When politicians exacerbate and perpetuate toxic anti-Muslim and anti-Islam prejudice, it can lead to spikes in incidents of Islamophobia. This brief on the presence of Islamophobia in politics aims to provide a snapshot of 2016, and is not meant to be a complete record of Islamophobic statements.
(This does not cover the statements of 2016 presidential candidates. See here for our coverage of the presidential race.)
In addition to public officials, those individuals who are, or were, running for office in 2016 and ranking members of a political party are included in this summary. Across the board, Republicans have been the most egregious offenders in generating and employing Islamophobic political rhetoric.
A key theme of anti-Muslim and anti-Islam discourse this year has been in regards to refugees, immigration and travel. A number of federal and state bills have been proposed to restrict entry of Muslims or those from Muslim-majority nations. Twenty-nine of the 31 governors who protested against admitting Syrian refugees were Republican. The overriding assumption in these statement and bills is that because someone is either Muslim, or from a Muslim-majority country, the individual is potentially a perpetrator of terrorism. This problematically implies that Islam is the source of terror and wrongly condemns the religion. Such assertions also serve to dehumanize entire communities and national populations by treating all as potential terrorists.
For similar reasons, the use of the phrase “radical Islam” is problematic. Though it does not explicitly link terrorism and Islam, the term overwhelmingly implies that the religion is the core issue, and that therefore any Muslim can be suspect. This troubling connotation potentially maligns all Muslims and Islam. The phrase has thus become a shorthand way to demonize a wide group.
Another theme in this year’s Islamophobic political rhetoric has been the demand to monitor and surveil Muslim communities. After Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz called for the policing of Muslim neighborhoods, a farcical comment considering that such neighborhoods do not exist, a number of officials echoed the statement.
The provided examples of anti-Muslim and anti-Islam prejudice in politics are organized in the following order: federal officials, federal candidates, state officials, and state candidates. Within each section, all entries are alphabetical based on state affiliation.
Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.)
Shortly after the Orlando tragedy, Brooks wrongly accused Muslims, stating that they would “kill every homosexual in the United States of America” if they could. Brooks also falsely claimed, “The Islamic doctrine says that you are to kill homosexuals where you find them.” Brooks later added, “Islam inspires people to hate and kill homosexuals, kill people and for that matter, other non-Muslim peoples.”
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)
In an interview with Hugh Hewitt regarding the Orlando Shooting, Rubio said, “In America, radical speech is not a crime. And that’s one of the challenges we face. You can stand all day long and call for all kinds of jihad.” He continued, “[Radical Islam] is a religious, spiritual, warped ideology that calls on them to kill the infidel, which in their mind is anyone who doesn’t agree with them on everything…I mean, this is, we’re dealing with an ideology motivated by an interpretation of a faith. We can’t ignore it.”
Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa)
At the starting plenary session of the Conservative Political Action Conference in Washington, D.C. in March, King warned of illegally entering “radical Islamists in this country.” He reeled off a list of Muslim-majority countries, and then falsely claimed that the U.S. has “59,000 people from countries other than Mexico…illegally coming to this country…They’re coming here to do harm.”
A few months later in September, King tweeted an image showing himself alongside European fascist leaders with the phrase, “Cultural suicide by demographic transformation must end.” This statement is an outright reference to a racist tenet, common among white supremacists and fascists, that people of color, immigrants, and Muslims pose a threat to Western culture and “white purity.”
Rep. Jim Hagedorn (R-Minn)
Hagedorn attacked House contender Rep. Tim Walz (D-Minn) for signing onto an advertising campaign which was critical of anti-Islamic sentiments, and said it was “un-Minnesotan” to do so. He called Walz’s stance an effort to appear “politically correct” and said Walz has failed to protect Americans from Islamic terrorists. Hagedorn also called for a “timeout” from all refugee programs.
Rep. Peter King (R-New York)
King, who sits on the House Homeland Security Committee, adamantly called for the national surveillance of Muslim communities in July. He said that U.S. intelligence agencies have to “surveil the Muslim communities, watch them more carefully.” He said, “The fact is there are people out there who want to kill us…There are people in the Muslim community.” King continued, “We have to be looking at the Muslim community…We have to have people in the community who are willing to be sources…because that’s where the threat is coming from.” “You’re not violating anybody’s civil rights. It’s just common sense. That’s where it’s coming from,” he added.
