An unknown anti-Islam group has created a fake website that spouts hateful rhetoric while pretending to represent an Illinois Muslim organization — adding fuel to an already volatile debate at a nearby evangelical college over a professor who said Christians and Muslims worship the “same God.”
Last week, a new website pretending to be the Islamic Center of Wheaton (ICW) was quietly published on the Internet. But unlike the actual ICW, whose website advertises family fundraising dinners, the flashy fake page voiced extremist positions common among militant groups, such as lauding the attackers in there recent shootings in Paris and San Bernardino as “myrters” (sic) and featuring a section dedicated to “teaching children to be martyrs.”
“In praise of the martyrs Allahu Akbar!” the website says of the terrorists who murdered 130 people in November.
The fake website also makes mention of professor Larycia Hawkins, the embattled professor from nearby Wheaton College, an evangelical Christian school in Illinois. Hawkins, who is Christian, garnered national attention after Wheaton took action to fire her for saying that Muslims and Christians worship the “same God.” The webpage calls administrators “crusaiders” (sic) and uses radical terminology to condemn the school for reprimanding Hawkins, who has been supported Muslims and Christians throughout the U.S.
The author of the website reportedly also sent emails to several Wheaton city officials — including the mayor — falsely claiming that the ICW has an affiliation with ISIS.
ICW representatives say they were informed about the website after a local detective visited the center to ask about its content. According to a statement released on Monday, the center has since contacted the FBI requesting an investigation, removal of the website, and the prosecution of its creators. In addition, the ICW asked local law enforcement for increased security around their facility, expressing concern that the website could trigger a backlash similar to the growing number of attacks on mosques that have occurred across the country over the last two months.
“The Islamic Center of Wheaton (ICW) is under cyber-attack by an unknown group,” the statement read. “A website bearing the same name of ICW is on the web and it contains lies, fabrications, and slander about Islam; our beloved prophet, and our community. This site is also making mockery of Christians who are interacting with ICW.”
The author of the website is still unclear, but hidden within its “press” link is a rambling, typo-ridden manifesto explaining the supposed rationale for its creation. The author, who identifies only as “Commander X,” spouts anti-Islamic ideals while railing against local officials and Wheaton College professors for falling victim to the religious world’s “radical left.”
“We are dismayed that the local Wheaton government, a critical number of Wheaton College professors and so many Christian Churches have been co-opted by the radical left and their open immigration agenda,” the author, who describes themselves as a lifelong Wheaton resident who now lives in a “Scandinavian country,” writes. The author also cites presidential candidate Donald Trump as having “initiated the debate” over Syrian refugees and Muslim immigration when he proposed a ban on allowing any Muslims into the country in December — a policy the author appears to express agreement with.
The website goes on to decry major evangelical organizations such as the Evangelical Immigration Table and World Relief, lamenting instances where they and other groups launched campaigns to voice solidarity with Muslims or endorse comprehensive immigration reform.
“This is only the beginning of our guerrilla campaign,” the message concludes, before embedding a video from Vice media documenting religious extremists in the United Kingdom.
The Chicago chapter of the Center for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also issued a statement on Monday condemning the website and asking for law enforcement to investigate the incident. On Tuesday, CAIR Chicago’s Executive Director Ahmed Rehab said digital attacks on Muslims are common, but the highly polished page is unusually sophisticated.
“We’ve this sort of thing before, but never at this cut and dry level,” Ahmed told ThinkProgress. “We’ve seen more bully-type websites. But in this case, there is a clear attempt to defraud the web surfer to believe that this is the actual Islamic center.”
Rehab noted that the fake webpage, while unusual, is part of a larger uptick in Islamophobia currently sweeping the United States.
“There is an atmosphere of Islamophobia that many of us are claiming is worse than post-9/11,” Rehab said, adding that the creator cites a Christian faith. “At the same time, this radicalism does not represent white Christians, just as other radicalism does not represents Muslims.”
CAIR Chicago and ICW are hoping the site will be taken down, arguing it violates copyright laws and incites violence. Meanwhile, the “legal” section of the fake page claims the project is a “parody site,” although the author maintains an extremist tone: the page condemns Muslims as “people from this deficient culture,” and while it acknowledges that “as far as we know, the real Islamic Center of Wheaton does not actually support violence against successful, advanced Western cultures,” it also says local Muslims “should be monitored with an extremely wary eye.”
Shortly after this article was published, the fake website seems to be offline. Visiting the website presents the user with the following message, which appears to charge the creators with a hate crime:
"This domain name associated with the website icwonline.today has been seized pursuant to an order issued by a U.S. District Court. A federal grand jury has indicted several individuals and entities alledgedly(sic) involved in the operations of icwonline.today and related websites charging them with the following federal crimes: Conspiracy to Commit Hate Crimes (18 U.S.C. § 249), Conspiracy to Commit Criminal Impersonation (18 U.S.C. § 668), Copyright Infringement (18 U.S.C. § 371), Criminal Copyright Infringement (18 U.S.C. § § 2, 2319; 17 U.S.C. § 507)"
The website has been updated again, this time changing the list of charges as well as the federal agency logos to include accusations that appear to mock the website's detractors, such sporting the emblem of the nonexistent "U.S. Department of Muslim Sensitivity."