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Toxic Hate: American Muslim Experiences of Violent Backlash Since August 2014

After Daesh (ISIS) murdered two Americans in late August 2014, Americans of all backgrounds, Muslims included, responded with rejection and revulsion. Despite abundant evidence that Daesh was also slaughtering Muslims, the vast majoirty of whom reject Daesh's ideology, some in our country blamed all followers of Islam for the group’s actions.  

When the Kouachi brothers attacked the offices of Charlie Hebdo magazine in Paris on Jan. 7, 2015, this effect was magnified.

In the past, CAIR has observed that Islamophobia in America goes through cycles of intensity. The 2010 controversy over a planned Islamic cultural center in lower Manhattan was the last observed peak in anti-Islam activity. It was characterized by efforts to oppose the construction or expansion of Islamic places of worship across the nation. This latest cycle is characterized by its violent tone.

This brief serves to illustrate the experience of violence targeting American Muslims from late August 2014 to mid-July 2015. It is not intended to be an exhaustive listing.

The brief focuses on acts of violence, violent intimidation and threats of physical violence against Americans of the Islamic faith. It does not include slanders, vandalism and other non-violent acts or threats.

Violence Against Individuals

Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha were murdered in Chapel Hill, N.C. on Feb. 10, 2015.  The shooter, Craig Stephen Hicks, was known to hold “anti-Muslim views.” Hicks, a neighbor, had previously brandished a weapon at the three and also engaged in agitating many of the apartment complex residents' over parking issues. The victims’ families and local community believe that Hicks’s bias was a strong motivating factor in the murders.

The murders of the three young people, who came to be known as “Our Three Winners,” were the most heavily-covered act of violence targeting Muslims in recent memory.

They were not the only Muslim individuals subjected to violence due to their faith; at least two other men were murdered.

Abdisamad “Adam” Sheikh-Hussein, a 15-year-old Muslim boy, was murdered outside a Kansas City mosque. The teenager’s legs were severed when he was intentionally hit by an SUV outside the Somali Center of Kansas City. A male suspect in his 30s was taken into custody. Police said he had a machete and other weapons. A photo of the vehicle, taken two months previously, showed writing on the back window that read: “Quran is a virus disease woreste [sic] than Ebola.” Somali Center officials say the suspect had been threatening people in the Muslim community for months. According to media reports, that same man pointed a gun at them, threatening to kill them because of their faith.

Ziad Abu Naim was shot to death in Houston, Texas. A witness described the event, which occurred following a traffic incident: “(The BMW’s driver) stopped his car and rolled down his window. So, my friend rolled down the window and the guy yelled ‘Go back to Islam.’ That’s when my friend got upset. He got out his car and when I looked I saw him walk out the car. Next thing, I heard a pop.”

There were also incidents in which attackers fired shots at their victims.

Army National Guard Reservist Clay Sidney Allred fired an AK-47-style assault weapon several times outside a Tampa, Fla. gas station after getting into an argument with a clerk and telling him, "I don't like your people.” When Allred was arrested, police found several weapons and military gear inside his vehicle. The weapons included “two pistols, an  assault rifle, a hatchet” and “armor piercing ammo.”

In Maine, a customer allegedly shouted “I hate Somali people” and “I hate black people” at a Muslim taxi driver before threatening to kill him, smashing his windshield and then taking a shot at him. The alleged attacker was arrested by Westbrook, Maine police and charged with criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, aggravated reckless conduct with a dangerous weapon and falsifying physical evidence.

Other assaults were physical.

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A man threated to behead a New York Arab and Muslim community leader and one of her staff to “see how your people feel.” Linda Sarsour reported on Facebook, “My Deputy Director and I were harassed and assaulted by a bigoted drunk who hurled hateful Islamophobic and anti-Arab epithets at us on 5th Avenue in Bay Ridge. . .he ran after us and picked up a huge NYC metal garbage can and threw it at us causing us to have to run into oncoming traffic.” 

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Also in New York, a former Marine physically accosted a head-scarfed woman who was nine months pregnant who was pushing her two-year-old in a stroller. The attacker tried to grab the child and also pushed the woman’s husband to the ground. He was charged “with assault and harassment as a hate crime, as well as menacing and endangering the welfare of a child.”

Suspect James Tree attacked a Muslim 7-Eleven manager and also made threats to another clerk in Troy, Mich. He approached the manager while verbally accosting the manager’s faith and ethnicity. The manager sustained injuries but did not require hospitalization.

In Seattle, a Muslim taxi driver, who is of Somali heritage, was punched repeatedly in the face while driving, causing him to lose consciousness and hit two parked cars and crash into an apartment building. A local television station said 26-year old Jesse Fleming, a member of the U.S. Navy who is stationed in Everett and who was one of the three alleged perpetrators, reportedly called his victim  a “terrorist” and  “ISIS” and then said “I am in the military. I am going to shoot you.” The other two men involved in the beating fled from the scene.

Threats Against Individuals

Threats of violence targeting individuals have also been recorded. The following examples offer the reader an insight into this American Muslim experience. CAIR believes a few examples will suffice to illustrates this pervasive phenomenon.