Rep. Joe Heck (R-Nevada)
Heck, the state’s Republican nominee for U.S. Senate, falsely claimed that Muslims have tried to implement Sharia in Michigan. He said, “Depending on where, like, there are certain pockets throughout the country, like, certainly up in Michigan, is a high area, where there are areas where they have tried to implement their version of Sharia law in the United States.”
Rep. Jeff Duncan (R-South Carolina)
During a House Homeland Security Committee hearing, leading law enforcement officials stated that more gun control would keep Americans safe. After expressing his anger at this, Duncan turned his rhetoric against Ahmed Mohamed, the Texas teenager who was arrested after his teachers mistook his science project – a homemade clock – as a bomb. Duncan said, “We’ll continue to allow terrorists to come here…we’ll continue to invite somebody who made something that looked like a bomb, brought it to school and now it’s a ‘clock,’ and we invite him to the White House.” Duncan made quotation marks with his hands to suggest he didn’t think that Mohamed had made a clock.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas)
In April, Cruz’s Senate staff refused to meet with over a dozen Muslim constituents. The group repeatedly attempted to set up a physical meeting over the course of several weeks to discuss domestic issues, via email and phone. After one response directing them to a Middle East policy advisor, the constituents were ignored. When they arrived on Capitol Hill, the office denied to meet with them.
Shortly after, in June, Cruz invited anti-Muslim activist Chris Gaubatz, a staffer at John Guandolo’s organization Understanding the Threat [insert website hyperlink] to a U.S. Senate hearing, elevating his fringe conspiracy theories to the legitimizing platform of a Congressional hearing. Gaubatz said that leading Muslim American civil rights organizations are infiltrated by terrorists and that the Obama administration is covering it up. He accused prominent Muslim-American charities of being front groups for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Gaubatz also stated that “the global Islamic movement” had infiltrated the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. At the end of the event, some Democrats made an analogy between the Ku Klux Klan and Christianity on one hand, and terrorist organizations that invoke Islam on the other. Cruz took offense and said, “I would hope that all of us on both sides of the aisles could agree that the Ku Klux Klan is evil and bigoted and has no place in civilized society, and I would note that the suggestion that that could somehow be extended to the Christian faith, Dr. Martin Luther King and many of the civil rights pioneers were Christian ministers!” Ironically, that he vindicated rather than refuted the analogy by this statement seemed unapparent to him.
Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas)
Gohmert said that it is okay to discriminate against people, “if they want to bring down our constitution or have it submissive to Sharia law.” His statements are counter to the constitution he has sworn to uphold.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)
The senators expanded an existing request to the Department of Homeland Security to include details regarding the legal immigration history of the parents of any person accused of taking part in or supporting “Islamic terrorism.” “The U.S. continues to admit approximately 680,000 migrants from Muslim countries every five years,” they said. “A number of immigrant terrorists were even approved for citizenship. Others are the U.S.-born children of foreign migrants whose presence in the country would not be possible but for the immigration of their parents.” This is a punitive demand which singularly and unfairly targets and demonizes Muslims and Muslim immigrants.
Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee
Republican members marked up H.R. 5203, the Visa Integrity and Security Act of 2016, to single out travelers from the Muslim majority countries of Iran, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen to the U.S. for heightened security measures. The bill requires that the Department of State complete individualized security opinions for visa applicants from these countries. It reflects no input from Democratic Members of the Committee and was not the subject of any legislative hearing. As stated in the introduction of this brief, targeting Muslim and Muslim-majority nations in such legislation implies that Muslims are a threat and dehumanizes entire populations.
Robert Blaha of Colorado, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate supported Trump’s proposed Muslim ban and said, “I want to go beyond just Muslims,” while speaking at a GOP meeting. “And I’ll tell you why…The real issue is security. The real issue is we do not know who these people are. We don’t know where they’re coming from, we don’t know whether a terrorist state. We do not have the ability as a government right now to vet these people.” This is a troubling indication of how banning Muslims may open the doors to banning others.
Attorney Jason Batts of Kentucky, a Republican candidate for the U.S. House, said in January that he was running to combat what he called the “very real threat of radical Islam.” The problematic and demonizing connotations of “radical Islam” have been detailed in the introduction.
Carlos Beruff of Florida, a Republican candidate for the U.S. Senate, wants to ban anyone from a Middle Eastern country, except Israel, from entering the United States. He said, “I don’t think it’s safe to allow anybody from the Middle East into this country.” He added, “right now we have a terrorist threat that’s very real.” As stated earlier, the targeting of a Muslim-majority region dehumanizes the population by equating all with terrorists.
