Donald Trump is getting back into the Islamophobia business: The racist conspiracy theory he refused to disown

Last night, Trump entertained notions about "terrorist training camps" in America

By Heather Digby Parton


Published September 18, 2015 4:21PM (EDT)

  (Reuters/Lucas Jackson)
(Reuters/Lucas Jackson)

Yesterday afternoon, former White House advisor and current CNN analyst Dan Pfeiffer tweeted this to his followers:

The Donald doesn't have advisors beyond the voices screaming inside his head, as far as anyone can tell, but darned if he didn't do just what Pfeiffer ordered within a couple of hours. With all three networks once again covering a big Trump rally, this time in New Hampshire, he entered the arena like a heavyweight champion, delivered his stump speech and then took a question from a supporter who stated:

"We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims. We know our current president is one.You know he's not even an American. But anyway, we have training camps growing where they want to kill us. That's my question, when can we get rid of 'em?"

Trump replied:

"We're gonna be looking at a lot of different things and, you know, a lot of people are saying that and a lot of people are saying that bad things are happening out there, we're gonna be looking at that and plenty of other things."

With that one exchange, carried live, whatever Carly-mania was lingering from the night before was over. Trump was back. Chris Matthews even said that it was vindication of the decision to broadcast Trump's every utterance live, because you just never know when he's going to make news.

Robert Costa of the Washington Post reports that the Trump campaign later issued a statement, saying,

"The media wants to make this issue about Obama. The bigger issue is that Obama is waging war against Christians in this country. Their religious liberty is at stake."

The right-wing press has been flogging the "terrorist training camp" meme for a long time. This piece from World Net Daily earlier this year gives a flavor of the discussion:

The FBI is aware of at least 22 paramilitary Islamic communes in the U.S., operated by the shadowy Pakistan-based group Jamaat al-Fuqra and its main U.S. front group, Muslims of the Americas.

With U.S. headquarters in Islamberg, New York, the group headed by Pakistani cleric Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani operates communes in mostly remote areas of California, Georgia, South Carolina, New York, Texas, Virginia, West Virginia, Michigan, Tennessee and other states.

The FBI describes the MOA compound in Texas, called Mahmoudberg, as an enclave and "communal living site." Located in Brazoria County along County Road 3 near Sweeny, Texas, it was discovered more than 10 years ago by the FBI through a tip from an informant in New York, according to a 2014 article by the Clarion Project.

The Texas commune, in a heavily wooded area, is estimated by a local resident to encompass about 25 acres. It dates back to the late 1980s, the resident said, which is confirmed by the FBI documents previously reported on by WND.

This story goes back several years and has been promoted by extremist provocateur Pamela Geller, who maintains that these camps are populated by ex-con African American Muslim converts who are planning jihad against the United States. There's even a documentary about this called "Homegrown Jihad" produced by a Christian group near Lynchburg, Va., (home of Liberty University) based upon a book written by the filmmakers called "Twilight in America: The Untold Story of Islamic Terrorist Training Camps Inside America."

The book reads:

It’s happening right now, hidden in the rural neighborhoods of America, protected under the guise of religious freedom. In the privacy of Muslim compounds across our land, they are preparing our own citizens to wage a holy war—jihad—against America. As many state and federal authorities turn a blind eye, these Islamic extremists convert our own citizens, then teach them how to kill. One informant, who lived undercover on these compounds for more than eight years, warns: “They are asleep. They are a bomb” waiting to go off. Read Twilight in America and learn how the plan and ultimate goal of radical Islam is not just to inflict terror by attacking our nation, but to inspire homegrown terrorism from within, committed by Americans against Americans. The plan is working, and the goal is being achieved. This is the descent that the United States is experiencing—this is twilight in America.

As it turns out, the Muslims of America group has been around since the 1980s and has various communes around the country. And it does appear that the FBI is keeping an eye on them, which is hardly surprising, and the Anti-defamation League lists them as an anti-semitic group and suggests they have ties to a shadowy terrorist group from Pakistan. But even a World Net Daily article entitled "Sheriffs sound off on Islamic 'terror camps' in U.S." tells an unintentionally hilarious story of a religious group living in obscurity while the local authorities are forced to deal with hysterical right wingers who spend too much time reading World Net Daily:

Sheriff John Carter of Wayne County, Georgia, received a hot tip in February last year that he remembers well.