An Oklahoma Muslim community leader was told, “I think you should be beheaded, and I think all Muslims should be beheaded.” 

Three separate callers threatened the life a Muslim woman who was running for public office in Ohio.

A Muslim woman and her 12-year-old daughter were threatened at a 7-Eleven in Portland, Maine. A man allegedly threatened to cut the girl's throat "like ISIS" and mockingly shouted "Allah Akbar" ("God is great"), a phrase commonly said by Muslims. The assailant reportedly left the store and retrieved an unknown item from his car but was prevented from re-entering by another customer.

In June 2015, a Muslim’s house was vandalized with aggressive threats in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. This was not the first time there had been property damaged or stolen, but the vandalism identified the victim as a Muslim and threatened his life. The threats stated: “You will be killed here” and “F**K Muslim”.

Threats Against Groups of Muslims

Many who find threatening people acceptable prefer targeting all Muslims and not just individuals.

Robert Doggart “wanted to burn Islamberg to the ground.” A former candidate for congressional office in Tennessee, Doggart signed a plea agreement admitting his plot to assault a Muslim community in New York. Islamberg, Doggart wrote, “must be utterly destroyed in order to get the attention of the American people.” Later, Doggart told a woman, “we're gonna be carrying an M4 with 500 rounds of ammunition, light armor piercing. A pistol with 3 extra magazines and a machete. And if it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds.” While Doggart’s preparation for the attack fits the definition for a terrorist act, he was released to home detention on a $30,000 bond.

After saying “Jesus is the only way,” a caller to CAIR’s Houston office threated to “exterminate” all Muslims in America.

Followers of Islam in Oklahoma felt compelled to take protective steps following an apparent call for a violent purge of Muslims by an state elected official. Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) told constituents at a September party gathering in Sallisaw, Okla., that Islam’s goal is “the destruction of Western civilization from within,” that the faith is 90 percent “violence” and that Islam “is a cancer in our nation that needs to be cut out.” He added that he is “not going to stand back and let [Muslims] push Islam into our nation.”

fragemSimilarly, the chairman of Minnesota’s Big Stone County Republican Party called all Muslims “parasites” and suggested that readers “frag’em.”[Frag is slang for a fragmentation hand grenade.]Jack Whitley later resigned and was subsequently condemned by the Minnesota Republican Party Chairman.

A religious leader in Atlanta, who had previously received commendations from the Georgia Legislature and the U.S. House of Representatives, sermonized that Muslims “are here” and a “holy crusade” to “exterminate [Islam] utterly and absolutely” is required.

Duke University canceled plans to allow the Muslim call for prayer to take place from a chapel tower in part due to a “credible and serious security threat.”

A driver in Pennsylvania displayed a bumper sticker that read “Promote World Peace, Kill a Muslim.”

Early in July 2015 a Hookah lounge in Chico, Calif. was targeted by an arson attack. A group of people shouting derogatory comments drove by the building. Later, an incendiary device was thrown at the building.

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In the wake of the release of the film American Sniper, the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee said it gathered “hundreds of violent messages targeting Arabs and Muslims from moviegoers of the film.”

In Revere, Mass., threats, which were printed on pieces of paper and left in a public place, included statements such as “All Muslims will be killed" and “We Must Kill All Muslims in America.” (Note: The city has a significant Muslim population.)

Threats and Violence Against Places of Worship

Islamic houses of worship are frequent targets. CAIR is including a number of cases here to give readers an insight into the level of vitriol hitting religious sanctuaries.

Several shots were fired at the Islamic Society of the Coachella Valley, in Coachella, Calif. A local news crew counted six bullet marks on the mosque and a car parked outside. Some people were inside the mosque, but no one was injured.

In October, a letter with an unknown substance and text that referred to applying the “DEATH sentence” was sent to a San Diego mosque. Albuquerque, N.M. police said an incendiary device was thrown at a window of the Islamic Center of New Mexico but did not enter the building. The device ignited and caused damage to the exterior of the mosque.

Robert James Talbot planned to launch his “American Insurgent Movement” by murdering police and “spraying a mosque with gunfire.” Police arrested him the day he was to allegedly launch his attack.

A caller threatened to “behead a whole lot of Muslim scum” at the Islamic Society of Greater Oklahoma City.

A man in Austin, Texas threatened to bomb a local mosque and also a Middle Eastern restaurant.

In January, a caller told staff at the Noor Islamic Cultural Center in Hilliard, Ohio that the mosque would be destroyed very soon.

The Lake in the Hills, Ill., based American Muslim Community Organization mosque received a threatening letter. In part, the letter read, “We can’t wait until it’s ok to start bombing you f***ers and your kids so we can reduce the number of slime bags being born into this world, of ours.”

The Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Ill., was targeted by an online threat and had to ask for an increased police presence. An initial Facebook post read, ““F - - - - - - Muslims burn down Christian churches in France! We got to start breaking some rules putting these n - - - - - in check.” This was followed by, “I'd like to start with that mosque down the street . . . Eye for an eye tooth for a tooth.”

