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Anti-Muslim Campaign Rhetoric Climbs to Previously Unseen Heights

Screenshot / YouTube.

Emboldened by President Donald Trump’s speeches and anti-Muslim legislation, candidates across the country have openly incorporated Islamophobic claims into their campaigns leading up to the midterm elections. The rise, according to a new report from Muslim Advocates, is dramatic, and, as The Guardian reports, the campaigns are using “tactics that echo attempts to inflame fears around immigrants and people of color.”

The report examined 80 campaigns around the U.S. that have used some kind of anti-Muslim rhetoric since 2016, nearly all Republican. Researchers found that 64 percent of those candidates are already either elected or appointed officials, or brag about their presidential endorsements. In addition, The Guardian observes:

More than a third have claimed that Muslims are inherently violent or pose an imminent threat, the report found, and have propagated the existence of a Muslim conspiracy to take over communities or infiltrate government. Just under a third of the candidates considered have called for Muslims to be denied basic rights or declared that Islam is not a religion.

Among the specific examples, the report mentions California Rep. Duncan Hunter, a Republican who, despite being indicted for alleged misuse of campaign funds, still has wide support in his district, as the HuffPost observed this week.

As part of shoring up that support, Hunter “Ran an attack ad suggesting his Democratic opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, was a ‘security risk … working to infiltrate Congress,’ ” The Guardian writes. “The television spot invoked Campa-Najjar’s Mexican-Palestinian heritage and claimed without evidence that he was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood.”

In Virginia, the Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican super PAC aligned with House Speaker Paul Ryan, ran an ad attacking Democratic candidate Abigail Spanberger for her work as a substitute teacher at a Saudi-funded school for a few months in 2002 and 2003.

“Spanberger doesn’t want us to know that she taught at an Islamic school nicknamed Terror High, a terrorist breeding ground,” the ad says. Spanberger, who is running for a House seat against Tea Party member Dave Brat, had been teaching at the school while waiting for the CIA and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service to process her security clearances. She had previously disclosed this information, Think Progress notes.

In Texas, Bexar County District Attorney Nico LaHood, who was defeated in a Democracy primary when he sought re-election this year, said that Islam is “basically a political system wrapped in a religion.” According to The Intercept’s analysis of his remarks, LaHood implied that “when fully implemented, [Islam] could produce only terrorists.”

Scott Simpson, public advocacy director of Muslim Advocates, told The Guardian, “We’ve seen anti-Muslim candidates running in every region. … We’ve seen them running at every level of office, from the school and planning boards all the way to governor and Congress. We’ve seen it in liberal places and conservative places.”

Even as ads like those in California and Virginia continue to air, there is some evidence they don’t work. Simpson says the accusations are not popular with voters, and The Guardian points out that of the 80 campaigns studied, “Only 11–14 percent–were elected or are safely projected to win in November.”

Read the report here.

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