For over a week now, conservatives have been trying to make sense of Colin Kaepernick’s decision to sit or kneel during the national anthem as a form of protest. Football is supposed to be a quintessential display of American exceptionalism, and yet here is one of the game’s biggest names calling out police for their transgressions against people of color.
The simple answer is that Kaepernick sees injustice and is using his sizable platform to call attention to it. But those who remain willfully ignorant about said injustices have settled on a better explanation, thanks to some trademark right-wing deductive reasoning: Colin Kaepernick must hate America, Muslims also hate America, ergo Colin Kaepernick must be Muslim.
As with so many talking points in conservative media these days, this story can be traced from its conception on racist, alt-right message boards up through larger but no more reputable websites until it is fished out by some conservative news catchall. From there, an assistant producer at Fox News adds it to the daily rundown of news clips, and that’s when this happens:
Eric Bolling casually dropped into the conversation the fact that Kaepernick converted to Islam in the same way one might casually mention the weather outside: “Did you hear it was raining? I heard it was raining.”
Days after Kaepernick made headlines for refusing to stand during the national anthem as a show of protest for the way police officers routinely target minority communities, outraged netizens began circulating a months-old anonymous entry from a sports gossip site that alleged Kaepernick’s girlfriend was convincing him to convert to Islam. Photoshopped images of Kaepernic wearing a shirt resembling the ISIS flag or with his face superimposed onto an image of Osama bin Laden were posted on message boards as evidence of his new faith.
Then last week, The Daily Caller posted a short entry alleging that Kaepernick’s national anthem protest was somehow the brainchild of Kaepernick’s “communist-sympathizing Muslim girlfriend,” citing the same outdated and anonymous sports gossip entry.
Two things should be obvious. First, there is no evidence that Colin Kaepernick has converted to Islam. Though his protest is a silent one, Kaepernick hasn’t been shy when answering questions about why he won’t stand for the national anthem.
“I’ll continue to sit. I’m going to continue to stand with the people that are being oppressed” he told reporters during a post-game interview. “There’s a lot of things that need to change. One specifically? Police brutality. There’s people being murdered unjustly and not being held accountable. People are being given paid leave for killing people. That’s not right. That’s not right by anyone’s standards.”
At no point has religion—his or anyone else’s—been cited as a motivation for his protest.
Second, the racist implication behind Bolling and the Daily Caller’s allegation is that the very act of being Muslim somehow explains behavior they perceive to be anti-American.
All of which also underscores the message that Kaepernick is trying to send: some people in this country simply do not receive the kind of equal treatment that is promised in our national anthem.