Last week, one of the nation’s leading anti-Muslim organizations descended on Washington for its annual conference – a gathering that demonstrates just how far xenophobic extremists have infiltrated the mainstream.
The two-day conference by ACT for America on Capitol Hill featured “a legislative briefing” held at a U.S. Capitol building auditorium where various members of Congress discussed refugee issues and other topics related to national security.
It’s a remarkable feat for a group whose founder, Brigitte Gabriel, has claimed that a “practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.” She has even said, “Every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim.”
The most troubling event at the conference was an address by retired Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn. Flynn, who was recently brought on by ACT for America as an adviser on its board of directors, is not just any speaker. He’s also one of Donald TrumpDonald TrumpJudd Gregg: Trump gets his sea legs Week ahead: US raises pressure on WikiLeaks Trump's Hollywood Walk of Fame star defaced MORE’s national security advisers.
During a recent stop in Dallas on his book tour, Flynn likened Islam to “a cancer” and said that followers of the religion want to “get into the bloodstream of the opposition” and attack nations such as the United States. This is a man who may be advising the next president of the United States.
There should be no doubt that ACT for America has an extreme agenda. And it has changed the national discourse for the worse, thanks in part to elected officials and other notable figures providing the group a veneer of legitimacy and amplifying its demonizing rhetoric.
Other speakers at this year’s event included Stephen Coughlin, a senior fellow at the anti-Muslim think tank Center for Security Policy. Coughlin claims that “Islamic law obligates Muslims to use violence in the name of spreading or defending the faith.” Another speaker, national security “analyst” Erick Stakelbeck, has promoted the conspiracy theory that Muslims in America are engaged in “stealth” jihad to overthrow the U.S. government.
Elected officials must stop giving ACT for America a platform to promote hatred and bigotry that marginalizes – and even endangers – Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim. It’s irresponsible to participate in the mainstreaming of such extremism, especially when the atmosphere in this country is primed for anti-Muslim violence.
In 2015, the United States witnessed a new wave of hate crimes targeting Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim. Between May 2015 and March of this year, there were 174 reported incidents of anti-Muslim violence and vandalism. These incidents include 12 murders; 29 physical assaults; 50 threats against persons or institutions; 54 acts of vandalism or destruction of property; eight arsons and nine shootings or bombings, among other incidents, according to a report by the Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University.
These incidents took place against the backdrop of a presidential campaign filled with anti-Muslim rhetoric. It was the third major spike in hate crimes targeting Muslims and people perceived to be Muslim in the last 15 years.
The first spike occurred after the 9/11 attacks. The FBI reported a 1,600 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crime incidents in 2001 (481 incidents compared to the 28 incidents reported to the FBI in 2000). The second came in 2010 amid the vitriol over the so-called “ground-zero mosque” in New York City as well as the opposition to a new mosque Murfreesboro, Tenn. The Muslim community saw a 50 percent rise in hate crimes at that time, according to FBI statistics.
The potential for such violence is one reason why lawmakers from across the country have signed a pledge to “stand up against anti-Muslim bigotry, against xenophobia, against hatred, and against oppression.”
Their voices may be overshadowed by the bombast dominating today’s political discourse. But they are more relevant and necessary than ever. Other responsible politicians should follow their example and shun the anti-Muslim bigotry peddled by groups such as ACT for America, not embrace it.
Kalia Abiade is advocacy director for the Center for New Community. Heidi Beirich is director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Project.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.