Since the Trump administration came into office, anti-Muslim sentiment has become a glue that binds this administration’s national security leadership with anti-Muslim organizations, White nationalist organizations, and anti-government militia. This cross alliance has correlated with a steady spike in anti-Muslim denial of religious accommodation in jails, detention facilities and places of employment, FBI inappropriately targeting Muslim individuals, as well as an increase in harassment and hate crimes against those perceived to be Muslim.
The Trump administration has worked closely with leading anti-Muslim organizations that espouse debunked anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and once had influence only within right-wing backbenchers. Retired Lieutenant General Michael Flynn, was an advisory board member to the anti-Muslim group ACT for America when he joined the administration as Trump’s first national security advisor in January 2017. ACT for America brands itself as “the nation’s largest grassroots national security advocacy organization” and boasted at the time of having a “direct line to Donald Trump.” The organization advocates for discriminatory policies against Muslim communities in the name of countering the spread of Sharia, or Islamic law, in the U.S. Brigitte Gabriel, its founder, alleges that Muslims are “a natural threat to civilized people in the world.” ACT has contributed to the introduction of 201 anti-Sharia law bills in 43 states since 2010, with Texas and Arkansas enacting the legislation. Flynn has praised Gabriel’s efforts and tweeted in 2016, “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL: please forward this to others: the truth fears no questions.”
The administration attempted its first Muslim ban on January 27, 2017, suspending all refugee admissions and temporarily banning entry to citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries. Trump’s chief political strategist at the time, Stephen Bannon, reportedly oversaw the crafting of the order with Stephen Miller, a senior policy adviser to the administration who was mentored by the anti-Muslim leader David Horowitz.
Other self-appointed “anti-terrorism” and “security policy” experts are now informing Executive Branch policy. In November 2017, Frank Gaffney, Jr., the founder of the anti-Muslim neoconservative think tank, Center for Security Policy (CSP), and two anti-Muslim activists and intellectuals, William G. “Jerry” Boykin and John Guandalo, spoke to members of congress at a national security event on Capitol Hill. The exact details of what was discussed is not publicly known, but in 2010, CSP, Boykin, and Guandalo produced a foundational report titled Shariah: The Threat to America. The report argues that Sharia is the greatest national security threat facing the United States, and that the Muslim Brotherhood is “infiltrating American society at every level and executing a very deliberate plan to manipulate the nation into piecemeal submission to shariah.” Implicating the Muslim community at large as complicit, if not active, in carrying out that threat to Western civilization, the report urges national leaders to acknowledge the threat and take action.
Boykin, a retired three-star general, has made sweeping anti-Muslim statements including, for example, that Islam “should not be protected under the First Amendment, particularly given that those following the dictates of the Quran are under an obligation to destroy our Constitution and replace it with sharia law.” Guandalo, a former FBI agent who travels the country training law enforcement on “counter-terror techniques” allegedly argued at the event on Capitol Hill that mosques serve as military bases and shouldn’t have the same rights as churches. He has explicitly targeted authentic Muslim advocacy and civil rights groups such as Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA) as front groups for the Muslim Brotherhood, and purveyors of Jihad in the United States.
In recent years, anti-Muslim sentiment has garnered the appeal of right-wing populist and Far Right groups. Last year, when ACT for America called for a national “March Against Sharia” in June 2017 and held over two dozen rallies in 20 states to publicize the need to pass anti-sharia laws, anti-government militia as well as White nationalist activists participated. The Oath Keepers and Three Percenters provided security at several of the rallies in Phoenix, Arizona and St. Paul, Minnesota; and Identity Evropa and other White nationalist and Alt Right organizations who participated in Charlottesville’s “Unite the Right” rally spoke at nearly half of the rallies. In Phoenix, the anti-Islam lecturer Carl Goldberg told the audience that Islam was a totalitarian ideology on par with Nazism.
Other Far Right organizations who didn’t participate in ACT for America’s rallies planned their own actions last year condemning Muslim communities. The League of the South, a neo-Confederate group that advocates for a second Southern secession and a society dominated by “European Americans,” planned a White Lives Matter rally in Murfreesboro, Tennessee in October 2017 in response to the possibility of refugee resettlement from Syria. In a statement urging the government to take harsher actions against Muslim and refugee communities, the League of the South wrote, “The Federal Government calls their act of bringing in hundreds of thousands of Muslims ‘an act of love.’ The League of the South calls it an act of war on our Christian people!”
From anti-government militia to the highest office of government, figures who may have little else in common are finding common ground in casting Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims as a threat. The sentiment and alliance has contributed to an environment in which violent targeting of mosques and places of worship of those perceived to be Muslim has spiked, federal funding for Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) has tripled and now explicitly targets minority groups, including Muslims, LGBTQ Americans, Black Lives Matter activists, immigrants, and refugees, and expanded government social media surveillance disproportionately places Muslim and immigrant communities on government watch lists. Until disrupted, the dangerous legacy of right-wing factions uniting around particular scapegoats threatens our communities.