The caller said he had reason to believe the Muslims of America, a mysterious Islamic commune with cult-like devotion to a radical Pakistani sheikh, was building underground bunkers on its land near the tiny town of Jesup.

He immediately paid a visit to the reclusive Muslim group’s compound, where Mecca Circle turns off of Oreo Road several miles north town. About 38 people live in the commune, where women wear burqas and the men don the skullcap common among Sufi Muslims.

“We haven’t had a lot of crime out there. They have not been unfriendly or rude in any way. They do want their privacy. It is a concern. We’re monitoring them, and I believe they’re monitored federally, although I don’t know that for sure because they’re not going to tell you,” Carter told WND. “But most of the concerns that bring us out there have come from outside the county.”

The sheriff has a file in his office about an inch thick titled “Mecca Circle,” filled with articles and CDs about the clannish Muslim enclave that keeps an extremely low profile in Wayne County.

And what about the report about those “bunkers?”

“I personally went up there, February a year ago, because this person was saying they were putting in bunkers,” he said.

He inquired of the leader, a man named Kareem, who led him to a site where the ground had been disturbed.

“They were replacing a septic tank,” Carter said.

Another sheriff from Virginia said basically the same thing and was clearly more upset by the outsiders than the Muslim locals in the compound:

“These people live there, they have their own mosque there. They don’t bother us. I’ve gotten a couple calls this week from West Virginia where they’re reading on the Internet what a militant place we have here and that’s not what it is,” Lacks said. “They’ve been here a good while, probably 10 to 15 years.

It’s not a city, it’s a residential area, probably 15 or 20 mobile homes there and a mosque. We go there all the time. It might be a civil paper we’re serving or it might be to unlock a vehicle. Routine stuff.” [...]

“The biggest problem we have is people driving here from outside the area being nosy, trying to find out what we have here. They give us more problems than the Muslims.”


But you can't blame just the right-wing fever swamps for creating this sort of hysteria; not when the head of the FBI, James Comey, feeds their paranoia by giving speeches like this all over the country:

"Mississippi is a great state, but like all 50 states it has troubled souls that might look to find meaning in this sick, misguided way. The challenge that we face in law enforcement is that they may be getting exposed to that poison and that training in their basement. They're sitting there consuming and may emerge from the basement to kill people of any sort, which is the call of ISIL, just kill somebody."

"If you can video tape it all the better, if it's law enforcement all the better, if you can cut somebody's head off and get it on tape, what a wonderful thing in their view of the world. That's the challenge we face everywhere."

[...] "Ordinary folks should listen to the hair on the back of their neck," he said. "We've gone back through every homegrown violent extremist case in the United States and studied it. In every single case, someone saw something online, at a religious institution, in a family setting, at a school, that was weird, that was out of place, this person was acting in a way that didn't make sense."

That's probably not really helpful in a country full of gun-toting yahoos who are already a little overstimulated by right-wing propaganda. In fact, it's downright irresponsible. It creates ridiculous suspicions like those that led to the detention of 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed this week in Texas for bringing a homemade clock to school. And it helps foster an environment that made Donald Trump the frontrunner for the office of President of the United States.

It's not hard to understand why this inane conspiracy theory would be brought up at a Trump rally. He is, after all, the man whose 2012 crusade to prove the president wasn't born in the U.S. was the catalyst for a possible run for president that year. This time around, he has made another foreign bogeyman his target, the undocumented Mexican worker. But as that questioner showed, he still has loyal followers among those for whom the Muslims in their midst are equally threatening. He's the all-around demagogic xenophobe of choice for the wingnut fringe.

While Trump's spokesman claimed that he was talking about looking into these alleged terrorist training camps, many of us who heard that question understood the man to be asking "when are we going to get rid of Muslims." With Trump talking about rounding up 12 million people and deporting them, including American children, it's not hard to imagine that his more unhinged supporters would think that the King of the Birthers might be on board for a little ethnic cleansing of Muslims as well. His answer undoubtedly cemented their faith that this is a man who was willing to consider it.

Op-Ed: What Can We All Do About Islamophobia?

By Heather Digby Parton

Heather Digby Parton, also known as "Digby," is a contributing writer to Salon. She was the winner of the 2014 Hillman Prize for Opinion and Analysis Journalism.

MORE FROM Heather Digby Parton

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