Anti-Muslim bigotry has no place in politics
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Next week [Sept. 9], Republican presidential candidates Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpDems win from coast to coast Falwell after Gillespie loss: 'DC should annex' Northern Virginia Dems see gains in Virginia's House of Delegates MORE and Sen. Ted CruzRafael (Ted) Edward CruzOvernight Finance: GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few no votes | Highlights from day two of markup | House votes to overturn joint-employer rule | Senate panel approves North Korean banking sanctions GOP criticism of tax bill grows, but few ready to vote against it Anti-gay marriage county clerk Kim Davis to seek reelection in Kentucky MORE (Texas) will be taking the stage in Washington, D.C., at a rally sponsored by the Center for Security Policy. If this doesn’t concern you, it should. The Center for Security Policy is an extremist think tank headed by anti-Muslim conspiracist Frank Gaffney, a one-time D.C. insider. One of his regular conspiracy theories is that American Muslims are using a tactic he calls “stealth jihad” to infiltrate the U.S. government, and he’s said everyone from Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonGOP rushes to cut ties to Moore Papadopoulos was in regular contact with Stephen Miller, helped edit Trump speech: report Bannon jokes Clinton got her ‘ass kicked’ in 2016 election MORE to Grover Norquist is secretly supporting this agenda.

Unfortunately, Cruz and Trump’s association with this kind of extremism fits right in with the xenophobic and bigoted rhetoric that has already been characteristic of this early campaign season. But these presidential hopefuls aren’t the only ones palling around with anti-Muslim activists. At the same time Trump and Cruz are sharing the stage with Gaffney, across town at least 14 members of Congress are scheduled to speak at the annual national conference of the anti-Muslim advocacy organization ACT! for America.

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ACT!’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, is a self-described "terrorism analyst" known for her inflammatory statements conflating all Muslims with violent extremists. She, like Gaffney, has made a living spewing anti-Muslim rhetoric and ideas, claiming that "every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim" and that the "peaceful majority" of Muslims are "irrelevant." The New York Times Magazine is among those who call her a "radical Islamophobe," a designation she has earned over and over, as illustrated by this statement she made during a 2007 Defense Department course on Islam:

"If a Muslim who has — who is — a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day — this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America."

Gaffney and Gabriel's flippant proclamations about Muslims—and Trump, Cruz and other elected officials’ tacit endorsements of them—are not only false, they are dangerous. They have led to policy and law enforcement practices that unfairly target American Muslim citizens and aim to discriminate and profile. These comments also come at a time when hate crimes against American Muslims are five times more common than before Sept. 11, 2001. And, earlier this year the FBI confirmed to law enforcement agents that militia extremists had expanded their targets to include American Muslims and Islamic institutions.

ACT! for America, which boasts more than 800 chapters and 279,000 members, says it wants to stop a "creeping" threat that exists from the mere presence of Muslims in American society and from the "political correctness" that makes room for them. That’s the same message that’s expected to be carried into ACT!'s annual National Conference and Legislative Briefing on Capitol Hill.

This year’s keynote speaker is Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who has drawn wide criticism because of her calls for a war against Islam to be led by the West. Like Gabriel, Ali bases her argument on painful personal experiences, which she says drive her to help Muslims by reforming their religion. But, as journalist Rula Jebreal notes, it is hard to accept that Ali is sincere when she says the only way to reform Islam is to “crush” it.

Participants this year will also hear from Ann Corcoran, an activist who has suggested that the worldwide refugee effort is fueling a Muslim master plan to “dominate all the lands in the world.” Muslims are doing this, she says, “with the help and support of the U.N., the U.S. State Department and Christian and Jewish groups assigned to seed them throughout the country.” Corcoran’s absurd claims and calls to shut down the U.S. program to accept refugees fly in the face of the United States’ longstanding commitment to provide a safe haven for those who desperately need it.

Many of the public officials who are attending the ACT! for America conference or participating in the Center for Security Policy rally are the same people who have made statements strongly in support of “religious freedom” and against “religious persecution” abroad, and yet are embracing organizations whose purpose is to ostracize people based on their religion.

ACT!’s brand of bigotry has no place in politics and there is no excuse for politicians like Trump, Cruz, or any member of Congress who amplify it. It is time to hold our elected leaders—and those vying to lead us—to a higher standard.

Johnson is executive director for the Center for New Community. Cohen is the president of the Southern Poverty Law Center.