They called themselves the "Crusaders" and referred to Somalis as "cockroaches." One was recorded saying he hoped their terrorist plot would "wake people up" and prompt other acts of violence against Muslims.
Last week, a jury in Kansas convicted the three militia members for planning to use vehicle bombs to destroy an entire apartment complex housing Somali immigrants.
Attorney General Jeff Sessions hailed the verdict, saying the men wanted to “kill people on the basis of their religion and national origin.”
But tomorrow, Sessions' Justice Department goes to the U.S. Supreme Court to defend a Trump administration policy – its Muslim travel ban – that is derived from the same kind of anti-Muslim xenophobia that inspired the Kansas plot and is likely to drive more of it.
The policy, of course, came as no surprise.
As a candidate, Donald Trump promised a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the country. As president, he appointed aides, including his first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, with close ties to Muslim-bashing extremist groups. He retweeted anti-Muslim propaganda. And into the White House he invited extremists like Brigitte Gabriel, who heads Act for America, the largest anti-Muslim hate group.
Trump’s words and actions have serious consequences.
In 2017, anti-Muslim hate groups rose for a third straight year, coinciding with Trump’s campaign and presidency. They increased from 101 chapters to 114 in 2017 – growth that comes after the groups tripled in number a year earlier.
Anti-Muslim hate crimes have also risen. The most recent FBI report showed a more than 19 increase in 2016. And a newly released study by the Council on American-Islamic Relations reports that they rose further in 2017.
They’re crimes like the one that occurred last May 25 on a Portland, Oregon, commuter train, where self-proclaimed white supremacist Jeremy Joseph Christian stabbed two men to death after they intervened while he was harassing two women with anti-Muslim epithets.
And they’re crimes like the one last August 5, when an improvised explosive device was thrown through the window of an imam’s office at a mosque in Bloomington, Minnesota, just before morning prayers.
But the FBI statistics tell only part of the story.
Justice Department studies demonstrate that the FBI statistics vastly understate the true extent of America’s hate crime problem.
And they don’t typically capture the harassment and intimidation that occurs on a daily basis.
In 2016, the SPLC documented 867 bias-related incidents in the 10 days following the presidential election, including incidents in which Muslim Americans were frequently characterized as terrorists. Many of the perpetrators invoked Trump’s name. In Nashville, a white man in a truck hurled racial slurs at a woman wearing a hijab while she waited for the bus with her son. In El Cajon, California, a business received a typed note that read: “Be prepared to go back to your country with ISIS … Donald Trump will kick all of your ass back where you came from.” At a hospital in Chicago, a woman reported that a man in the elevator looked at her, used a racial slur, and said, “Thank God Trump is now president. He’s gonna deport your terrorist ass.”
Muslim women wearing hijabs have been particularly vulnerable to threats and assault. A San Jose State University student, for example, was choked and fell when a man pulled her head scarf from behind in a parking garage.
Trump’s rhetoric has also had a severe impact on schoolchildren.
In After the Election, The Trump Effect, the SPLC’s Teaching Tolerance project detailed the findings of an online survey of more than 10,000 educators after the election.
Ninety percent reported that their school’s climate had been negatively affected, and 80 percent described heightened anxiety and concern among minority students worried about the impact of the election on their families. Muslim children were among the many others whose races, religions or ethnicities had been attacked by Trump during the campaign.
One high school teacher in Minnesota wrote, “The slurs have been written on assignments. ‘Send the Muslims back because they are responsible for 9/11.’” A middle school teacher in Washington reported that a student blurted out “I hate Muslims” while the class was learning about major religions. More than 2,500 teachers said they knew of fights, threats, assaults and other incidents that could be traced directly to election rhetoric.
Trump’s rhetoric and executive orders targeting Muslims have little to do with national security and everything to do with anti-Muslim bigotry. They continue to cause ripple effects that are felt by Muslims and others who are perceived to be Muslims.
By contrast, in the days following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, former President George W. Bush spoke out against the notion that all Muslims are violent terrorists. He called for tolerance.
“These acts of violence against innocents violate the fundamental tenets of the Islamic faith,” Bush told the nation. “And it’s important for my fellow Americans to understand that.”
Muslims, Bush said, “make an incredibly valuable contribution to our country. … And they need to be treated with respect. In our anger and emotion, our fellow Americans must treat each other with respect.”
Hate crimes against Muslims had surged immediately after 9/11. After Bush spoke, they declined.
Words matter. They can be used to incite fear and violence. Or they can be used to curtail it.