Fact-Checkers Decline to Revisit Ilhan Omar Marriage Question

Now-deleted Omar tweet revealed father's family name is same as former husband's

Ilhan Omar / Getty Images
September 20, 2019

Media fact-checkers are choosing to ignore a now-deleted social media post by Democratic congresswoman Ilhan Omar (Minn.) that suggests her father has the same family name as her former husband, who many suspect is also her brother.

The 2013 post by Omar wishing a Happy Father's Day to a man named "Nur Said" resurfaced late Monday night when Imam Mohamad Tawhidi pointed to it as further evidence that Omar's previous husband, Ahmed Nur Said Elmi, was her brother. In Somali culture, a man's middle name is typically the name of his father. Omar deleted the tweet revealing her father's name on Tuesday at 5:23 a.m., according to ProPublica's tracker of deleted tweets.

The accusation that Omar married her brother has plagued her since she first ran for public office in 2016, and she has provided little to no information to refute it aside from suggesting the accusations themselves are evidence of anti-Muslim bigotry. Media outlets such as CNN and the Daily Beast, neither of which received any cooperation from Omar, have nonetheless stepped in to label the accusation a "disgusting lie" and "baseless smear."

But neither appears ready to reevaluate their conclusions in light of Omar’s recently resurfaced—and deleted—tweet.

Asked about the new information, the Daily Beast's Will Sommer, who labeled the accusation a "baseless smear" earlier this summer, questioned whether the deleted post actually contained new information.

"So this claim that Omar's father is named Nur Said Elmi Mohamed has been around since at least Oct 2018," Sommer wrote in an email, pointing to a report from PJ Media's David Steinberg, who used old Minnesota public school records to determine Omar's father's name. "I haven't seen any official government documents or anything, so I don't know if that's actually his full name, but this has circulated on the right for at least a year."

Omar's post, however, confirmed Steinberg's findings. Sommer himself had previously rejected Steinberg's report, complaining that it was based on anonymous sources.

"A Steinberg story scrutinizing Elmi’s high school record has been much praised on the right," he wrote in his July piece in which Steinberg is portrayed as a conspiracy theorist. "But his claim that Elmi and Omar have the same father rests entirely on unnamed people."

Sommer also said he doesn't view Omar's decision to delete the tweet as incriminatory.

"Obviously, if they actually thought this deleted tweet proved Elmi is Omar's brother, they'd write something saying exactly that—rather than just keeping up the usual insinuations that the entire Omar smear has come to rely on," Sommer said. "Instead, I think the explanation for why Omar deleted the tweet is likely simpler: she's repeatedly subjected to death threats, and a Father's Day tweet to her father had become the object of fevered, undeserved speculation."

Sommer is the author of the Daily Beast’s "Right Richter" newsletter, which says it gives readers the ability to "see what’s happening with the extreme Right Wing from the safety of your inbox." He wrote the same newsletter focused on monitoring the right prior to joining the Daily Beast last year.

It has been difficult to confirm or refute the allegation that Omar married her brother. She has denied the allegation but has so far refused to provide the names of her family members and has denied requests for further information from the media.

Reporters attempting to get to the bottom of the question for Minnesota's Star-Tribune had their requests for information denied by Omar, and were therefore unable to come to any conclusion at all.

"What's really made it hard is that she's been unwilling to address any of these questions," said Star-Tribune editor Kevin Diaz, who believes Omar could easily put the question to rest if she wanted to.

"We've asked her these questions, and also asked her to make her father available," Diaz said. "Her family could put this to rest easily. No one will talk to us."

The fact-checking team at the New York Times, which previously said "no proof has emerged substantiating" the claim, did not respond to an inquiry on the new information and whether the outlet would revisit the question. CNN's Daniel Dale, who regularly fact-checks claims made by President Donald Trump such as this one, also did not respond to an email.

Omar said through a spokesman that she deleted the tweet in question because she and her family are subject to death threats, and that the name Nur Said is a nickname for her father rather than a family name.

"Rep. Omar and her family are subject to constant threats," the statement said. "When people write vile things on posts about people she loves—including posting disturbing doctored images of her father—she takes them down."

Omar and her current husband are reportedly now separated. She told a local news outlet she has "no desire to discuss" her personal life.

Published under: Ilhan Omar