DFL senator says his GOP colleagues look like ‘ethnically violent extremists’

Sen. Omar Fateh's comments followed nearly seven hours of debate over a "Driver's Licenses for All" bill that passed on the Senate floor.

Sen. Omar Fateh delivered those comments at the tail end of a nearly seven-hour discussion over the contentious “Driver’s Licenses for All” bill. (Minnesota Senate Media/YouTube)

A DFL state senator from Minneapolis intimated on the Senate floor earlier this week that his Republican colleagues seated in the front row of the chamber look like “racially violent extremists” who “advocate for the superiority of the white race.”

Sen. Omar Fateh delivered those comments at the tail end of a nearly seven-hour discussion over the contentious “Driver’s Licenses for All” bill that passed 34-31 in the Senate on Tuesday evening — a discussion that, at times, turned into a heated exchange among some members from both sides of the political aisle.

HF4/SF27 will allow immigrants in Minnesota without federal authorization to live or work in America to apply for state driver’s licenses. Republicans have repeatedly said the bill doesn’t do enough to prevent unauthorized immigrants from using their IDs to vote or sign up for benefits. The House passed the bill last month. Gov. Tim Walz said on Wednesday he’ll sign the bill once it reaches his desk.

During Senate floor discussion that included passionate speeches and debate among several members, Fateh took exception to comments made by Sen. Glenn Gruenhagen, R-Glencoe, who alluded to the bill as serving to incentivize more people to enter the country illegally, which he called a public safety risk to those immigrants themselves and the community at large.

Fateh then took a moment to thank bill author Sen. Zaynab Mohamed, DFL-Minneapolis, for her work before directing comments at Republican senators sitting in the front row of the chamber, whom Fateh accused of unfairly characterizing unauthorized immigrants as criminals.

Remarks challenged by Republican senator, embraced by DFL colleagues

“We heard them being called terrorists, we heard them being called drug dealers, we heard a lot of insults,” Fateh said. “We heard that they are a threat to our national security. And that’s a flat-out lie. You want to know who the real threat is, Madam President? I’ll give you a hint. They don’t look like our chief author. They don’t look like the folks up in the gallery. They don’t look like the folks out in the rotunda. They look like many of the members that sit in the front.”

Fateh continued, “And you don’t have to take my word for it. According to DHS, Madam President, the greatest domestic threat facing the United States comes from, quote, racially or ethnically violent extremists, specifically those who advocate for the superiority of the white race.”

Following those remarks, Sen. Nathan Wesenberg, R-Little Falls, whose seat on the Senate floor is in the front row, rose to criticize Fateh’s comments.

“I feel like I was just called a racist white man,” Wesenberg said. “That’s not appropriate. We should be getting along with each other. I was raised to treat people equally and to treat people with respect. And I don’t think we should be saying those things on the Senate chamber floor. I find that very disrespectful.”

“We didn’t call anyone terrorists,” Wesenberg said. “We said we were afraid that this (proposed legislation) could lead to that. We are not calling a group of people terrorists.”

Requests for comments from Sen. Fateh were not returned on Friday, but at least two of his DFL senate colleagues — Sen. Jen McEwen of Duluth and Sen. Erin Maye Quade of Apple Valley — defended Fateh via Twitter.

Senate President Pro Tem Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, was presiding over the debate. She declined to comment for this story. Republican caucus communications director Rachel Aplikowski said Senate Minority Leader Mark Johnson, R-East Grand Forks, has reached out to Majority Leader Kari Dziedzic, DFL-Minneapolis, but hasn’t heard back.

Police groups have backed the legislation and said it will make Minnesota’s roads safer. They argued that illegal immigrants already drive to work and school but do so without insurance or passing any written and on-the-road exams. But Republican senators have reiterated that the bill poses too many public safety risks and potential election integrity issues that could be fixed with amendments they offered but that DFL senators have rejected.


Hank Long

Hank Long is a journalism and communications professional whose writing career includes coverage of the Minnesota legislature, city and county governments and the commercial real estate industry. Hank received his undergraduate degree at the University of Minnesota, where he studied journalism, and his law degree at the University of St. Thomas. The Minnesota native lives in the Twin Cities with his wife and four children. His dream is to be around when the Vikings win the Super Bowl.