The Spread of Islamophobia via the Christian Right

Martin has done a great job of demonstrating that white rural Americans showed up in droves to vote for Donald Trump. That reminded me of something I had written about in the lead-up to the election. It was based on this article from our local public radio outlet.

At Minnesota’s northernmost border, about 120 people filled the Warroad Baptist Church to hear former FBI agent John Guandolo warn them about what he calls the threat of Islam…

“Are you prepared?” Guandolo called out. “Are you prepared for the two or three dozen jihadis in, pick a city in Minnesota, with mortars or shoulder-fired rockets? You don’t think they can get those in the United States?”

North and central Minnesota have become fertile ground for traveling speakers who have built national careers spreading alarm about the danger they say Islam poses inside U.S. borders. At dozens of rural churches and schools, speakers have warned crowds about refugees and called on them to be prepared to oppose Muslims in Minnesota. This comes at a time of mounting political tension over immigration ahead of the contentious presidential election.

The article mentions two speakers – John Guandolo, who resigned from the FBI when superiors found a list he wrote of his sexual conquests with agents and a confidential source – and Usama Dakdok, whose speeches have been tied to a threat to burn down the house of a Somali woman if she and her family didn’t leave Little Falls, Minn.

In trying to learn more about these two men, I came across a whole series of speakers who are traveling around the country spreading Islamophobia in the name of Christianity (which is both the message and audience targeted by Guandolo and Dakdok). We’ve seen this kind of thing regularly from Franklin Graham (son of Billy Graham), who warned of Muslim infiltration in the government, called for a ban on Muslim immigration and suggested that God showed up on election day to make Donald Trump president.

But beyond the well-known names, evangelical churches are being flooded with a whole host of speakers who marry the message of Islamophobia to Christianity. For example, take a look at the list of presenters at a conference sponsored by a church in Colorado Springs called “Breaking the Silence.” You’ll not only find Guandolo among them, but people like David Barton, the revisionist historian who has turned his mythologies about a Christian nation into a campaign against Islam. Kamal Saleem is another favorite on the circuit. He is a Lebanese American who claims to be a converted jihadist. Other favorites include William Federer and Ret. Lt. General Jerry Boykin.

Whether it is in suburban megachurches or small gatherings like the ones referenced in Northern Minnesota, these speakers spread exactly the message that emanated from Donald Trump’s campaign and is increasingly being affirmed in the developing administration.

Trump, Bannon, Sessions, Pompeo, former DIA Director (and Trump National Security Adviser designee) Mike Flynn, and Trump transition team adviser and long-time Islamophobe Frank Gaffney are poised to further derange our counterterrorism policy. By increasing the demonization and stigmatization of Arab or Muslim immigrants, they will legitimize the ISIS narrative that America is at war with Islam as a whole—giving public relations oxygen to Salafist-oriented terrorist organizations from Africa to Southeast Asia, facilitating their recruitment efforts globally.

Certainly this isn’t the only factor involved in white rural support for Trump. But as Minnesota Public Radio pointed out, there is a reason why so many of these speakers target those communities.

Dakdok holds the bulk of his Minnesota events in small northern towns — places with few, if any Muslims. So does Guandolo, and he said that’s intentional. The Twin Cities, he told the Warroad crowd, are overrun with Muslims.

That is what Patrick Thornton was referring to when he wrote, “I’m a Coastal Elite From the Midwest: The Real Bubble is Rural America.”

My home county in Ohio is 97 percent white. It, like a lot of other very unrepresentative counties, went heavily for Donald Trump.

My high school had about 950 students. Two were Asian. One was Hispanic. Zero were Muslim. All the teachers were white…

In many of these areas, the only Muslims you see are in movies like “American Sniper.” (I knew zero Muslims before going to college in another state.) You never see gay couples or even interracial ones. Much of rural and exurban American is a time capsule to America’s past…

We, as a culture, have to stop infantilizing and deifying rural and white working-class Americans. Their experience is not more of a real American experience than anyone else’s, but when we say that it is, we give people a pass from seeing and understanding more of their country…

We must start asking all Americans to be their better selves. We must all understand that America is a melting pot and that none of us has a more authentic American experience.

While I agree with Thornton, it is much easier said than done. It’s clear that people like the speakers listed above are finding a way to exploit the bubble in which a lot of rural Americans live in order to spread their message of fear (or, perhaps to make a buck or two). Churches provide natural communities in which to do that, especially in rural America. Liberals don’t tend to have access to most of those venues…hence, the divide.

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly.