CONCORD, NH — At a campaign rally in New Hampshire Wednesday night, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump declined to correct a supporter who declared that “Muslims” are “a problem in this country” and urged the candidate to “get rid of ‘em.” Voicing the beliefs of nearly half of U.S. Republicans, the speaker also asserted that President Obama is a Muslim — another point Trump allowed to stand as he promised to “look at” the issue.
Now, civil rights groups in the area say they’re concerned that such a high profile figure like Trump condoning hate speech against Muslims will lead to something worse.
“Anti-Muslim rhetoric isn’t just ugly, it’s dangerous. It is almost always followed by an uptick in anti-Muslim hate crimes and violence,” said Farhana Khera with the organization Muslim Advocates. The group is demanding Trump clarify his comments and publicly answer whether he believes the country needs to “get rid of” Muslims.
Khera also compared Trump’s actions — unfavorably — to how Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) faced a similar situation on the campaign trail in 2008, when a supporter called then-Senator Barack Obama an “Arab.”
McCain and other “people of good conscience stood up” to such hate speech then, said Khera. “So we urge all candidates for public office, including those running for president in both parties, to reject anti-Muslim bigotry — or any rhetoric that seeks to divide Americans based on how we look or how we pray.”
This change has come with an increase in incidents of Islamophobia. A local gun shop, Granite State Guns & Survival Gear, declared themselves a “Muslim-free zone.” Earlier this summer, Trump and many other Republicans running for president attended a New Hampshire conference sponsored by a group that believes American Muslims are infiltrating the U.S. government on behalf of the Muslim Brotherhood. The group’s staffers have also advocated outlawing the practice of Islam in America.
Just a few years ago in nearby Boston, a Muslim woman wearing a hijab was violently attacked by a stranger who accused her of a connection to the Boston marathon bombing.
Civil rights groups are concerned that Trump’s tacit support for anti-Muslim speech will echo what has happened with his rhetoric against Latin American immigrants: that it will evolve into violence.
Since Trump infamously characterized Mexican immigrants as “rapists,” supporters of his have verbally and physically attacked Latino protesters and openly advocated for white supremacy. Two brothers who beat and urinated on a homeless Latino man in Boston in August cited Trump as the inspiration for their crime.
“In failing to challenge the questioner’s anti-Muslim bigotry and his apparent call for the ethnic cleansing of American Muslims, Donald Trump sent the message that Islamophobia is acceptable,” said Robert McCaw with the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “Mr. Trump needs to follow the example of Senator McCain by rejecting bigotry and by speaking out against the growing Islamophobia in American society.”
Another civil rights group, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, released a statement slamming Trump for “promoting Islamophobia by validating anti-Muslim comments.”
“These bigoted comments incite violence and hate crimes against Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim, including Arab-Americans,” the group warned.
Following Wednesday night’s incident, some of Trump’s rivals for the White House across the political spectrum are also denouncing his actions. Democratic presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton, who held a competing town hall in Concord, New Hampshire, tweeted: “Donald Trump not denouncing false statements about POTUS & hateful rhetoric about Muslims is disturbing, & just plain wrong. Cut it out.”
New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, who is famous for his rowdy town halls, told NBC’s Matt Lauer that he “wouldn’t have permitted” such remarks to stand.
“If someone brought that up at a town hall meeting of mine, I would’ve said, ‘No, listen. Before we answer, let’s clear some things up for the rest of the audience.’ And I think you have an obligation as a leader to do that,” he said.