That’s the headline, and that’s the inevitable result of right-wing politicians and commentators spending years deliberately manufacturing hate, Islamophobia, and conspiracy theories to rile up their base and villainize Muslims as supposed “invaders” threatening this thing called “Western” (as in white) civilization. It is an empowered ecosystem that is global, growing and willing to sacrifice our kids to make its hate become “great” again.
This time the headlines are about a Muslim family of five waiting at the curb of an intersection in London, Canada, minding their own business, when they were fatally rammed by a black pickup truck driven by Nathaniel Veltman, 20, who was later found by the police wearing full body armor. The sole survivor, 9-year-old Canadian boy Fayez Afzaal, woke up in the hospital to be told that his father, mother, grandmother, and teenage sister were killed in this alleged hate crime. He has to now live with the fact that his family, beloved and respected by the local community, was brutally murdered simply for being Muslim.
Where will it happen next time? I’m asking this question thousands of miles away in Virginia, in a WhatsApp group with fellow Muslim American friends raising their families in suburbs and asking if this could happen here. The same conversation is happening across Muslim communities in America and Europe, where Muslims have lived for decades and centuries but are still seen as visitors and foreigners.
In case you’re rolling your eyes right now and dismissing my concerns as exaggerated or reactionary, please remember we just removed a president who won that office promising “a Muslim Ban,” said that “Islam hates us” on live television, and whose party now actively promotes the antisemitic “replacement theory” suggesting that in between building Lego sets for my kids and writing this article I’m being used by powerful Jews to undermine and eventually take down white, Christian conservatives. (Only on weekends and after midnight.)
Only the details change with each new tragedy, each new remake. Anti-Muslim hate and xenophobic conspiracy theories inspire a young man to view innocent Muslims as invaders who are threatening to destroy Western civilization and freedoms due to our rising numbers, hostile religious values, and economic success. The government, media, civil society, and corporations are corrupt vessels of the “Deep State” who are aiding the country’s inevitable decline by advocating for diversity, feminism, critical race theory, and multiculturalism.
“It’s the same story with a different cast. This time it features a 9-year-old boy in Canada who woke up in a hospital without a family.”
That’s what Anders Breivik believed. In 2011, the Norwegian terrorist who killed 77 people left behind a 1,500-page manifesto meant to inspire copycats. Breivik wrote that he wanted to punish Europe for promoting multiculturalism and immigration and that Muslims should be deported because they were engaging in “demographic Jihad” and thus threatening “Western” and Christian values. His manifesto cited nearly every single individual mentioned in an investigative report I co-wrote a decade ago, “Fear Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America,” that identified and categorized the incestuous network of conservative funders, ideologues, media outlets, grassroots groups, religious organizations, and political players that created and promoted fringe anti-Muslim talking points about Sharia, Obama, and political Islam that are now part and parcel of the mainstream conservative vocabulary in America.
“This rhetoric is not cost-free,” according to counter-terrorism expert Marc Sageman, who reviewed Breivik’s manifesto and said American Islamophobes and their writings “are the infrastructure from which Breivik emerged.” In recent years, this homegrown U.S. infrastructure of hate has funded and elevated right-wing white nationalist warriors across Europe, like Tommy Robinson in England and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands, because they are “trying to sustain their civilization, trying to keep Europe Europe, trying to keep the West the West,” which is a nice way of saying keep Europe “White” and “Judeo-Christian.”
This ecosystem is also seeking to unite right-wing populist movements and mainstream hateful talking points that have pushed weakened centrists and liberals to treat Muslims and immigrants as politically convenient scapegoats to try and maintain their political support and power.
For example, in France, a beleaguered President Macron has decided to go all-in with anti-Muslim bigotry and fear-mongering as the best strategy to defeat an ascending Marine Le Pen and her xenophobic National Front, now National Rally, the party whose founder, her father, was an antisemite and Holocaust denier. Earlier this year, France introduced an “anti-separatism” bill supposedly intended to bolster secularism but clearly designed to target the Muslim minority population. Macron is also trying to pressure French imams to sign a “charter of Republican values,” which many have accurately described as a discriminatory “loyalty test” that targets only Muslim preachers and is an affront to religious freedoms. To make sure he wasn’t tainted by this kryptonite known as Islam, Macron’s party even barred a Muslim woman from running as a candidate from their party because she wore a hijab on a campaign poster.
Macron is rationalizing these actions as protecting the country against “political Islam,” but French legal expert Rim-Sarah Alouane says French Muslims can’t help but feel that all Muslims are made to be a problem. “French Muslims make up around 7 percent of the population and yet make 99 percent of the political debate. There is not a single day without a new debate around Muslims… It feels like you are on a constant trial where you are de facto guilty until proven innocent,” she told me.