Later, another person added : “Maybe we should walk down the middle of the street without a worry in the world like they do shootin every one of them!!!!”

Two mosques in Columbus, Ohio received threatening messages originating from the same phone number. The message left at Masjid Omar Ibn El-Khattab made many references to the “n-word” and the caller stated he would “see you soon” and “you're out of here.” He also used phrases like “you will be vaporized,” “you're done,” “lose your religion n**ger” and “blow up.”

A Maryland mosque and school had to increase protection for its students and staff after a caller threatened to bomb the school’s bus and to spill “Muslim blood.”

A threatening letter was left at the Darul Arqum Islamic Center in Ames, Iowa on Feb. 27, 2015.  Inside the letter, which read “To all f**k Muslims,” were three small letters that stated: “We will burn all of you”, “Leave our country”, “We hate you”. In response, local authorities have begun extra patrols and worked with local Muslim leaders to increase security.

During the 2015 Memorial Day weekend, letters were received at mosques in Tempe and Phoenix, Ariz. The letters from “Patriotic Friends” read in part: “First of all, in any state where sharia law is invoked in any way, all Imam's [sic] in the that [sic] state and their families will die.” That same weekend, the Bosnia Herzegovina Heritage Association in Spokane, Wash. was vandalized. The words “Death to Islam” were spray-painted on the side of the building.

In Houston Texas, a mosque was threatened in response to a social media page advertising a religious lecture. The threat read: “Islam should be outlawed in the US, I'll be there to make sure you do not enjoy your 'event.' See you soon.”

Gerald Ledford posted two threatening comments against the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center (ISBCC) on its Facebook account. Ledford faces Federal charges for his threats.

Armed Anti-Islam Demonstrations

While many states have laws permitting the open carrying of firearms, the movement to do so at anti-Islam protests is new to this most recent cycle of anti-Islam vitriol.

The most prominent such event occurred in Phoenix, Ariz. After two violent extremists were killed by police while trying to attack an anti-Islam event in Garland, Texas, Jon Ritzheimer started selling t-shirts “bearing a profanity-laced message denouncing Islam.” He then announced an event outside a Phoenix mosque. A Facebook post announcing the demonstration read, “People are also encouraged to utilize their [sic] second amendment right at this event just in case [sic] our first amendment comes under the much anticipated attack.”

The demonstration attracted national attention. About 250 anti-Islam protesters, many armed, attended the event. They were met by a similar sized group of Americans who disagreed with the event’s bias.  Among the anti-Islam protesters was a least one man wearing a white supremacist shirt.

After the attempt to intimidate Phoenix Muslims, Ritzheimer launched at bid to raise $10 million, the effort failed.  He made headlines again as retail stores pulled Confederate flags from their shelves after the terror attack in Charleston, S.C. by leading a demonstration denouncing Walmart for pulled the slavery-era symbol.

Following the Phoenix demonstration, a similar event was announced but canceled at the last minute. Prior to the cancellation, the Islamic Center of Tucson issued a statement in which its leadership observed, “gathering in front of a religious institution with guns in order to verbally insult and intimidate law-abiding community members is a peculiar assertion of one’s rights to freedom of expression.”

Well before the Jan. 7, 2015 terror attack on Charlie Hebdo magazine, The “Stand with the Prophet against Hate and Terror” was scheduled to occur in Garland, Texas on Jan. 17, 2015. (Note: The anti-Islam event mentioned above was scheduled in response to the Sound Vision function.) Sound Vision Foundation, the event’s sponsor, said it was designed to help challenge growing Islamophobia in American society.

After the Paris terror attacks, event organizers reported that a number of threatening messages targeting the conference were posted online. One message stated: “I know where Garland is, I have guns, and I hope someone has some Dynamite.” Another stated: “My gun won’t be empty of bullets until the end so f*** you and your religion.” Yet another message stated: “I can be there within 9 [hours] with guns from where I live now ... (and maybe matches just in case we need dynamite).”

On the day of the event, anti-Islam protectors, some carrying weapons, picketed the venue.

In September, a man stood outside the Islamic Center of the Tri-Cities in Washington with a sign that read “Death to Islam” on one side and “Islam is Evil” on the reverse. The man wore a pistol after verifying with local police that he was allowed to do so.

When Texas Muslims went to Austin to meet with state elected officials, some demonstrators who objected to the event came armed.

Cause for Hope

While this brief offers a sometimes depressing insight into American Muslim experiences of violent backlash since late August 2014, that is not the full picture. Many Muslims and Islamic Centers report messages and actions that are warm and supportive.

CAIR offers this inspiring example to the reader. After the armed anti-Islam demonstration in Phoenix, Ariz., more than 200 people gathered at the mosque for a “love not hate” event.

In contrast to the demonstrator’s firearms, the love not hate event organizers asked attendees to “bring a FLOWER as a symbol of love and care. We are better together, and together we are strong.”

After the Phoenix demonstration, additional armed anti-Islam events were announced in Tucson, S.C. and New Hampshire. None of those actually occurred.

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