot, who is the interim president pro tempore of the Senate, shared the photo claimed to be of Omar "at a Al' Qaida training camp in Somalia." 

The Associated Press in August fact-checked the photo circulating on social media, finding it was taken at a military training camp in Mogadishu in 1978, four years before Omar was born.

Omar in a Twitter post called it "pure propaganda designed to stir up hate and violence coming from a GOP state rep."

Muslim Advocates issued a statement condemning Larsen.

“Sen. Larsen is spreading false, grossly anti-Muslim tropes that put a Muslim member of Congress who already regularly receives death threats in further danger," said Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for the national group. "When elected officials dehumanize American Muslims, it gives license to others to do the same, leading to more discrimination, more bigotry and more violence."

Omar, D-Minn., is a Muslim, Somali-born refugee elected to Congress in 2018. She has drawn attention for her controversial comments regarding Israel and been criticized as "anti-Semitic."

Larsen, a former teacher who now runs an insurance agency, appeared to have deleted the post by Monday afternoon, but in a later post he referred again to Omar as "a terrorist." He did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment.

Larsen's personal Facebook page contains other politically charged posts criticizing the Trump impeachment inquiry and sharing various political conspiracies.

He was reelected in 2018 to a third term. As interim president pro tempore, Larsen would preside over the Senate in the absence of the lieutenant governor during a special session of the Legislature.

North Dakota Republican Party Chairman Rick Berg did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment. Neither did Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, who has previously said lawmakers are responsible to their constituents.

"If they're doing things they shouldn't be doing, the constituents will let them know, either by vote or by messaging them someway," Wardner told the Tribune last summer.

Eight states have adopted legislative social media usage policies, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. North Dakota's Legislature has no rules or guidelines for lawmakers' use of social media. Other lawmakers have drawn attention this year for posts perceived as offensive.

Rep. Rick Becker, R-Bismarck, shared a Facebook meme comparing federal welfare to shower rape. Rep. Mary Adams, D-Grand Forks, shared Facebook memes comparing Adolf Hitler and President Donald Trump.

House Minority Leader Josh Boschee, D-Fargo, said lawmakers' social media posts perceived to be offensive could be an area for the state's new Ethics Commission to address, but Chairman Ron Goodman has said the commission won't get into social media rules or even every complaint brought forth.

Reach Jack Dura at 701-250-8225 or jack.dura@bismarcktribune.com.

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