I can relate. Although European Muslims have unique challenges and experiences compared to American Muslims, we nonetheless can unite in feeling like perpetual suspects in our own country with our loyalty and patriotism forever questioned by a government that spends more time and resources surveilling our communities than combating white supremacy, the number one domestic terror threat here. Leading up to the 2016 election, Republican candidate Ben Carson said he’ll only have Muslims in his cabinet if they denounce Sharia and pledge loyalty to the Constitution. The GOP’s base rewarded him with a spike in donations. Trump rode that wave and said he’d go further and propose a “complete and total ban on Muslims,” which was the first order of business for Steve Bannon, his chief strategist, after Trump’s inauguration. Meanwhile, armed militias and violent extremist groups are befriended and praised by the GOP, and Trump told the Proud Boys to “stand back and stand by,” which they did until the Jan. 6 insurrection that left five people dead.
In 2018, after being kicked out by Trump, Bannon continued his white nationalist crusade across Europe. He was invited by Le Pen to rally the crowd of right-wing, National Front politicians in France to wear the label of racist, xenophobe, and nativist as a “badge of honor.” It makes sense considering one of Bannon’s favorite books is the French novel Camp of the Saints, a staple of white nationalists and racists around the world, that imagines a horde of brown-skinned immigrants invading and overtaking France. On that trip, Bannon also met fellow right-wing nationalists in Italy, Switzerland, and Hungary, where he told the crowd that Prime Minister Orban, a racist authoritarian, was “Trump before Trump” and that what matters most is the “survival of the Judeo-Christian West.”
Back when he was an editor for Breitbart, Bannon invited anti-Muslim extremists Frank Gaffney, Robert Spencer, and Pamela Gellar, who once claimed Obama was working to “appease his Islamic overlords,” to an event after they were banned from the 2013 annual CPAC conference in D.C. for being, well, too Islamophobic. On the panel, Gellar described the United States as being in a “battle” against Islam, one which it was currently losing. Bannon nodded his head in agreement.
When Trump won in 2016, Islamophobes finally had a foot in the White House, directly connected to Trump’s inner circle, including Bannon, Stephen Miller, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo, and Jeff Sessions. Nearly every single one of the hate mongers, bigots, kooks, and conspiracy theorists we mentioned in our 2011 report now had influence over and often a direct line to the most powerful people shaping America’s domestic and foreign policy.
Bannon and the GOP’s worst fears were succinctly captured in the opening scene of his unproduced movie, Destroying the Great Satan, which opens with the U.S. Capitol being adorned with a star-and-crescent flag and blaring the adhan, the Islamic call to prayer. This is what the downfall of the “Judeo-Christian West” (white people) looks like at the hands of “Jihadist Islamic Fascism” (Muslims).
That nightmare was shared by Brenton Tarrant, who killed 51 Muslims in 2018’s Christchurch massacre, in which he also planned to burn down mosques and to “inflict as many fatalities as possible” against the “invaders,” the term he used for Muslims in his 74-page manifesto subtly titled “The Great Replacement.” Only 1.3 percent of New Zealanders are Muslims but that number was enough to trigger his murderous anxiety. He was inspired by Breivik’s massacre and his 2011 manifesto.
A few months later, Tarrant inspired the El Paso shooter who killed 23 people in a Walmart. He left behind a manifesto saying he wanted to punish the Hispanic invaders. “Invasion” was the term Trump and others in this party used to describe Mexican and Middle Eastern immigrants who were allegedly coming to America through the Southern Border in a caravan before the 2018 midterm election. Robert Bowers, who murdered 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue around the same time, blamed Jews for helping the “invaders” in the caravans.
Bigots aren’t nuanced. Their hate is contagious and often violent.
Tarrant, a terrorist who indiscriminately murdered Muslim men, women, and children, praised Trump in his manifesto as a “symbol of renewed white identity.” I wonder what it was about Trump’s presidency and rhetoric that inspired a white supremacist terrorist? Trump was also an inspirational figure for Alexandre Bissonnette, who killed six people and injured 19 others when he opened fire at a Quebec mosque in 2017. He obsessively followed and visited the social media accounts of Trump and right-personalities, such as Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Richard Spencer, and Ben Shapiro, including in the hours leading up to the shooting.
In 2021, the long-festering conspiracy theories and hate promoted by these individuals and their allies have been used to demonize Rep. Ilhan Omar, who represents the walking nightmare for the GOP and has become an avatar of evil for white nationalists everywhere: a black Muslim woman in a hijab who was once a refugee and has now ascended to power. She has been told to “go back” to her country by Trump, accused of promoting Sharia by Jeanine Pirro for simply wearing a hijab, and vilified with discredited conspiracy theories that have resulted in numerous death threats. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene campaigned by releasing a poster in which she stands next to a photo of Omar and “The Squad” holding a gun.
The GOP and right-wing movements across Europe are openly telling us that Muslims are the villains and the targets. It’s time to finally pay attention. Although they are not directly responsible for terrorism and violence, the hateful rhetoric and ideologies churned out by the GOP and the conservative ecosystem do not exist in a vacuum. They spread, infect, poison, and brainwash millions, inevitably influencing a few who are unhinged and homicidal.
It’s the same story with a different cast. This time it features a 9-year-old boy in Canada who woke up in a hospital without a family. We have to do everything to ensure that this tragedy doesn’t have yet another remake.