In the wake of last week’s horrific events in Boston, many nativists in the anti-immigrant and Islamophobia movements did not use the opportunity to appropriately mourn victims and families or support law enforcement officials who valiantly worked to locate those behind the attack. Instead, they viewed the events as a timely excuse to focus on and undermine immigration reform and the American Muslim community.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), Ranking Member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, took very little time before he derailed discussions during the Committee’s April 19 hearing on immigration reform. “Given the events of this week, it’s important to understand the gaps and loopholes,” Grassley said in his opening remarks. Rep. Marco Diaz-Balart (R-FL) took time to refute Grassley’s remarks later that day. “[E]very crime that is committed right now is under the current immigration system, the Florida representative said. “We need to fix the current immigration system, if in fact there is any connection between immigration at all.”
Sen. Grassley was not the only Republican Congressman ready to conflate the immigration debate with the Boston bombings. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) offered his thoughts as well. After working in previous weeks with colleagues in the House Immigration Reform Caucus to sabotage reform efforts, Gohmert predictably used the bombing suspects’ immigrant status and purported Muslim faith to create an unsubstantiated link between the suspects and Al-Qaeda. On C-SPAN, The Texas Rep. asserted, “[w]e know Al-Qaeda has camps on the Mexican border…We have people that are trained to act Hispanic when they are radical Islamists.”
At this point, Rep. Gohmert ranks among the best in bridging that admittedly small gap between anti-immigrant and Islamophobic rhetoric. In the past, Gohmert has used the supposed threat of “creeping Sharia” to speak out against gun control measures Additionally, Gohmert is known for persistently warning of “terror babies.” The notion is nearly identical to the anti-immigrant movement’s long-standing obsession with so-called “anchor babies” that are frequently cited in attempts to do away with birthright citizenship – a right guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
One of Gohmert’s harshest anti-Muslim colleagues in the House, Rep. Pete King (R-NY), used the bombings to target the American Muslim community and defend the New York Police Department’s controversial and ineffective Muslim surveillance program. “If you know a certain threat is coming from a certain community, that’s where you have to look,” Rep. King said on Fox News Sunday. The problem with King’s statement is that the suspects were hardly part of any community. One of the suspected bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev, was quoted in a Boston University magazine article from 2010 saying, “I don’t have a single American friend.” Rep King is predictably spreading misinformation to unjustifiably persecute and subjugate an entire community of American people under the guise of security.
As they are often won’t to do, Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller, two of the Islamophobia movement’s most notable mouthpieces, have also done their best so distribute misinformation in efforts to defame the Muslim community. Both Spencer and Geller quickly labeled the attacks as “Jihad in Boston,” citing one of the New York Post‘s many false pieces of reporting from last week. In response to critics, Spencer claimed he “run[s] a new & commentary site about jihad. These stories are pertinent. If they prove to be false I will say so.” Spencer eventually changed the headline of his initial post on his blog about the bombings to reflect a more accurate report. He did not, however, edit the body of the post, opting to keep a link to the Post‘s story featuring inflated death toll figures. The story has since been updated by the Post to reflect actual facts surrounding the events, but Spencer’s post retains the headline from the initial (i.e. inaccurate) reporting.
It should come as no surprise that these extremists do so little to correct their bigoted assertions when confronted with actual facts. Doing so serves in direct contravention to their agenda. Fear-mongering and defamation are what these nativists specialize in. With the apprehension of suspected bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, more information about the motives behind this tragedy will come soon. Until then, we must continue work to ensure extremists fail in their attempts to hijack this discussion as a means to advance their dishonest and hateful rhetoric.