Based in Montgomery, Alabama, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has been at the forefront of the fight against racism and for civil rights since 1971. More recently, in its efforts to track and eliminate hate and extremism in this country, it has provided some invaluable resources on anti-Muslim bigotry.
You may remember SPLC’s astounding report, The Trump Effect: The Impact of the Presidential Campaign on Our Nations Schools. It provided the results of an online survey that found widespread anxiety in and increased harassment of Muslim students and other students of color. The report is an important tool for parents, educators, and activists who are on the front lines, arguing that the changes in their children’s school environments must be met with proactive anti-hate messaging, diversity training, and Islam education and awareness.
SPLC has just released their Field Guide to Anti-Muslim Extremists, which profiles 15 prominent anti-Muslim extremists. Many of these people are associated with known hate groups, but have successfully marketed themselves as media and training “experts” on the supposed threats of Islam and Muslims. By demonizing Islam and Muslims, these extremists effectively fuel hate crime attacks against Muslims, and broader anti-Muslim bigotry and rhetoric:
To give an example: One of the extremists profiled in this guide has said that 480 million to 640 million Muslims “support the notion that it’s okay to bomb the World Trade Center”; another claimed that 180 million to 300 million Muslims “are willing to strap a bomb on their bodies … and blow us all up.” In fact, terrorism expert Peter Bergen polled other extremism experts in 2014 and concluded that the real number of Muslims in terrorist groups was between 85,000 and 106,000. That means that fewer than one in every 15,000 Muslims is part of such a group.
It doesn’t stop there. The anti-Muslim extremists profiled here have, between them, claimed that Islamic extremists have infiltrated the CIA, FBI, Pentagon and other agencies; asserted that there are “no-go zones” in Europe where non-Muslims including police are afraid to enter; suggested that there is a Muslim plot to impose Sharia religious law on U.S. courts; and claimed that President Obama is a secret Muslim. These claims, along with many others, have been shown conclusively to be false.
The anti-Muslim extremists profiled in the report include Ann Cocoran, Steven Emerson, Brigitte Gabriel, Frank Gaffney, Pamela Geller, John Guandolo, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, David Horowitz, Ryan Mauro, Maajid Nawaz, Robert Muise, Daniel Pipes, Walid Shoebat, and Robert Spencer. After evaluating the sources and the talking points of these extremists, the report goes on to explain the political impact of their efforts:
News consumers need to know that these groups and their leaders are far outside the mainstream, and that their factual assertions are very often completely baseless. As the Columbia Journalism Review pointed out in “Countering Misinformation: Tips for Journalists,” political misinformation “may pollute democratic discourse, make it more difficult for citizens to cast informed votes, and limit their ability to participate meaningfully in public debate.” The magazine added, “Use credible sources; don’t give credence to the fringe,” and pointed out that the more false claims are repeated, the more difficult it is to undo their pernicious effects. In the case of anti-Muslim extremists, false claims about a whole range of issues have the effect of fueling hatred of Muslims and, ultimately, criminal hate violence against them.
The report concludes by listing four recommendations for hosts, reporters, and editorial boards to avoid giving legitimacy to anti-Muslim extremists. It explains how they can research the background and evaluate the sources of spokespeople, point out the extremism of anti-Muslim spokespeople, prepare to challenge hateful rhetoric and misinformation, and avoid relying on opposing guests to challenge extremism.
SPLC has done much of our work for us. This report provides all of the information we need to expose the affiliations of anti-Muslim extremists and to provide recommendations for more objective, less destructive reporting to our media outlets.
Sofia Ali-Khan is a Muslim American public interest lawyer and writer. Her recently viral post, “Dear Non-Muslim Allies,” and other writings can be found at sofiaalikhan.com.