Pierre Review

Meet Neal Tapio, the Mini-Trump of South Dakota Who Thinks Interfaith Services Are Un-Christian

This GOP state senator supports freedom of religion, yes indeed. He just thinks people from different faiths shouldn’t mingle, OK?

Photo Illustration by The Daily Beast

In America B.T. (“Before Trump”), if a Republican candidate wanted to attract headlines, build support among the GOP base and possibly even get an invite on Fox News, all they had to do was say a few demonizing words about Muslims. For example, in January 2015, then-GOP governor of Louisiana and potential presidential candidate, Bobby Jindal, made headlines with his fact-free claim Muslims had imposed “no-go zones” in U.S. cities where non-Muslims were not welcome.

Then, in September 2015, we saw GOP presidential candidate Ben Carson, a man who always looks like someone just woke him up from a nap, proclaim that a Muslim shouldn’t be allowed to serve as president of the United States. Carson received so much press in response to that statement that even Donald Trump enviously commented that Carson was “getting a lot of ink on Muslims.”

And then came Trump—the LeBron James of anti-Muslim hate. Trump knew that he needed to eclipse Carson’s anti-Muslim remarks in order to get the big press. So what did Trump do? Well, a few months later Trump took anti-Muslim hate to levels never seen before by calling for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslims coming into the United States. From there, Trump added in March 2016 that “Islam hates us.” Both comments caused an avalanche of media coverage for Trump.

Consequently, in America A.T. (“After Trump”), if you are a Republican candidate looking to grab headlines by demonizing Muslims, you have to really bring your A-Game. Anything less just won’t spark the media interest.

But now it looks like we have a possible new contender for the anti-Muslim hate crown. Meet Republican state Sen. Neal Tapio, who hails from the “Great Faces, Great Places” state of South Dakota.

Tapio, who predictably was Trump’s South Dakota campaign director in 2016, has in the past spewed run-of-the-mill anti-Muslim garbage. But last week Tapio was so outraged by an event that he took his game to another level. What set him off? An interfaith event held at the South Dakota state Capitol in Pierre (pronounced “peer”) sponsored by the South Dakota Lutheran Church.

Typically, even right-wing Republicans are cool with bringing people together of other faiths. But not Tapio, who is desperate for media attention given that he has all but formally announced he’s seeking the GOP nomination for a seat in Congress this year (the state has just one at-large district).

Interfaith dialogue is a part of a war, it’s a silent part, it’s a part of a way of taking away the Christian fabric of our nation.
Sen. Neal Tapio (R-SD)

So a day before the event that gathered approximately 50 local faith leaders, Tapio sent out a press release slamming the participants, claiming, “A simple check of their social media accounts will verify these people violently oppose President Trump and his efforts to keep America safe.”

Tapio’s statement continued by oddly attacking the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) for labeling as a hate group leader James Dobson, a virulent anti-LGBT activist who in the past called for people to shoot transgender women if they enter the women’s bathroom. (Neither the SPLC nor Dobson had any connection to this interfaith event.) Tapio’s statement did defend religious freedom for all, “regardless of whether you are a Bhuddist [sic], Hindu, Muslim, Christian or atheist.” Funny, he left out Jews, kind of the same way his political hero left out mentioning Jews in his Holocaust Remembrance Day statement last year.

But Tapio was not done. He then showed up at the state Capitol on the day of the interfaith gathering to declare his opposition. After first taking an awkward photo with participants in the event, Tapio began to lecture them about why Muslims need to be banned and other typical Trumpian garbage. The interfaith group responded in perfect fashion: They began singing “America the Beautiful” to drown him out.

Tapio, though, refused to be overshadowed by people who were celebrating American values. So, he made his way up to the local reporters. And then this GOP state senator made the most jaw-dropping and vile statement about interfaith activities that I’ve ever heard, declaring that: “Interfaith dialogue is a part of a war, it’s a silent part, it’s a part of a way of taking away the Christian fabric of our nation.”

Think about that for a moment. Tapio wants to keep people of different faiths segregated from one another. And Tapio apparently views the mingling of people of different faiths as a threat to Christianity.

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But Tapio still was not done. He then made it clear that he was prepared to wage a jihad to keep the faiths apart, telling reporters: “Now some people are OK with that, that’s their prerogative, but there’s American patriots that want to fight.” Is Tapio threatening violence to ensure the segregation of faiths?

Tapio, who last year welcomed anti-Muslim activist David Horowitz to South Dakota, also told the media that Islam is “a hateful and deadly ideology.” He then concluded his rant with a comment that was hilarious in light of its unintended irony: “When you politicize faith, it’s a danger.”

Amazingly you have a man who is calling for policies like a Muslim registry, banning Muslims, and even railing against interfaith effort all to preserve the “Christian fabric” of our nation warning about the politicization of religion.

Now to be clear, many South Dakotans are outraged by Tapio’s comments as evidenced by op-eds slamming him. But if Tapio wins the GOP nomination for Congress, he will likely win the general election in this very red state and become a member of the House of Representatives. That means he will no longer just be South Dakota’s problem but all of ours.

As one South Dakotan op-ed writer noted while denouncing Tapio’s bigotry, “If on occasion, we elect someone who cannot see the good, we correct the mistake at the next ballot box.” Here’s hoping he’s correct about the people of South Dakota because the last thing we need in Washington, D.C., is another bigot.