Militia extremists inspired by right-wing conspiracy theories are starting to target American Muslims, a leaked intelligence bulletin from the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) counterterrorism division reveals.
Many of the extremists take inspiration from pro-Israel zealots.
In one recently uncovered plot, a Christian minister and former congressional candidate planned to launch a military-style attack on a Muslim community in upstate New York.
The FBI document, originally sent to US law enforcement agencies on 28 May, was published last week by Public Intelligence.
The warning is a reminder of the rising danger posed by right-wing extremists, which, contrary to popular perceptions, far eclipses the threat from Islamic extremists.
The militia movement has traditionally directed its violent activities toward government and police.
But this is changing.
“Militia extremists are expanding their target sets to include Muslims and Islamic religious institutions in the United States,” the FBI bulletin warns. “This has resulted in increased violent rhetoric and plotting and has the potential to lead, over the long term, to additional harassment of or violence against Muslims by domestic extremists.”
Among the disturbing examples the FBI cites, the most shocking occurred in Mississippi last September, where extremists “discussed kidnapping and beheading a Muslim and posting video of the attack to the Internet.”
The group disbanded before acting on their plans.
Ironically, the FBI concludes that the targeting of Muslims by militias “is a product of ideology that views Muslims collectively with suspicion” – precisely the same ideology underpinning the FBI’s surveillance and entrapment programs aimed at Muslims.
This raises questions about whether an institution that targets Muslim communities is capable of simultaneously protecting them.
The FBI did not respond to a request for comment from The Electronic Intifada.
According to the memo, pervasive disinformation about Muslims and Islam is a product of conspiracy theories that have been “repeated over the course of a decade by self-appointed watchdogs of Islamic extremism, Internet bloggers and some news media.”
Some of the sources the FBI cites are the homophobic anti-Muslim hate group Christian Action Network, anti-Muslim blogger Pamela Geller and a host of right-wing media outlets, including World Net Daily, Fox News, Western Journalism, Patriot News Wire and The Blaze.
The top eight of the network’s wealthy pro-Israel donors poured some $57 million into anti-Muslim organizations between 2001 and 2012, according to CAP.
A comprehensive accounting of the Islamophobia industry by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) identified “at least 37 groups whose primary purpose is to promote prejudice against or hatred of Islam and Muslims.”
Between 2008 and 2011, these groups received a staggering $120 million in revenue and directly lobbied for anti-Muslim legislation in states across the country, according to CAIR.
Geller has raked in millions of these dollars for her American Freedom Defense Initiative, which has been labeled a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC).
“We will cut them to shreds”
Such incitement to hatred has dangerous consequences.
Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered 77 people in Norway in 2011 supposedly to halt the “Islamization” of Europe, cited Geller’s anti-Muslim propaganda a dozen times in his manifesto justifying his mass killing.
In May, Robert Doggart, a Christian minister and former candidate for congress in Tennessee, was indicted for plotting an armed attack on a predominantly African American Muslim community in upstate New York that has been the target of wild conspiracy theories hatched by the anti-Muslim, pro-Israel Clarion Project and disseminated by Fox News.
Doggart planned to assemble a group of gunmen to attack the community with assault rifles, explosives and even a machete.
“If it gets down to the machete, we will cut them to shreds,” Doggart allegedly said on a call intercepted by the FBI.
Jon Ritzheimer, a former US marine turned anti-Muslim agitator, made headlines the same month for organizing an armed protest outside the Islamic Cultural Center in Phoenix, Arizona.
He framed the rally as retaliation for an attempted attack by two ISIS sympathizers on a Muhammad drawing contest organized by Geller in Garland, Texas.
Ritzheimer has since posted several popular videos to Facebook explicitly calling for violence against Muslims and advising his followers to “Be ready for vengeance and be ready to drink beer from the skulls of our enemy.”
“I am the Infidel Allah warned you about!” he added.
This increasingly violent rhetoric is a direct result of right-wing individuals and organizations capitalizing on anti-Muslim hate, says Imraan Siddiqi, chair of CAIR’s Arizona chapter.
“It’s a whole ecosystem of money being poured into these groups and then it trickles down,” Siddiqi told The Electronic Intifada.
Guns and Islamophobia
The National Rifle Association’s national convention in April, for instance, featured a seminar promoting the conspiracy theory that Muslim extremists are seizing control of US territory to establish no-go zones.
Meanwhile, at least five gun stores across the US have declared themselves “Muslim-free zones” in recent months.
Last week, a gun store in Florida joined forces with George Zimmerman, the vigilante who shot dead unarmed Black teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012.
Zimmerman is selling prints of his painting of the Confederate flag to raise funds for legal fees to fight a lawsuit filed by CAIR against the store’s discriminatory “Muslim-free” policy.
“This is the intersection of gun culture and anti-Islam sentiment converging in one place,” Siddiqi said. “It’s basically riling up the base of gun owners.”
Wrapped in an Israeli flag
Extremist support for Israel also trickles down.
Like the funders of the Islamophobia network, those agitating against Muslims tend to identify strongly with Israel.
On the first day of classes, Monday, at the country’s first ever Arabic-language immersion public school in Houston, Texas, teachers and students were met with angry protesters waving American and Israeli flags.
Some held signs that read, “Everything I ever cared to know about Islam was taught to me by Muslims on 9–11–2001” and “Qatar out of my school.”
“No Arabic should be taught to children in school,” one protestor called out.
On 29 January, when citizens from across Texas gathered in Austin to meet with lawmakers during the seventh annual Texas Muslim Capitol Day, they were met with anti-Islam protesters waving Texas and Israeli flags and signs that read “Radical Islam is the new Nazi” and “Go home and take Obama with you.”
Israeli flags also regularly appear at right-wing rallies in Europe.
A matter of time
Mark Potok, editor-in-chief of the SPLC’s Intelligence Report, told The Electronic Intifada that there is a pattern of right-wing extremists shifting their focus against Islam, particularly as the Islamophobia network exploits the rise of the brutish Islamic State, or ISIS, to stereotype all Muslims.
“It’s very clear that American religious right organizations are increasingly on the attack with respect to Islam,” Potok said.
He cited groups like the American Family Association that have specialized in anti-LGBT rhetoric. “Those organizations over the last year or so have moved heavily into propaganda against Muslims.”
Yet the US government has done shockingly little to counter right-wing extremism, instead devoting its resources almost exclusively to Islamic extremism.
At the same time, politicians, particularly Republicans, have pushed some of the most extreme anti-Muslim rhetoric into the mainstream.
“We’re seeing right-wing officials across America at the state and national level demonizing Islam and there’s very little pushback from government officials,” CAIR’s national communications director Ibrahim Hooper told The Electronic Intifada.
“It’s an extremely worrying situation,” SPLC’s Potok added. “We’ve already seen in the last year or so a major arson at an Islamic complex in Houston and I think it is very likely we will see worse.”
As right-wing militias train their sights at Muslim communities with little government resistance, concern is rising that it is only a matter of time before someone pulls the trigger.