Donald Trump’s makeover of the GOP in his own image has now come even to the blue state of New Jersey. Look no further than the Facebook page for the Camden County Republican Party. It’s a celebration of all things Trump, from attacking the media as liars, to viewing the coronavirus as a hyped-up “hoax,” to, of course, spewing anti-Muslim bigotry.
And this is all apparently by design. A post pinned to the top of this GOP organization’s Facebook page dated July 5, 2019, proclaims, “Over the past few days you may have noticed a decidedly different tone… This will continue moving forward and will reflect the new messaging and branding of our great county party.”
The New Jersey GOP, however, was not always in the Trump mold. In fact, there was a time when it embraced diversity—even Muslims. The best known example came in 2011 when then GOP Gov. Chris Christie nominated for a seat on the New Jersey Superior Court Sohail Mohammed, an immigrant from India and a leader in the Muslim community.
The response to the prospect of the first Muslim judge in the Garden State’s history from the anti-Muslim bigots was swift, with their peddling of Trump-like lies about Mohammed, such as the baseless claim he wanted to impose Sharia law. But Christie not only stood by Mohammed, he publicly defended him, proclaiming, “This Sharia law business is crap!” adding, “It’s just crazy, and I’m tired of dealing with the crazies.” Mohammed was later confirmed to the bench and remains a Superior Court judge.
That GOP is dead in New Jersey. Last summer, we saw the turn to “the Trump side” with the Republican Party in Sussex County—located in the more rural, northwestern part of the state—adopting a Twitter style mirroring Trump’s, complete with retweets of memes filled with anti-Muslim hate, such as calling Reps. Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib “the enemy within.” Other memes shared on its account included one of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley, calling them “stupid b*****s” and “Whores of Babble-on.”
At first, the Sussex GOP county chairman responded in the Trumpian fashion of attacking these members of Congress for their support of “radical policies.” After intense pressure, however, he did later offer an apology (of sorts) for the errors in “human judgment” that allowed these images to be shared. But he neither apologized to the members of Congress nor to the communities targeted.
And now we have the GOP in Camden County—which borders Philadelphia and is much larger and more diverse than Sussex—with a Facebook page that look like a shrine to Trump and Trumpism. Visiting the page, you are greeted with an image of past GOP presidents, with Trump being featured as the star.
From there, you will see Facebook posts attacking the media, such as a meme featuring Sarah Huckabee Sanders with the words “Just because reporters say something over and over again doesn’t make it true.” And posts of Trump’s tweets, such as one from just last week where Trump tried to downplay the threat of the coronavirus by comparing it to the seasonal flu, to which the Camden GOP posted the words “Don’t be fooled.”
But it’s the anti-Muslim memes posted by the Camden GOP that have caused a well-deserved avalanche of criticism. On Jan. 6, they typed the words “The enemy within” and then posted images of Rep. Omar with quotes taken out of context in an effort to make her appear supportive of terrorism. The next day, they posted a meme of an imaginary back-and-forth between Trump and Omar in which Omar says, “I hate Trump,” and Trump responds “Most terrorists do.”
And since they are now full Trump, they also posted a meme on Jan. 3 suggesting President Obama was a Muslim terrorist, featuring a photo of Mad Men star Jon Hamm smiling with the text reading, “When I heard Trump took out the leader of ISIS I thought he got Obama.”
These bigoted posts have drawn rebukes from not just Muslim groups but even from the New Jersey Attorney General’s Office, which stated that “it gives comfort to bigots. At worst, it encourages them to act out on their hateful beliefs.” Selaedin Maksut, executive director of the New Jersey Chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations, tied the Camden GOP’s rhetoric directly to Trump, saying, “A president that once declared ‘Islam hates us’ has normalized the type of dangerous rhetoric we see coming out of Camden, giving comfort to the racism that is harbored in so many.”
Maksut noted that there has been an alarming increase in hate crimes against Muslims in New Jersey and nationwide in the time of Trump. In fact, the Camden County Sheriff’s Office patrols the area where mosques are located during Friday prayer services because of a spike in hate crimes directed against Muslims in the area.
But like Trump, the Camden County GOP doesn’t appear to care. The head of the organization, Rich Ambrosino, defended the posts to the local PBS affiliate, saying, “It’s a First Amendment free speech thing,” adding, “I would say to people who were offended by it, then don’t look at it.” Although Ambrosino did concede that the image with Omar labeled as the “enemy within” was “absolutely unacceptable.”
The images, though, still remained on the Facebook page until the controversy. And for good reason: The turn to full Trumpism has led the Camden GOP to see its number of followers quadruple to more than 6,000. They’ve also seen a record number of attendees at their social events.
Hate is the GOP brand under Trump and sadly it’s working to attract like-minded people to its ranks. Seeing this in a blue state like New Jersey means Trump has succeeded at reshaping the entire GOP into his own vile image.