In June, Joe Kaufman of Florida, a Republican candidate for the U.S. House, who has praised a designated Foreign Terrorist Organization, put out a call on Facebook to shut down “every Florida radical Muslim institution,” though he remained unclear how he would distinguish between radical and non-radical. His list of “radical” organizations includes Muslim civil-rights groups like Emerge USA which tries to increase voter turnout among Muslim Americans.
In response to a question about his proposed immigration policy, Andre Dean of Texas, a Republican candidate for the U.S. House, said, “I fully support a full pause (complete stop) of immigration to America from every Muslim nation and of all Muslim people’s worldwide until we can determine to our complete certainty that the Muslim requesting immigration into the USA has no remote intention to kill Americans as he/she is commanded to do by their religion in the Holy Koran, their sacred text from God! We must also be able to determine with certainty that they wish to come to America to assimilate and become one of us and not come as part of a holy crusade to colonize America as part of their dreamed-for, world-wide caliphate where our American constitution is replaced with Islamic Sharia law and Islam rules with an iron fist as a theocracy; just as it does in every nation Islam fully subdues to Sharia Koranic law. if we cannot determine the requesting immigrant’s intent to our full satisfaction, we must never risk inviting a jihadist killer into our midst as an immigrant. Wisdom cautions restraint.”
After saying he might support Donald Trump’s proposal to ban all Muslims from entering the U.S., Paul Nehlen of Wisconsin, the Republican primary opponent of House Speaker Paul Ryan, said, “We should be monitoring every mosque. We should be monitoring all social media.” He went on to suggest that Muslims could not be trusted to follow the Constitution because of their alleged supreme fealty to Sharia.
Gov. Robert Bentley falsely said one of the perpetrators of the November 2015 Paris attacks was a Syrian refugee during his State of the State Address. He said, “When 130 people were slaughtered, in Paris at the hands of radical Islamic terrorists, among those killers was a refugee from a terrorist nation.” Bentley’s indiscriminate labeling of the Muslim majority nation of Syria as a ‘terrorist nation’ problematically equates Islam with terror.
Rep. Mack Butler, (R-Southside) bashed the idea that Islam is a peaceful religion. “Have you noticed that we keep hearing how Islam is a religion of peace as they blow people up?” He asked rhetorically on social media. “(We’re) living life upside down.”
Gurley Police Chief Barry Pendergraft posted a photo to Facebook of a box of ammunition with the caption, “100 more bacon grease covered bullets in the box! This relaxes me so!!” Four days later, he posted a video of himself unloading bullets into a box with the caption, “Happiness is a couple thousand rounds in the ammo box! Bacon grease dipped of course!!” Such posts demonstrate support of the false belief that such ammunition prevents Muslims from entering Heaven because the Quran considers pigs unclean.
In September, State Sen. Jason Rapert (R-Conway) wrote a Facebook post in which he said, “We need to round up every single Muslim extremist sympathizer and other anti-American crazies and detain them or deport them.” Rapert also falsely claimed that Muslims “wait for every opportunity to convert Americans to Islam or kill the infidels — that is what their holy book the Koran instructs them to do.”
In March, Gov. Rick Scott repeatedly refused to answer and dodged direct questions about whether Islam is a religion “that hates America.” Instead, he said, “There are people that love this country. There’s people that don’t love this country. What we do know, and it’s no surprise, is that radical Muslims don’t like our country.”
State Sen. Wilton Simpson (R- Trilby) and Rep. Lake Ray (R-Jacksonville) sponsored legislation which would prohibit agencies receiving state funds from helping the resettlement of refugees, termed “restricted” people, from areas designated as where “invaders or prospective invaders” or foreign terrorist organizations organize, operate or train. “We want to know who is here, where they are and what screening they have,” Simpson said. “This bill makes it crystal clear that the governor and the attorney general can gather and collect information on unknown refugees.” The preamble to the bills said that the state has been under “imminent threat of the surreptitious invasion of foreign persons intending to conquer or violently destroy the way of life for the citizens of the United States and its constituent states.”
In a legislative hearing in Hawaii, Thomas Friel, chief of Hawaii’s Department of Land and Natural Resources’ Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement, implied that the agency’s law enforcement officers need semi-automatic weapons “because people working as fishermen, specifically workers from Indonesia and the Philippines, may be Muslim.” Rep. Matt LoPresti took issue with the comment and said, “I don’t think park rangers with rifles are going to stop potential terrorists on fishing boats — that’s the Coast Guard’s job.”
