Militia groups across the country are setting their sights on American Muslims. Since 2013, domestic militias have monitored Islamic institutions, and plotted and advocated violence against Muslims in states as diverse as New York, Indiana, Alaska and South Carolina. In 2014, militias in Mississippi “discussed kidnapping and beheading Muslims and posting the video” online, and a year earlier there were “calls over social media to kill Muslims attending worship services.”
These revelations about militia groups’ increased targeting of Muslim communities come from a May 2015 FBI bulletin recently released by the website Public Intelligence. The FBI’s warning — which was issued with “high confidence”— states that militia groups’ focus on Muslims “has resulted in increased violent rhetoric and plotting and has the potential, over the long term, to additional harassment of or violence against Muslims done by domestic extremists.”
Calling these militia members “domestic extremists,” the FBI cautiously predicts that violent attacks against Muslim institutions are unlikely to occur. However, they worry that the likelihood of an attack could increase due to numerous factors: “heightened intent” as a result of news events and “incidents” related to Islam; the abilities of lone actors and small cells; and the “successful acquisition of resources and detailed planning” that provide increased capability for carrying out violence.
In addition to the background this bulletin provides on the potential dangers of these groups, the FBI report draws attention to the sources that inspire these groups’ perceptions of Islam and Muslims. Shaped by an “ideology that views Muslims collectively with suspicion” and “contribute[s] toward an anti-Muslim bias,” these “extremists” adhere to two main misconceptions: that “Islam represents a foreign threat, equivalent to those which emanate from illegal immigration or international terrorism,” and that “the President of the United States not only sympathizes with Islamic extremists but directs US Government policy to align with their goals.”
These groups are often inspired by right-wing websites and individuals that promote anti-Muslim rhetoric and “anti-government conspiracy theories.” The FBI report makes mention of a few by name, including World Net Daily and Pamela Geller, both of whom have fermented conspiracies about ISIS training camps in the U.S.
But, as C.J. Werleman and others have pointed out, there are many other voices currently contributing to anti-Muslim fervor within society more broadly. Commentators both on the right and left cast Islam as a threat — a threat so menacing that it’s led some to take drastic public actions: armed demonstrations outside mosques; banning Muslims from private businesses; plans to slaughter Muslims in a small town in New York; and even, “a KKK member… plotting to build ‘death ray machine’ to kill Muslims [by] pumping poisonous radioactive gas into a number of mosques.”
When seen in the context of these other anti-Muslim activities, the content of FBI report is unsurprising, and sheds light on one aspect of larger problem in contemporary American society, one diagnosed by Werleman in this way:
“What started out as mere suspicion of Muslims in the wake of 9/11 has now metastasised into anti-Muslim hysteria, and, as history has taught us, hysteria is the precursor to violence.”
The FBI report, and recent events, remind us that the present hysteria about Islam and Muslims is widespread and has the potential to yield dangerous consequences.