Enabling hate: Muslims under attack in Trump's America

Enabling hate: Muslims under attack in Trump's America
6 min read
29 Jan, 2019
Comment: Four men have been accused of planning to attack 'Islamberg', a rural Muslim community in upstate New York. It's not the first time this has happened, writes CJ Werleman.
'The right-wing media plays a disturbing role in facilitating Islamophobia in today's America' [Anadolu]
Islamberg is a small rural community, spread over 60 square miles and located near the Pennsylvania and New York state line, roughly 150 miles from New York City.

Home to just over 200 residents, the township was established in the early 1980s by a small group of African American converts to Islam, who sought refuge for their children, away from the violence and crime that had besieged many of the United States' economically depressed urban neighbourhoods.

For the past three decades and more, the community has enjoyed close ties with non-Muslim residents in neighbourhood communities, working within the same businesses, shopping at the same stores, sending their children to the same schools, while forging mutually respectful ties with local law enforcement authorities.

By every definition of the racially flawed term "model community," the 200 residents of Islamberg are exactly that.

"These folks that live here are American citizens. They've lived here for over 30 years. They built this community. They have ties within, outside of this community," said New York State Police officer, Major James Barnes in a recent interview. "And there's not a problem here."

"They don't bother anybody. And that's the No.1 rule in the country," stated Sally Zegers, editor and publisher of the local Hancock Herald.

In the age of President Trump and a right-wing media ecosystem that profits from the promotion of anti-Muslim hysterics and conspiracy theories, however, Islamberg's peaceful, welcoming, and law-abiding reputation and track record has not shielded it from right-wing extremists who have been indoctrinated to hate and fear Muslims via the consumption of Fox News and its like.

In 2015 the FBI foiled a right-wing extremist plan to murder all 200 residents of the town

On 18 January, three young men, aged 20, 19, and 18, alongside a 16-year-old accomplice were arrested and charged for amassing an arsenal of 23 firearms and three explosive devices, which they intended to use in a plotted terrorist attack against the 200 Muslim Americans of Islamberg.

While authorities are yet to release granular details of their alleged foiled terrorist plot, it's known that the boys frequented social media platforms that are popular with far-right activists, while also sharing far-right memes and conspiracy theories.

And at the centre of a great number of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories shared within the right-wing media ecosystem, is the town of Islamberg.

Since 2007, Fox News has produced segments inferring Islamberg to be a "terror compound," among two dozen or so others within the United States, while routinely inviting guests, who have well established ties with anti-Muslim groups, to give these false conspiracies a resemblance of credibility.

For instance, Fox News produced a segment titled, "Clarion Project Reveals Radical Extremists Operating Here in the United States" in 2015, which featured comments from Ryan Mauro, head of the Clarion Project, a group identified by the Southern Poverty Law Centre as an anti-Muslim hate group.

In the segment itself, Mauro straight up accuses the town of Islamberg to be a front for an "Islamist" terrorist training camp and without offering any evidence to support his spurious claim.

Mobashra Tazamal, a senior research fellow at the Bridge Initiative, a Georgetown University-based research project focused on countering Islamophobia, told Religion News, "These baseless accusations and lies are able to spread with the help of the internet and the media, but they don't just remain in the online sphere... Such conspiracy theories can have violent consequences."

One such example, is the plot to carry out what would've been the deadliest terrorist attack on US soil. In 2015 the FBI foiled a right-wing extremist plan to murder all 200 residents of the town.

The leader of the plot was Robert Doggart, a Christian minister and former Republican Party congressional candidate from the state of Tennessee, who believed after watching Fox News that the town was preparing to carry out a terrorist attack on US soil, reportedly telling one accomplice, "Those guys should be killed. Their buildings need to be burnt down," while telling another, "I don't want to kill children, but there's always collateral damage."

A documentary produced by The Guardian titled "White Fright" delved into the role the right-wing media, particularly Fox News, played in creating the terrorist threat against Islamberg, and exacerbating the right-wing extremist threat across the broader United States.

The documentary also pivots upon two significant commentaries; how the mainstream US media completely ignored this case and trial, and how the defence attorney for Doggart blamed Fox News for having a "radicalising affect" on his client.

The right-wing media ecosystem is totally overwhelmed by pundits who lack academic qualifications in either terrorism or violent extremism

William Rosenau, a counterterrorism analyst with Sentinel, describes the right-wing media's interest in Islamberg as an "obsession" that's not "justified" by not a single fact or evidence, adding, "I think the fact that the members are Muslim and almost all African American is a source of a lot of anxiety. I think it's straight up religious and racial fear."

Alarmingly and threateningly, the right-wing-media ecosystem is totally overwhelmed by pundits who lack academic qualifications in either terrorism or violent extremism, and possess instead only a basic Google search level of understanding of Islam or Muslims.

Rather than provide analysis rooted in observable and objective reality, they peddle disinformation and wild conspiracy theories, ranging from the US government being infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood, to the existence of  Sharia law governed "no-go-zones", to Obama being a foreign-born Muslim.

Worse, the current president of the United States gives energy to these anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. Lest we forget it was then citizen Donald Trump who launched his political career by funding an investigation into former President Barack Obama's birth certificate, and that presidential candidate Trump gave life to the phony claim Islamberg is a terrorist training camp, when asked a question about their existence during a campaign rally in 2015.

"We have a problem in this country: It's called Muslims," one of Trump's supporters in the crowd stated, adding that he believed President Obama was himself Muslim. "We have training camps, growing, where they want to kill us. That's my question: When can we get rid of them?"

Trump not only refused to refute the questioner's patently false assertion regarding Obama's religion, but also added his future administration planned to "look at that".

These falsehoods and the stoking of anti-Muslim hatred is why terrorist attacks against Muslims have spiked since Trump announced his candidacy in 2015, with researchers establishing a proven link between Trump's rhetoric and increase in hate crimes against Muslims. 

It's why four young men, aged only 16-20 years of age, plotted to slaughter 200 Muslim men, women, and children.

Given that right-wing extremists were responsible for 100 percent of those killed in terrorist attacks carried out on US soil in 2018, and have been responsible for three times as many attacks as "Islamists" since 9/11, it might be high time we consider right-wing media a fomenter of terrorism.

CJ Werleman is the author of 'Crucifying America', 'God Hates You, Hate Him Back' and 'Koran Curious', and is the host of Foreign Object.

Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.