Democratic presidential contender Bernie SandersBernie SandersThe Trail 2016: Who is really winning? The evidence backs Trump: We have a duty to doubt election results A Good Year to Go Green (Party) MORE met with a diverse group of faith leaders at a Washington mosque , where he ripped Republican front-runner Donald TrumpDonald TrumpSenate Judiciary chairman calls for 'robust review' of AT&T-Time Warner deal Mosul campaign Trump called 'total disaster' making gains, officials say Trump launches nightly Facebook campaign news show MORE for what he called “xenophobic and racist” remarks toward Muslims.
"Now, at this moment, with all of the fears and anxieties people have of terrorism, there are demagogues out there, people like Donald Trump, who are once again attempting to divide us up in xenophobic and racist ways,” Sanders said during a roundtable discussion at The Nation’s Mosque in northwest Washington.
“They want us to believe the average Muslim is a terrorist and they want us to stop Muslims from coming here. And unbelievably, there are some, in defiance of the Constitution, who are talking about shutting down mosques like the one we’re in here.”
Sanders on Wednesday also drew a direct correlation between Trump’s rhetoric, and what he described as a spike in hate crimes directed at the Muslim community, noting that Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.), one of two Muslims in Congress, has been the subject of a death threat.
“I can say that since Trump’s incendiary comments, we have seen in this country, shamefully, an increase in hate speech and attacks on the Muslim American community, including death threats against Rep. André Carson,” Sanders said.
The Vermont senator spoke at an event billed as an “interfaith roundtable” with a diverse group of religious leaders from the area, including mosque President Talib Shareef; the Rev. Reginald Green, a Baptist minister; Chaplain Abdul Rasheed Muhammad, one of the first Islamic chaplains in the U.S. Army, and Rabbi Batya Steinlauf, a prominent local female rabbi.
Sanders was flanked by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) — the only other Muslim in Congress besides Carson — who ripped Trump as a “bigot” without using his name.
“At a time when bigots are leading in national polls, it takes a certain amount of courage to call us to our higher, nobler values,” Ellison said.
Trump’s remarks about banning Muslims from entering the country have been almost universally condemned by Democrats and Republicans alike.
But Democrats are drawing attention to other remarks made by Trump and some of his GOP rivals, arguing that many Republicans are unfairly demonizing ordinary Muslims in the wake of terror attacks by Islamic extremists in France and California.
Last week, former Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley, who is also a Democratic presidential contender, visited a mosque in Northern Virginia to show solidarity with Muslims.
Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has not done so this cycle, but in a national security speech , in which she outlined her plan to combat the terror threat from the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the former secretary of State also lashed out at the Republicans, accusing them of “bluster and bigotry” that “plays into the hands of terrorists.”
On Wednesday, Sanders nodded to the “enormous anxiety and fear in this country” spurred by the terror attacks, but urged Americans not to fall for message from those who seek to “prey on fears and anxiety.”
“There is deep concern, and justly so, of the threats of international terrorism,” Sanders said in his opening remarks.
“The question is, how do we best address these issues?” he continued. “Do we focus on bringing people together to find real solutions ... or do we allow demagogues to prey on the fears and anxieties so many are feeling and divide us up based on religion, nationality, the color of skin, sexual orientation or gender?...That’s the issue of the moment.”
Sanders argued earlier in the day on MSNBC that the Muslim extremists associated with ISIS and al Qaeda “are huge threats to this country” that “we’ve got to crush.” He called the rise of Muslim extremist groups “a struggle for the soul of Islam.”
Sanders called for an international coalition that included “Muslim troops on the ground supported by the United States,” as well as a partnership with private technology companies meant to block communication between “sleeper cells.”
He applauded President Obama for authorizing air strikes against ISIS in the region, but warned many Republicans “have not learned the lesson from the war in Iraq” and are eager to entangle the nation in another long war.
“No one is arguing that we should not be vigorous, but some of us believe that we do have a constitution and that freedom in this country is extremely important,” Sanders said.