Some Trump supporters apparently are taking a little break this Saturday from defending Donald Trump Jr. for trying to obtain “dirt” from the Russian government to help his father win the 2016 presidential election.
Are they going to the beach or hanging by the pool? Nope, they are doing something much more Trump-inspired: They are traveling to upstate New York to harass and taunt an African American Muslim community.
Come Saturday, the “Proud Boys” are heading to Islamberg, New York, a small community of some 40 families that’s a little over a three-hour drive northwest of New York City, to visit, as they put, it an “Islamic training ground.”
By way of background, Islamberg was founded in 1980 by Muslims, primarily African American, to escape the crime and racism of the big city. It’s currently home to about two dozen Muslims families. Muhammad Matthew Gardner, a spokesperson for the community, explained to me, “Our community consists of veterans, doctors, lawyers, teachers, et cetera. We are true American patriots.”
This Muslim community has a long history of working with local law enforcement. And despite lies from the right, state and local police have made it clear time and time again that there’s zero evidence of terrorism or other wrongdoing in Islamberg.
But to bigots, a community that’s both Muslim and black scares the crap out of them. So enter the Proud Boys. These “boys” are really Trump-loving white men led by Gavin McInnes, who has written for white supremacist publications, spewed anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim garbage, and is an apologist for white supremacist terrorism. Plus he’s easily triggered as I found out when I documented his past words in a recent article and he responded by calling on his Twitter followers to get me fired like he claimed they had done to Reza Aslan.
What’s especially alarming about the Proud Boys, as the Southern Poverty Law Center notes, is that they are akin to a far right, white fight club. Initiation into the organization requires a “beat in” where members are punched and beaten by current members. Plus to become full members they must brawl with anti-fascists at public rallies. Will the next imitation requirement be punching a Muslim?
The Proud Boys will be joined Saturday by groups like Alt Knights, headed by a neo-Confederate. I’m sure you get a sense of what’s really going on.
The people of Islamberg, unfortunately, are used to being the target of hate. This small community has been demonized for years by Fox News and anti-Muslim groups like the Clarion Project. In fact the Proud Boys cite the “research” of the Clarion Project as a reason they are heading to Islamberg. The Clarion Project, as the SPLC notes, is an anti-Muslim hate group. Of course that doesn’t stop Fox News from featuring Clarion “experts” on air to spew lies that Islamberg is a terrorist training camp openly operating in New York State.
It’s lies like these that radicalized Robert Doggart, a white Christian minister, to plot a terror attack on the people of Islamberg. Just last month Doggart was sentenced in federal court to nearly 20 years in prison for this scheme. I doubt you heard about that case because the terrorist was a white Christian and not a brown Muslim.
Yet the drumbeat of misinformation from the lucrative anti-Muslim industry continues to radicalize Americans to go after Muslims. We saw an example earlier this week when someone defaced a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, by writing graffiti and hanging bacon on the door. Clearly some bigots believe pork is a type of Muslim kryptonite that makes us lose our “Muslim powers.” They are wrong. My dad was a chef and cooked with pork daily with no loss of his Muslim-ness. It’s the voluntarily eating of pork that is the issue.
Also this week in New Hyde Park, New York, someone left a large painting of Jesus Christ outside a mosque, an event that’s being investigated by the local police as a bias incident. The reality, however, is that Jesus is an important part of Islam, as is the Virgin Mary, so feel free to leave paintings of either at our mosques.
Back to Islamberg. This is not the first hate rally Islamberg had to endure. Last year another group, American Bikers United Against Jihad, drove up to Islamberg to protest the community. That time a counter rally saw over 400 people show up to stand with the families of Islamberg while only a handful of protesters made the trip.
However, there’s a concern this year that under Trump the protest size will be larger. Clearly the bigots have been emboldened by Trump’s presidency. This year, though, the residents of Islamberg will not be organizing a counter protest. By way of a written statement, the Islamberg community stated that they would ignore these people trying to divide Americans and instead focus on “our work of encouraging Muslim, Christian and Jewish unity.” However, the community notes it’s working closely with local law enforcement to ensure the protection of their loved ones.
As Islamberg spokesperson Muhammad Matthew Gardner told me, the greatest concern is for the children of their community. “We tell them be proud of who they are,” Gardner added. But how do you explain to a young child why people are protesting you simply because of your faith? Or even worse, plotting to attack or kill you, as in the case of Robert Doggart?
That’s not a conversation any parent should have to have in 2017 in the United States. But the reality is we can likely expect more such conversations by Muslim—and even Jewish—parents with their children in the time of Trump.