20 members of the Idaho state legislature, including Rep. Luke Malek (R-Coeur d’Alene) and Rep. Judy Boyle (R-Midvale) attended an anti-refugee speech by Christopher Holton, vice president of the Center for Security Policy which is a prominent anti-Muslim group, and Shahram Hadian, an anti-Islam Christian pastor. Holton and Hadian said that Islam teaches that its adherents should kill non-believers, and that the U.S. should be examining the ideologies of those it considers admitting as refugees. Hadian, a former Muslim, ended his speech with an explanation of why he thinks Islam is incompatible with American culture. Malek argued the event saying, “I’m really glad I went.”
Gov. Mike Pence attempted to keep Syrian refugees out of Indiana and refused to use any of the refugee resettlement money it had received from the federal government for Syrian refugees. Sued by the American Civil Liberties Union, Pence argued that terrorists are posing as Syrian refugees to gain entry into the U.S. and they pose a threat to the safety of Indiana residents. A federal appeals court barred Pence from interfering with the distribution of federal funds. Writing for the court, Judge Richard Posner called Pence’s argument “the equivalent of his saying (not that he does say) that he wants to forbid black people to settle in Indiana not because they’re black but because he’s afraid of them, and since race is therefore not his motive, he isn’t discriminating.”
Maryland state Del. David Vogt (R-Annapolis), who sought election to the U.S. House, called President Obama’s planned visit to a Baltimore mosque an endorsement of terrorism. Subsequently, he introduced a bill which would restrict and revoke the tax-exempt status of any religious institution or organization with ties to terrorism. A news release sent by him read, “One Maryland state representative is targeting mosques that promote radical Islam and endorse acts of terrorism.” The bill would allow the state comptroller to decide whether a religious institution has terrorist ties, but didn’t lay out any standard for when or how such institutions could be targeted. It also did not set up a hearing process. The bill is currently in committee.
Paul Couturier, a member of a Massachusetts Representative Town Meeting, spread images casually implying violence against Muslims on his public Facebook profile. One picture featured a shark, toothy mouth agape, with the text: “Throw me a Muslim.”
Over the summer, Massachusetts Conservation Commission member Michael Goodman changed his Facebook profile picture and his cover photo to ones that included anti-Islamic remarks. The full photo he used for his cover page was an eagle against the American flag, stating “(expletive) Islam, God Bless America.” He also posted anti-Islamic memes. The first was a photo of nuclear bomb explosion with the words: “Dealing with Muslims, Rules of engagement, Rule #1: Kill the enemy Rule #2: There is no rule #2.” Another, also featuring a nuclear explosion, stated: “The Japanese have been at peace with USA since September 2, 1945. It’s time we made peace with Islam.” Goodman was initially unapologetic. “I have hate for Islam,” he said. “Islam to me stands for radical Islamist terrorism and/or terrorists.”
Dave Agema represents Michigan as a national committeeman at the Republican National Committee. At the RNC winter meeting in Charleston, South Carolina, he introduced a resolution calling for the impeachment of President Obama in which he said, “[Obama] calls ISIS, ISIL…I think Obama uses Taqiyya.” Outside the meeting venue, Agema spoke with reporter Joe Biggs about his claim that Michigan is on the verge of adopting Sharia law. He falsely asserted that judges already incorporate Sharia law in their rulings. He also alleged that refugees coming to the U.S. are waging “civilization jihad.”
Sen. David Brown (R-Milaca) spoke about a bill he recently introduced to prevent foreign law from taking precedence in Minnesota courts at an event, titled “Shariah 101.” He cited the book, “Shariah in American Courts,” a publication by the Center for Security Policy, an organization in the Islamophobia Network]. The event’s main presenter was Jeffrey Baumann who made false claims such as, “Islam is a complete replacement societal system,” and “It’s incompatible with our American way of organizing ourselves.”
State Rep. Ken Weyler (R-Rockingham) argued that giving public assistance to Muslims amounts to treason in his testimony to a state House committee hearing on a bill he co-sponsored. The bill would prohibit “any member of a foreign terrorist organization from receiving public assistance, medical assistance, or food stamps.” Weyler’s testimony went way farther than the bill purports to go. “Giving public benefits to any person or family that practices Islam is aiding and abetting the enemy. That is treason,” Weyler wrote in his testimony. He stated that Islam “is an ideology posing as a religion. Islam is intolerant and deceitful, and its adherents are ordered to overthrow our way of life and to replace it with ‘sharia’ law.”
