A new study from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, or ISPU, asserts that perpetrators of violent crimes are sentenced more harshly when they are perceived to be Muslim. The report also asserts that major American media outlets focus a disproportionate amount of attention on Muslims accused of plotting violence.

“The findings of this report build and expand on existing research, and [provide] quantitative backing to many people’s instinctual perceptions of what has been going on in the media and in our legal system,” Kumar Rao, a fellow at ISPU and a co-author of the report, told The Intercept. “As it relates to acts of ideological violence, there is, frankly, a double standard in how perpetrators are described in the media, as well as how they are treated in the courts.”

The report states:

On average, prosecutors sought three times the sentence length for Muslim perpetrators as for perpetrators not identified as Muslim for similar plots of attempted ideologically driven violence (230 months vs. 76 months). Additionally, Muslim perpetrators received four times the average sentence as their non-Muslim counterparts for attempted plots of similar conduct (211 vs. 53).

Moreover, undercover law enforcement or an informant provided the means of the crime (such as a firearm or inert bomb) in a majority (two-thirds) of convictions in plots involving a perceived Muslim perpetrator, but in a small fraction (two out of twelve) of those involving a non-Muslim perpetrator.

In terms of print media coverage, Muslim-perceived perpetrators received twice the absolute quantity of media coverage as their non-Muslim counterparts in the cases of violent completed acts. For “foiled” plots, they received seven and half times the media coverage as their counterparts.

Differences also extended to media references to a perceived Muslim perpetrator’s religion as compared to ideologies of perceived non-Muslims, mentions of specific phrases such as “terrorist” or “terrorism,” and coverage of the ultimate prison sentences.

“What was really interesting is that in the majority of cases involving people perceived to be Muslim, the perpetrators were not acquiring weapons on their own, but were instead being provided with them by government agents—yet they were being charged more heavily,” said Carey Shenkman, a Truthdig contributor, fellow at ISPU, and co-author of the report. “Meanwhile, in cases involving non-Muslim perpetrators, you very often had people actually making explosives and stockpiling firearms. They didn’t need the FBI to go over and hand them weapons, because they already had them.”

Murtaza Hussein at The Intercept adds:

This disparity in media and legal attention to cases of ideologically motivated violence has grown more troubling with the increase of violence carried out by sympathizers of the “alt-right” movement over the past several years. More than 100 people have been killed or wounded in the U.S. since 2014 by people believed to have been supporters of the “alt-right,” according to a February report from the Southern Poverty Law Center. … Despite these acts of violence, however, the Department of Homeland Security under President Donald Trump has been working to strip funding from groups that work to mitigate far-right violence, while redirecting counter-extremism programming to focus exclusively on Muslim terrorism.

Indeed, Reuters reported in February 2017 that the Trump administration wanted to rename the program, “Countering Violent Extremism,” which focused on all violent ideologies, to “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.”

Dalia Mogahed, director of research at ISPU, told The Intercept, “At heart, there is a question here of what we as a society deem threatening, and what we as a society are afraid of. What you often find is that when a crime is committed by a member of the dominant, privileged group in any society, it’s excused as an aberration, while crimes committed by members of an out-group are pathologized toward that group as a whole. This implicit bias finds its way into all our institutions, including courtrooms and the media.”

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