Meeting The Anti-Muslim Hate Groups Who Love Donald Trump, Guns And Hating Islam
The Debrief: New BBC Three documentary United States Of Hate: Muslims Under attack meets the armed militias determined to rid America of Islam
Since the start of the presidential race in the US, hate crimes against Muslims have soared. According to a report from Georgetown since the first candidate announced themselves, there have been 180 incidents of anti-Muslim violence, 53 of them in December alone after the isolated shooting orchestrated by an extremist couple in San Bernardino, California.
‘I think it’s worse than after 9/11’ Says Steph Atkinson, a filmmaker whose new BBC Three film The United States Of Hate: Muslims Under Attack follows the hate groups targeting Muslims in America. ‘We saw a spike of abuse and hate attacks then but I think since San Bernardino we’ve gone past that.’ He cites the fallout from the terror attacks in Paris and Brussels as further fuel to an already burning fire. What’s done the most damage though, is Donald Trump. ‘When you have a politician like Donald Trump who is vocalizing their views they feel they’ve been given a rubber stamp. It allows them to be more vocal about how they feel about Muslims.’
The ‘they’ in question are the two hate groups Steph spent time with for the film; Bomb Islam, based in Phoenix, Arizona who have a delightful selection of Millenial-appealing anti-Muslim memes for use on their website and BAIR, the so-called ‘Bureau of American Islamic Relations’ based in Irving, Texas – the town where 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed was arrested for bringing a clock to school that teachers believed to resembled a bomb.
These groups share the same views as Donald Trump. ‘They want to ban all Muslims coming into America.’ Says Steph. ‘They see America as their country even though many Muslims have lived there for years. Their view of Muslims is based on ISIS stereotypes.’ If the film’s anything to go by, these groups, populated by mainly middle aged, ex-military white men, mainly engage in activities like protesting outside mosques and hurling abuse at worshippers.
The protests Steph attends in the film are sparsely attended, a few baseball cap and wraparound sunglasses wearing men with guns saying racist things that are so callous an incendiary in nature that it’s hard to take them seriously. Steph warns me from away from this sentiment however. ‘It’s a very British instinct to think well actually they’re so ridiculous we can’t take them seriously but unfortunately that’s exactly how I felt about Trump a year ago and now he’s going to be the Republican candidate.’
And he’s right. What looks like right wing nut jobs to us at home in the UK actually appear to get a high level of support from passers-by at the protests Steph filmed at. As pathetic as they may look to us, these middle aged men with guns have a willing audience. ‘I think generally speaking there’s a lot of people who have those Islamophobic feelings but aren’t prepared to air them in the same way [as the hate groups].’ Says Steph. ‘The amount of people that were tooting their horn in support of BAIR was scary really.’
And this outpouring of hate isn’t just coming from street corners in as Dallas suburb. Across America, politicians and people in positions of power are spewing the same anti-Muslim rhetoric and some sects of society are lapping it up. According to the film, 55% of Americans reported some kind of negative views to Islam. Steph tells of one particular preacher called Robert Jeffress who heads up the 11,000-strong mega church First Baptist Church in Dallas who preaches Islamic hate on a regular basis, clearly missing the irony that just as ISIS are exploiting Islam for their own violent means, so too are he and other members of the right wing church exploiting and skewing the Christian message in their hunt for glory.
The Muslims that Steph speaks to have plenty of stories to share about being the victim of racially motivated incidents. One student had a gun pulled on him by a stranger, simply for being a Muslim. ‘There’s countless nasty little things like one girl I spoke to went to a fast food chain and they put bacon in her straw.’ Says Steph. ‘We spoke to people who had gone to stores and were refused service unless they removed their headscarves.’ He continues, still incredulous. ‘Unfortunately, it does seem to be the women at the forefront of it because they look so obviously Muslim with the headscarf.’
What adds an extra layer of jeopardy to the anti-Muslim movement though are guns. In Texas, the laws about how and what you can carry have just been loosened (really) and each member of the militia is armed. One guy has a gun with a bullet that can take apart someone’s head. Another has a gun that’s meant to be mounted on a tank. ‘It’s the big different between the English Defense League and someone like BAIR.’ Says Steph. ‘They’ve got guns. And when they’re telling you these extreme things like the guy that told me he’d rather spend time with cannibals than he would with Muslims, they’re telling them to you and they’ve got an M16 in their hands! It adds a whole new layer of risk to things.’
Clearly, with the actually real prospect of a Trump presidency looming (can you even believe it) things are set to get worse before they get better. I ask Steph what Omar, a prominent Muslim from Dallas with a young family and a community depending on him thinks Donald Trump’s candidacy means. ‘He is a very positive person’ Say Steph. ‘He says the American people will make the right choice but he’s worried for his community and his family. He’s worried for Muslims across America.’
Last year, Donald Trump announced a policy which would require Muslims and refugees to wear badges on their outer garments at all times – something that comes uncomfortably close to the most famous persecution of a group of people in living memory. Steph actually spoke to a ‘very upset’ Jewish journalist who compared the situation Germany in 1936. ‘He felt there was lots of echoes of the Nazi Party and what happened to Jewish people at the time. And that’s the real fear of it – where does this Islamophobia end?’
Chances are, nowhere good.
The United States Of Hate: Muslims Under Attack is on BBC Three iPlayer now.
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