Earlier this month, Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert (R) garnered attention from civil rights groups and local politicians for posting anti-Muslim and Islamophobic comments online. But an investigation into his online presence has found that it wasn’t the first time Rapert shared Islamophobic views.
HuffPost discovered nearly 20 tweets where Rapert, who represents District 35 in Arkansas, smeared Muslims and shared conspiracy theories about Islam.
The Arkansas state senator was locked out of his Twitter account early in December after he shared an article on his Facebook page and Twitter page from a far-right conspiracy website about the number of American Muslims who won various seats across the nation in the 2018 midterm elections.
In the caption, the 46-year-old ordained minister wrote: “95% of Muslim voters participated in this year’s midterm election. Do you want them ruling everything in America?” After Twitter locked his account, citing a violation of its hateful conduct policy, Rapert took to Facebook Live to complain about “Twitter’s double standards and bias against Christian Conservatives.” His livestream lasted 48 minutes.
“Islam is the only belief system I am aware of in the world that directs its adherents to kill anyone who refuses to convert to Islam or submit to Sharia Law. Who would want to elect someone who believes this?” Rapert can be seen reading from a printout of his tweet that led to his Twitter suspension.
Rapert’s numerous Islamophobic tweets, which are still available on Twitter as of publication time, were posted from 2015 up to earlier this month.
Rapert posted in 2015 that it was “not prudent to accept Muslim immigrants into our nation without full background checks,” and that Muslims “have raped, pillaged and killed” people. In another 2015 tweet, he called upon Hillary Clinton to reject Muslims from entering the United States and said accepting Muslims into the country meant it was “not safe for Americans.”
“Arkansas is a very conservative state and it has always been that way in many realms, but this level of intolerance and overt prejudice towards minorities and disenfranchised populations is alarming.”
In September 2016, Rapert tweeted an image of the Twin Towers to then-president Barack Obama with the question, “how could you embrace Islam & open our borders to Muslims when you know they are responsible for 9/11?” That same month, Rapert again tweeted, “as I listen to testimonies about 9/11 & the innocent people killed by Muslims, I’m angered that @BarackObama has embraced Islam #NeverForget.” Obama is not a Muslim — a conspiracy touted since 2004 to discredit him. But even if he was, many have argued that the conspiracy implies that being Muslim and being American are incompatible.
In a more recent 2017 tweet, Rapert claimed he led “Muslims to Christ” in West Africa.
In a phone call to HuffPost, Rapert defended his tweets and said they were taken out of context.
Aneesah Dawan is the director of government relations at the Islamic Center for Human Excellence in Little Rock, Arkansas, approximately 30 miles away from Rapert’s district. She told HuffPost that the state senator’s comments were not surprising to her as a Muslim American who was born and raised in in the state. Dawan is more concerned that Rapert’s sentiment is not only shared by him but by the people who voted for him.
“You don’t get a leader that is not to some degree representative of the people who elected them,” she said. Dawan and her mosque are planning to reach out to Rapert to discuss his anti-Muslim views in hopes he retracts them and changes his perception on American Muslims.
“It’s key that we speak to those who are in front of a lot of people and make sure they are educated properly so they don’t pass on their bad information to more people who may never have the chance to meet a Muslim,” Dawan said. “The more that we give information and we speak with those who are in the public eye frequently, then the public is more educated frequently.”
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has since condemned Rapert’s statements and called on the Arkansas GOP to censure him.
In his Facebook video from earlier this month, Rapert responded to CAIR and accused the organization of being a “unindicted co-conspirator of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks.” There is no evidence to back this claim.
“Any public official that promotes anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim conspiracy theories is unfit to represent the views and interests of all their constituents, including Muslims,” Robert McGaw, the Director of government affairs at CAIR told HuffPost. “The Republican party in the state of Arkansas has the duty to condemn his anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant conspiratorial theories to be advanced by state senator Rapert.”
Like Dawan, 46-year-old physician Sara Tariq also hopes Rapert will one day visit a mosque to correct his grossly inaccurate sentiments against the Muslim community. But Tariq, the mother of two teens who has lived in Little Rock for nearly four decades, isn’t as hopeful. She said Rapert, who won his re-election this fall, is “well-known” in the Arkansas Muslim community for his history of Islamophobic comments.
“My mind is boggled to see that he was elected again. I have difficulty reconciling that people in this state who are so kind, so friendly and so warm can also embrace this aspect of his views,” Tariq said.
Many in her community have kept silent, fearful that speaking up might come with public backlash, but Tariq said she’s personally fed up.
“Arkansas is a very conservative state and it has always been that way in many realms, but this level of intolerance and overt prejudice towards minorities and disenfranchised populations is alarming. It’s very hard to experience that in a state that I love so much,” she said.
This has been updated to include comment from Rapert.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story misstated the county that Rapert represents.