Don’t blame Muslims for the crimes of white supremacists

The American right is systematically trying to cover up far-right crimes by focusing attention on the Muslim community.

Poway attack
A casket with the body of Lori Gilbert-Kaye, killed in the April 27 synagogue shooting in Poway, is carried at El Camino Memorial cemetery in San Diego, California on April 29 [John Gastaldo/Reuters]

On April 27, the last day of Passover, John Earnest, a 19-year-old white male, walked into a synagogue in Poway, California and opened fire with an assault rifle, killing one person and wounding three.

Shortly before he carried out the attack, he posted online a 4000-word manifesto, in which he also took responsibility for setting on fire a mosque in Escondido, California on March 24, just nine days after Brenton Tarrant massacred 51 worshippers during Friday prayers in the New Zealand city of Christchurch.

In the manifesto, Earnest identifies Adolf Hitler as his idol, declares Tarrant his inspiration and praises Robert Bowers, who six months earlier had massacred 11 worshipers at a synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

He makes his hatred for both Jews and Muslims quite obvious, stating “The Jews have depleted our patience and our mercy” and claiming that he is not a terrorist because “I’m not wearing the sandn***** equivalent of a durag, my skin isn’t the color of s***, you can’t smell me from across the room … I do not shout ‘Durka durka mohammed jihad’.”

Ignoring Earnest’s vicious racism, explicitly articulated inspiration, and white supremacist ideology, several congressmen opted for a quick bait-and-switch, and instead blamed Ilhan OmarDemocrats, and the “liberal” media for the attack.

Meghan McCain, the daughter of the late Republican Senator John McCain, also joined the fray by declaring on live TV, “When we’re having conversations about anti-Semitism, we should be looking at the most extreme on both sides and I would bring up Congresswoman Ilhan Omar and some of her comments that got so much attention.” 

Not only is McCain’s claim an intentional mischaracterisation of Omar’s statements, which the congresswoman has apologised for and repeatedly contextualised, but it is also a dangerous false moral equivalency.

Her words are ironically reminiscent of President Donald Trump‘s refusal to condemn the far right after activist Heather Heyer was run over and killed by a white supremacist during the 2017 Unite the Right rally. Back then the US president said that there are “very fine people on both sides”.

This kind of rhetoric propagated by the right attempts to conceal undisputable realities: Earnest is a white supremacist and his violence targeted both Jews and Muslims. Any suggestion that Muslims bear any responsibility for Earnest’s radicalisation is deeply illogical and defies rudimentary common sense.

This concerted effort to shift the blame for white supremacist violence to Muslims can only be interpreted as a malicious attempt to provide a political cover for far-right extremists and further marginalise and incite against an already disenfranchised minority.

All this comes at a time when white nationalism and far-right sentiments are flaring up and racist incidents are increasing dramatically. Apart from these two attacks on Muslim and Jewish houses of worship in California, three black churches in Louisiana were also recently set on fire by a white male far-right extremist. 

At the end of last year, the FBI registered a rise in hate crimes for a third consecutive year. Sixty percent of such incidents were motivated by racial animus, 20 percent by religion and 16 percent by sexual orientation.

Back in 2017, the Department of Homeland Security and FBI reported that white supremacist groups were responsible for more attacks than any other domestic extremist group over the previous 16 years. In 2018, far-right extremists killed more people than any year since 1995, when the Oklahoma City bombing, masterminded by avowed white supremacist Timothy McVeigh, took place. The FBI has projected even more attacks in the following years, corresponding to the rapid rise of white nationalism.

And while the White House has demonstrated repeatedly that it is not interested in acting against white supremacy, one would think that Congress would be at the forefront of such efforts. Yet, as it became clear during an April House Judiciary Committee hearing titled, Hate crimes and the rise of white nationalism, there is no political will to take action there either.

During the hearing, Dr Mohammed Abu-Salha recounted the murders of his two daughters and son-in-law at the hands of a white supremacist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina in 2015. Yet, one house representative suggested to the grieving father that Muslims are by default extremists themselves, asking him “Did you teach your children, your daughters, hatred?”

Dr Abu-Salha had to give testimony alongside the president of the Zionist Organization of America, Mort Klein, who made the ridiculous claim that “the major issue threatening violence against Jews and Americans … is Muslim anti-Semitism.”

The fiasco hearing demonstrated that Congress is not just unable to lead a national conversation on the dangers of white supremacy or take action to curb it, but that it is also willing to humiliate victims of white supremacist crimes to indulge Zionist activists. 

White supremacy undoubtedly exists within the body of Congress itself, making it incapable of pursuing effective policies to combat white supremacist extremism, which targets Jews, Muslims, African Americans, and other racial and religious minorities. Now more than ever, it is essential for marginalised groups in the US to build strong alliances, pushing back against the right-wing spin, which employs a self-serving strategy to pit minority against minority.

The toxic ideology of white supremacy – and not Muslims, Democrats, or the “liberal” media – is the biggest threat the American society faces today. As our state institutions are increasingly failing to contain it, it is our duty to come together and take collective action. The safety, peace and security of all our communities depend on it.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.