Anti-Muslim groups dropped in number for the third year in a row. Thirty-nine groups were documented in 2022, down from 50 in 2021. While chapters have dropped, anti-Muslim groups remain an organized presence in the United States, with many of the core groups making up the network remaining active.
The dip was largely due to no verifiable activity from nine chapters of the anti-Muslim hate group ACT for America. Activity among ACT chapters has been waning for the last few years due to various factors, including shifting priorities and structure at the national ACT organization. In a 2020 email from the national organization, an ACT staffer said they were shifting away from a chapter-based model to an activism one. While the organization still gives the option to start a chapter on its website, there doesn’t appear to be the same amount of participation as prior years. Additionally, as previously reported by SPLC, some chapters have taken umbrage with the national organization’s leadership style, resulting in members leaving, sometimes to start their own group.
While chapter activity wavered, the national ACT for America group remained active. On top of the group’s regular Islamophobia, they drummed up fear about a so-called “invasion” at the U.S. southern border, stoked fears of alleged voter fraud leading up the midterm elections and sounded the alarm about inclusive education in public schools.
Lack of activity among some other groups also factored into the decline. The Ohio-based group Red-Green Axis Exposed announced they were calling it quits at the end of 2021. American Freedom Alliance was re-categorized to General Hate because on top of pushing anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant rhetoric, they veered into other extremist conspiracy theories like Agenda 21, “The Great Reset,” election denialism, and fears of a “Globalist” agenda, among others. There was no discernable activity from the Bureau of Islamic Relations, a group which spoofed the name of a prominent Muslim civil rights organization.
Anti-Muslim groups continued to spread their hateful ideology while remaining a closely connected network. The Center for Security Policy published a new book by their Senior Fellow, Robert Spencer, who also runs the hate group Jihad Watch.
Also in 2022, anti-Muslim groups continued expanding their message beyond sole Islamophobia to other alarmist issues among the hard right. This resulted in these groups collaborating with other outfits and organizations to push their message.
ACT’s leader, Brigitte Gabriel, attended the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform’s annual radio and networking event, where she did interviews about “controlling immigration” and was pictured with lawmakers in attendance, including U.S. Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia and Jim Jordan of Ohio.
Former acting ICE Director Tom Homan collaborated with The United West, a long-established anti-Muslim hate group, on a new project fearmongering about the southern border. In September 2022, the right-wing youth organization Turning Point USA partnered with former FBI agent turned anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist John Guandolo to release a commentary video steeped in Islamophobic content, including calling on governors to turn away planes carrying Afghan refugees. The David Horowitz Freedom Center held its annual Restoration Weekend in Phoenix, bringing together various anti-Muslim and hard right figures as well as elected officials.
The organized anti-Muslim movement will surely continue its efforts to vilify Muslims and the religion of Islam. Anti-Muslim groups continued to criticize the Combating International Islamophobia Act introduced into Congress in 2021. Anti-Muslim groups also expanded their fearmongering to other issues like the southern border, alleged voter fraud and inclusive education, which is likely to continue. This opens avenues for anti-Muslim groups to form alliances with other issue-focused groups, as was witnessed in 2022, and is sure to carry over into the upcoming year.
Anti-Muslim hate groups spread disinformation, prejudice and conspiracy theories about Muslims and Islam. Despite Islam having a long and storied history in the United States, these groups portray those who worship Islam as fundamentally alien and a foreign threat. Members of hate groups seek to attach Muslims to a set of inherent negative traits. This includes denigrating Muslims and their faith as being monolithic, irrational, intolerant and a violent threat to American society. This rhetoric is often reinforced by hard-right politicians who deploy Islamophobia to score political points among their base. Propaganda from anti-Muslim hate groups can create a climate in society where bullying, intimidation, and even hate crimes directed at Muslims communities can occur.
These groups typically hold conspiratorial views and frame Islam as a foreign threat to the U.S. This includes presenting Islam as not only a potential violent threat, but also a cultural one. Anti-Muslim groups accuse Muslims of being a fifth column intent on undermining and eventually replacing American democracy and Western civilization with Islamic despotism, a conspiracy theory known as “civilization jihad.”
Anti-Muslim groups engage in a variety of activities to spread hate, though groups can vary in approaches and tactics. Such activities may include publishing Islamophobic content, holding large-scale demonstrations and conferences as well as calls to halt Muslim immigration and refugee resettlement programs. These groups may also challenge the construction or expansion of mosques, make derogatory statements about Muslim political candidates and elected officials and work to pass anti-Muslim legislation.
Many of the anti-Muslim groups form a constellation of interconnected, tight-knit organizations. These groups are known to share staff, board members and sources of funding. They also stay consistent and disciplined in their messaging and conspiracy theories about Islam.
These groups vary in scope and role. Some, like Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy, serve as think tanks churning out reports raising the specter of Sharia law. Sharia is a set of guiding religious principles that anti-Muslim hate groups try to twist into something insidious to sow fear of Islam. The David Horowitz Freedom Center based out of Sherman Oaks, California, o serves as a think tank as well an umbrella organization for other Islamophobic projects such as Robert Spencer’s hate blogsite Jihad Watch and FrontPage Magazine, a web publication featuring the writings of anti-Muslim and far-right authors.
ACT for America seeks to have a presence in the Beltway, pushing Islamophobic and nativism legislation while also operating a network of semi-autonomous chapters throughout the country. Islamophobic figures such as David Yerushalmi of the American Freedom Law Center have a hand in crafting anti-Muslim legislation and provide legal counsel to other anti-Muslim groups. Other state and city-based hate groups take on local opposition campaigns like derailing refugee resettlement efforts and working to pass anti-Sharia legislation.
Islamophobia continues to be intertwined with U.S. politics and is often deployed by political candidates to gain votes. Anti-Muslim groups have cultivated allies in Congress and among other political networks. Elected officials such as Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Scott Perry of Pennsylvania among others, remain staunch allies to these groups, appearing at events they organize.
Anti-Muslim groups and figures are sometimes given platforms at such large-scale political events as the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) as well as at smaller events hosted by local groups. Anti-Muslim propagandists Brigitte Gabriel and Frank Gaffney are reported members of the Council for National Policy, a secretive right-wing coalition aimed at influencing policy. Gaffney, Gabriel, and other figures making up the anti-Muslim network also enjoy clout among right-wing and conservative news media.
Each year, the David Horowitz Freedom Center holds its annual Restoration Weekend that brings together a mix of anti-Muslim figures, conservative commentators and elected officials. The 2022 event took place at the Arizona Biltmore Resort after The Breakers hotel in Palm Beach, Florida, where the conference was for many years prior, canceled its contract with Horowitz’s group in 2021. During the event, outgoing congressman and longtime Horowitz ally Louie Gohmert was awarded the group’s Annie Taylor Award. Arizona Rep. Andy Biggs also spoke at the event and used his time to warn of an “invasion” happening at the southern border.
Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bigotry are nothing new in the United States. But prior to Sept. 11, 2001, there was not an organized movement dedicated to spreading Islamophobia as there was for other hate movements. This changed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, when a cottage industry of disinformation peddlers was built virtually from the ground up. Led by activists such as Pamela Geller, Robert Spencer and Brigitte Gabriel, whose goal was to poison any debate about the religion of Islam and depict Muslims as fundamentally at odds with America.
In the years after 9/11, these groups and figures were able to capture an audience racked with fear and uncertainty to spread their anti-Muslim bias. They flourished and were influential amid the backdrop of America’s “War on Terror,” bias Countering Violent Extremism programs and other governmental efforts to criminalize and spy on Muslim communities.
It was not until the Obama administration that the movement began to crystallize as a sophisticated network of groups and activists. Conspiracy theories swirled alleging former President Barack Obama was a practicing Muslim and in the pocket of the Muslim Brotherhood, a favorite bogeyman among anti-Muslim groups. In 2010, such anti-Muslim figures as Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer flexed their influence when they showed up in opposition to the proposed site of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, dubbing it the “Ground Zero Mosque.”
Former president Donald Trump was later able to tap into the bigotry laid by the anti-Muslim network and make Islamophobia a cornerstone of his administration. Anti-Muslim hate groups had unprecedented access to the White House under Trump. Figures associated with hate groups received jobs in Trump’s administration in policy areas like immigration and national security. Some hate figures also served as unofficial advisers and bragged about having a line to the president through some of his cabinet and staff. Trump implemented policies long championed by anti-Muslim groups such as the Muslim ban and a low cap on refugees. President Joe Biden’s election left anti-Muslim groups without their top political ally. But Islamophobia preceded Trump and continues to be prevalent since he left office.
2022 anti-Muslim hate groups
ACT for America
Los Angeles, California
Mission Viejo, California
San Fernando Valley, California
San Gabriel Valley, California
Santa Clarita, California
Washington, District of Columbia*
Des Plaines, Illinois
Hauppauge, New York
American Freedom Defense Initiative
New York, New York
American Freedom Law Center
Ann Arbor, Michigan
Center for Security Policy
Washington, District of Columbia
Citizens for National Security
Lake Worth, Florida
Counter Jihad Coalition
Santa Monica, California
Cultures In Context Incorporated/Turning Point Project
Ave Maria, Florida
David Horowitz Freedom Center
Sherman Oaks, California
Florida Family Association
Fortress of Faith
Foundation for Advocating Christian Truth/Acts17Apologetics
Bronx, New York
Glasov Gang Productions
Los Angeles, California
Global and Theological Trends
San Antonio, Texas
Global Faith Institute
Manchester, New Hampshire
Last Chance Patriots
Live Up to Freedom
Radio Jihad/Global Patriot Radio
Refugee Resettlement Watch
The Straight Way of Grace Ministry
Marble Hill, Missouri
The United West
Lake Worth Beach, Florida
Truth in Love Project
Truth in Textbooks
Understanding the Threat