This Week in Hate: “Go back,” Attacks against Sikh and Hindu Priests, and continued targeting of Muslims

On July 18, 62 year old Swami Ji Harish Chander Puri was wearing his religious attire while walking near the Shiv Shakti Peeth in Glen Oaks, Queens, NY, when a man screamed “This is my neighborhood,” punched him, and hit him with an object believed to be an umbrella. One week later outside of Modesto, California, an intruder broke windows in the home of Sikh priest Amarjit Singh, punched him, and shouted at him to go back to his own country.

Both incidents happened just days after President Trump tweeted about the four freshmen women of color Members of Congress known as “the Squad”: “Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came.” Three days later, crowds chanted “send her back” about Congresswoman Ilhan Omar at a Trump rally in North Carolina.

These incidents targeting the South Asian priests should be viewed not in isolation but as indicative of a broader pattern of hate violence against South Asian, Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, Middle Eastern, and Arab communities across the United States.

In July, SAALT tracked 10 reported incidents of hate violence, at least 10 instances of xenophobic political rhetoric, and 1 case of racial profiling directed at Muslims and South Asians . Of the 8 incidents, 6 were physical assaults, 3 included verbal/written assaults, and 1 was an occurrence of vandalism or property damage.

● On July 2, 2019, Eagan law enforcement in Minnesota fatally shot 23-year-old Isak Abdirahman Aden, a Black Muslim man.

● On July 4, 2019, at Circle K in Peoria, Arizona, Michael Adams attacked and killed Elijah Al-Amin, a mixed-race Muslim man because he was “listening to rap music.”

● On July 10, 2019, the words “Home Grown Terror!” were spray-painted on two billboards, one advertising an Islamic art show and the other a Geico insurance advertisement, in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

● On July 14, 2019, the Islamic Center of Northridge, Granada Hills Masjid in California received a package with an empty pressure cooker inside. Around the same time, YouTuber Furry Potato was harassing worshippers and posted two videos in which he was observing worshippers entering and leaving the mosque.

● On July 15, 2019, Jeffrey Calhoun brandished a gun at Jeanneie Muhammad, an African-American woman wearing a hijab. While attempting to steal Muhammad’s purse, Calhoun physically assaulted her, throwing her to the ground and biting her.

● On July 25, 2019, three people brutally assaulted and knocked off the religious headwear of a 59-year-old Muslim civilian employee of the Baltimore Police Department in Maryland.

● On July 29, 2019, a fair in Fayette County, Pennsylvania, featured a dartboard with taped-on pictures of first-term Democratic Congresswomen Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts.

● On July 30, 2019, a gun shop owner put up a billboard of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib that read “The 4 Horesemen Cometh,” with the word “Cometh” scratched out and replaced with “are idiots.”

On July 3, Citibank employees racially profiled a Muslim woman wearing a hijab. While attempting to open a savings account, the complainant sought to designate her husband, who is of Palestinian origin, as the beneficiary of said account and provided his Arabic name. Citibank then responded that they would need three to four days to investigate her husband before opening an account. However, the complainant was eventually not able to open one.

Xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric coming from the highest elected officials create an environment that sanctions and even encourages hate violence. This was plain to see this month. President Trump’s tweets calling for “the Squad” “go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how…… is done” set the tone for the month. The day after he intensified his remarks, tweeting, “We will never be a Socialist or Communist Country. IF YOU ARE NOT HAPPY HERE, YOU CAN LEAVE! It is your choice, and your choice alone. This is about love for America. Certain people HATE our Country…. ….They are anti-Israel, pro Al-Qaeda, and comment on the 9/11 attack.”

Throughout July, elected officials and individuals from media outlets reinforced or echoed President Trump’s message:

● On July 9, 2019, Fox News host Tucker Carlson declared, “Ilhan Omar is living proof that the way we practice immigration has become dangerous to this country.” He then labelled Rep. Omar as a “living fire alarm, a warning to the rest of us that we better change our immigration system immediately, or else.”

● On July 11, 2019, Dave Gaubatz, an anti-Muslim extremist and an Iraq War conspiracy theorist, sent a nationwide alert to the 14,000 subscribers of The United West, an anti-Muslim hate group. Gaubatz falsely claimed, “There are no safe mosques; there are only various degrees of danger;” that “Islamic terrorists and their supporters who are travelling (sic) would feel comfortable attending” Savannah’s largest mosque; and that the mosque is in fact “the home for Islamic terrorists and is used as a training base….”

● On July 12, 2019, at the annual Western Conservative Summit in Denver, Colorado, Senator Cory Gardner praised former Senate President John Andrews and condoned his Islamophobic remarks. Andrews asserted that freedom of religion should not apply to Muslims and that Marxism and Islam are America’s enemies.

● On July 15, 2019, a self-identified El Paso police officer made several offensive, Islamophobic comments on social media. In one post, he wrote, “Islamofascism is militarized cult expansion.” In another, he wrote that Muslims follow “man-made perversions.” The officer also shared a post depicting the Quran burning in flames with the caption “Let’s see how many of you have the balls to share this.”

● Also on July 15, 2019, Independence, Mo., City Council Member Curt Dougherty stated, during a public hearing about medical marijuana facilities, that the city has previously capped businesses, like “discount smoke shops owned by mostly Middle Easterns [sic] who will sell anything out the back door.”

● On July 16, 2019, an envelope sent on behalf of Congressman Duncan Hunter read, “These three radical Democrats want you to forget their Anti-Semitism or Terrorist Ties,” in direct reference to Trump’s comments made a day prior. On the envelope were two of said Democrats as well as Hunter’s opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar.

● On July 19, 2019, Republican chairman Jerry Scanlan of Sussex County, New Jersey, allowed offensive memes to be shared on the party’s Twitter page. One of these memes described the four Democratic congresswomen as the “Wh***s of Babble-on.” One retweet depicted a scene from 9/11 and asked, “How did we go from this to being afraid of offending Muslims.”

● On July 20, 2019, Donald Trump retweeted Kate Hopkins, a renowned British Islamophobe. She praised and echoed Trump’s “send her back” chants that erupted during a rally in North Carolina on July 17, 2019. In 2017, she called for a “final solution” for Muslims in the UK shortly after a terrorist attack.

● On July 22, 2019, the Trump Administration refused to change allegedly anti-immigrant language in a terrorism report after a California federal court ruled that the claims in the current lawsuit can’t be reviewed by the courts.

SAALT has logged 510 reported incidents of hate and 264 instances of xenophobic political rhetoric since November 2016. The cycle of vitriolic xenophobic, anti-black, and Islamophobic political rhetoric has fueled violence against our community members.

Despite continued reports of hate violence against our communities, there remains light. On April 19, 2019, Dan Leonard, a Toms River Board of Education member in New Jersey, posted a Fox News article about Muslim Democratic Representative Rashida Talib, with the caption, “My life would be complete if she/they die.” After backlash from community members for his article, Leonard chose not to seek re-election, stating, “I am not running for re-election because I don’t want to compromise the school district and all the great work that we have done over the last two to three years.” These bright spots continue to imbue us with hope.

A national social justice org working on policy analysis/advocacy on issues affecting the South Asian community: immigration, post 9/11 backlash.

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