Anti-Muslim hate groups on the rise in the US

More than 100 organisations are showing open hostility to Muslims – from Washington lobby groups pushing for limits on immigration to armed militias – at a time when Islamophobic attacks are on the increase, researchers said.

Victoria firefighters respond to a fire at the Islamic Centre of Victoria, in Victoria, Texas on January 28, 2017. Federal investigators say the fire that destroyed a South Texas mosque has been ruled arson and at this time there's no evidence of a hate crime. Barclay Fernandez/The Victoria Advocate via AP
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New York // A husband and wife team that sell bullets dipped in the blood of animals forbidden by Islam; websites devoted to expose what they call the “dark side” of the Islamic faith, and a militia accused of plotting to attack a Somali community in Kansas.

These anti-Muslim hate groups are detailed in a report by the Southern Poverty Law Centre (SPLC), an American liberal leaning advocacy group that monitors extremism. Its annual census found that the number of such groups in the United States has almost tripled during the past year driven in part by president Donald Trump’s angry rhetoric.

More than 100 organisations are showing open hostility to Muslims — from Washington lobby groups pushing for limits on immigration to armed militias — at a time when Islamophobic attacks are on the increase, researchers said.

Mark Potok, the report’s author, said the total number of US hate groups had been growing steadily in recent years. In the past year alone, the number of anti-Muslim groups had shown a dramatic rise, from 34 in 2015 to 101 in 2016.

“On the one hand, people are reacting to real-life Islamist atrocities — attacks in Orlando, or Paris or Nice or any of those places, San Bernardino — there’s a very real reaction to real atrocities,” he said.

“But I think probably the most important factor has been the Trump campaign.

“This is a man who spent his campaign describing Muslims as not fit to be in this country, as needing a national registry, who proposed surveilling mosques, and in other ways degraded and attacked Muslims around the world.”

Among the groups identified is Bare Naked Islam, which collects what it claims are examples of Sharia creeping into daily life and declares on its website: “Most people are simply unaware that Islam is NOT just another religion but a totalitarian political cultlike ideology ...”

Pig Blood Bullets is an online business selling ammunition treated with slaughterhouse waste. The creators say it is based on the story of General Pershing in the Philippines who was supposed to have used bullets dipped in pig blood to execute Muslim rebels in 1913.

Historians dismiss the account as apocryphal but Mr Trump repeated it several times on the campaign trail.

One of the biggest groups identified by the SPLC is Act for America, 50 branches of which were added to the most recent census.

David White, Act for America’s communications director, said the group’s inclusion on the list was an attempt to delegitimize the views of its 400,00 members who were concerned about the spread of “radical Islam”.

“This is a fight for the survival of western civilisation, and we will not allow radical fringe groups such as the SLPC to deter us from educating and uniting all patriotic Americans in this battle against radical Islam,” he said.

Other groups on the list include several dedicated to closing refugee centres over fears of an influx of terrorists, or to campaigning against the entry of Syrian refugees at a national level.

“Another factor last year was the Syrian refugee crisis which caused a lot of reaction,” Mr Potok said.

During his campaign, Mr Trump threatened to ban the entry of all foreign Muslims, before watering down the proposal to insist on “extreme vetting” of immigrants.

At the end of his first week in office he signed an executive order indefinitely halting the entry of Syrian refugees and suspending the arrival of travellers from seven mainly Muslim countries.

Mr Potok said the result was a surge in groups scapegoating Muslims and refugees.

“[Mr Trump] is responsible for creating the atmosphere in which they grow, and the atmosphere in which we see this enormous level of violence directed at Muslims,” he said.

Three mosques have been targeted by arsonists since Mr Trump won election to the White House, and one was attacked in the hours after he signed his controversial executive order.

Recent statistics from the FBI show a rise of 60 per cent in hate crimes directed at Muslims in 2015. Anti-hate campaigners say they believe the trend continued in 2016.

In one of the most serious alleged plots, three men from a militia group are awaiting trial in Kansas after being charged with planning a terrorist attack at an apartment complex, home to a mostly Somali community.

They allegedly planned to use four vehicles packed with explosives but were foiled by a police informer.

The White House declined to respond to allegations that Mr Trump’s rhetoric and policies were fuelling the growth in anti-Muslim hate groups.

Instead Mr Trump’s spokesman, Sean Spicer, has said: “I think that the president, in terms of his desire to combat radical Islamic terrorism, he understands that people who want to express a peaceful position have every right in our Constitution.

“But if you come here or want to express views that seek to do our country or our people harm, he is going to fight it aggressively.”