(RNS) — It wasn’t an offhand remark.
It was U.S. Rep. Lauren Boebert, Republican of Colorado, in her beige stilettos, her black leggings and her “Guns don’t kill people, Alec Baldwin does” T-shirt, doing standup. The joke was that a fellow member of Congress could be a suicide bomber.
A Capitol policeman runs to the elevator, “threat all over his face,” begins the freshman congresswoman. The door closes and she looks to her left and it’s Ilhan Omar, the Minnesota congresswoman who is one of four Muslims to have served in the House.
“I said, ‘Well, she doesn’t have a backpack, we should be fine,'” Boebert cracks, to a round of laughter. “And I said, ‘Oh look, the jihad squad decided to show up for work today.’”
The video reminded me of the scene in the documentary “A Night at the Garden,” when Fritz Kuhn, head of the German American Bund, takes the podium at the huge “Pro American Rally” that took place in Madison Square Garden on Feb. 20, 1939.
“Ladies and gentlemen, fellow Americans, American patriots,” Kuhn begins in his thick German accent. “I’m sure I do not come before you tonight as a complete stranger. You all have heard of me, through the Jewish-controlled press, as a creature with horns (laughter), a cloven hoof (more laughter) and a long tail (sustained laughter).”
The current master of this performance art is, of course, Donald Trump. If you’ve ever watched — or, better yet, been to — a Trump rally, you’ll know that his stock in trade is making ugly fun of his enemies and rivals. It’s always easier to indulge in hatred when it’s served up as comedy.
When her routine became public, Boebert, despite her history of gun-toting provocation, was perhaps a little taken aback. She tweeted out one of those pseudo-apologies:
“I apologize to anyone in the Muslim community I offended with my comment about Rep. Omar. I have reached out to her office to speak with her directly. There are plenty of policy differences to focus on without this unnecessary distraction.”
Ah, yes, the unnecessary distraction of having someone post a video of your routine.
Omar responded by saying that the episode recounted by Boebert had never happened, and asked House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy to discipline her. “Saying I am a suicide bomber is no laughing matter,” she tweeted.
She did take Boebert’s phone call, but hung up when Boebert refused her request to apologize to her publicly.
As a public service, I’d like to offer how Boebert’s apology should have gone:
“It was inexcusable for me to try to get a few cheap laughs by pretending that Rep. Omar and several of my other fellow congresswomen are Muslim terrorists. I want to publicly apologize to her and to them, and to all American Muslims, who have every right to be offended by what I said.
“As someone who has been accused of having helped foment the Jan. 6 assault on the Capitol, I know how hurtful such accusations can be, even when made in jest. There was no terrified Capitol policeman running at the elevator, as if a member of Congress wearing a headscarf in obedience to her religious conscience represented some kind of physical threat to the great institution to which she was elected by the citizens of her state.
“Whatever our policy differences, our common commitment to the principles of representative democracy enshrined in the U.S. Constitution demand that we act toward each other with courtesy and respect. In the future I will do so.”
Instead, what Boebert said, in an Instagram video, was: “Make no mistake: I will continue to fearlessly put America first, never sympathizing with terrorists. Unfortunately, Ilhan can’t say the same thing, and our country is worse off for it.”
Well, at least Lauren doesn’t have a backpack.