WASHINGTON -- Republican Party leaders in Illinois apologized over the weekend for a Facebook post that smeared the four congresswomen at the center of the President Donald Trump's recent verbal attacks as the "Jihad Squad."
An image shared by the Republican County Chairmen's Association of Illinois Friday depicts the first-term lawmakers, all women of color, as gun-toting vigilantes in a mock movie poster. In doctored images, Rep. Ayanna S. Pressley aims a handgun at the viewer while Rep. Rashida Tlaib contorts her face in a scream. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez wears a red dress that resembles a Bond movie costume, an explosion burning at her feet. Rep. Ilhan Omar hovers over the trio, a firearm at her side.
"POLITICAL JIHAD IS THEIR GAME," the tagline reads next to the association's logo.
The state Republican group deleted the image after facing questions from the Chicago Tribune, which first reported the story. The organization apologized in a statement Sunday night.
"I condemn this unauthorized posting and it has been deleted. I am sorry if anyone who saw the image was offended by the contents," Mark Shaw, president of the chairmen's association, said in a statement.
The association plans to review its "multi-stage" internal review process for the page's content, he said.
The chairman of the Illinois Republican Party, Tim Schneider, acknowledged the social media post broadcast "bigoted rhetoric" and issued a statement to the Tribune condemning it.
"The recent social media post coming from the IRCCA does not reflect my values or the Illinois Republican Party's values," Schneider said. "I urge everyone who opposes them to keep the rhetoric focused on policy and ideology."
Scorn for post comes amid fallout from Trump's racist call for four first-term progressive members of Congress to "go back" to "the crime infested countries from which they came," which Republicans in the House voted against condemning last week.
The "Jihad Squad" attacks echoes a conspiracy theory that has been amplified by Trump: The president has repeatedly accused Omar of sympathizing with terrorists, a gross distortion of a 2013 interview and Islamophobic rhetoric used to tar other high-profile Muslim politicians.
As Republicans have begun formulating their strategy for the 2020 elections, they have already frequently invoked the names and images of the four freshman lawmakers.
GOP operatives expect the Democratic congresswomen will remain a key focus of Trump's reelection strategy, at least until the party formally picks a presidential nominee next summer. In down-ballot races, the women have already been the focus of television ads and campaigns by the National Republican Congressional Campaign Committee and some Republican candidates.
Republicans in Congress scrambled last week to reframe the president's opposition to the "Squad" as a statement about their policy agenda, including the Green New Deal, a plan to rapidly decarbonize the economy, and "Medicare for All," which would scrap private insurance companies, not their non-white ancestry.
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