State Rep. Pat Ownbey (R-Spencer) posted and promoted an article on Facebook calling for a “final solution” regarding “radical Islam.” The article stated that “the 1,400-year-old Islamic faith is not a religion” and therefore neither Muslims nor Islam should be afforded any protections under the First Amendment. It also said regarding Muslims, “We have no long term alternative but to quarantine them… prohibiting them from residing anywhere within the civilized nations of the Earth.”
State Rep. John Bennett (R-Sallisaw) is seeking a legislative interim study “of the current threat posed by radical Islam and the effect that Shariah Law, the Muslim Brotherhood and jihadist indoctrination have in the radicalization process in Oklahoma and America,” according to the submitted request. It further states, “With the potential threat of terrorists infiltrating America from the southern border and from undocumented refugees from foreign, war-torn countries, it is time for our leaders to understand radical Islam and how American citizens are being radicalized here in Oklahoma as well as the rest of America.”
Commissioner Lisa Nancollas of Mifflin County, Pennsylvania posted an image of a mosque with the phrase “No Islam Allowed” on her Facebook page. She followed that with more posts, including: “I believe in the Christian God. I don’t believe in Islam, sharia law nor do I believe in Allah,” And people “are only allowed in the kingdom of God if they accept God as their savior not Allah.”
The state Senate overwhelmingly approved a bill for the creation of a state registry for refugees. The bill also requires law enforcement to investigate incoming refugees, and holds refugee sponsors liable if any refugee commits an act of terror. The bill targets refugees from Syria and other Muslim majority countries in the Middle East who, by the time they are settled in the U.S., have already been vetted exhaustively by the federal government. Yet Sen. Kevin Bryant (R) who co-sponsored the bill said, “With the danger today of a terrorist infiltrating the refugee program, we have no other option than to enroll this information.”
State Rep. Susan Lynn (R-Mount Juliet) handed out DVDs of a paranoid, anti-Muslim film called “America’s Mosques Exposed! Video Evidence They Are War Factories” to her colleagues in the General Assembly. The film includes a summary, which reads, “Chilling and urgent insider video catches treason in the act against God and Country by Muslims using American Mosques as war factories and by our own U.S. Government, burning Bibles as trash yet ordering Muslim Qurans to be ‘handled like a delicate piece of art.'” Lynn said she did not see “anything objectionable in it (the DVD).”
Trebor Gordon of Texas, a Precinct Chair and chaplain for the Harris County Republican Party, spoke up to prevent a Muslim nominee from being seated. He said that Syed Ali should not be named to fill a vacant chair post because, “Islam and Christianity do not mix.”
Fredy Burgos, a member of Virginia’s Republican State Central Committee, posted a series of anti-Muslim tweets, in which he said that Islam is a “death cult organized by Satan,” compared Muslims to Nazis, and said “immigration control from Islamic countries is a must.”
Laurie Bartlett, a Republican candidate for the Florida House, hosted an event titled “Understanding the Impact of Refugee Resettlement: Economically, Socially and Culturally,” in which she invited a group of anti-Muslim speakers. The speakers warned of an alleged Muslim plot to take over the U.S., and said allowing refugees into the country would allow terrorist s into the country. One of them, David Gaubatz, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has termed an anti-Muslim extremist, said that he had discovered ambiguous “materials” at mosques that had an “anti-American or pro-Islamic message distributed by al-Qaeda or ISIS.”
In August, Wendy Long, a Republican nominee for the New York Senate, linked a new mosque in Syracuse to “crime prostitution money laundering” in a tweet. She also tweeted a photo of two Muslim women and wrote, “Catholic Charities takes federal tax dollars to resettle the refugees we can’t screen. Leaves the Catholics to ISIS.”
Ron McDow, a Republican candidate for the Tennessee Senate, sent fliers to homes speculating whether his opponent in the GOP primary, Steve Dickerson, wants “ISIS living next door to your family” because Dickerson had not signed on a letter asking to block Syrian refugees from coming into the state. The fliers featured an illustration of suburban homes with ISIS flags hanging from the front porches. They also featured a rendering of a welcome mat with “welcome” written in Arabic-styled letters. The fliers stated in regards to Syrian refugees that “We do not know who they are or what they intend to do here.”