A Republican gubernatorial candidate in Michigan is facing backlash after voicing unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about American Muslims on Michigan’s Senate floor, but some of his GOP colleagues seem determined to sidestep the debacle.
Patrick Colbeck, a second-term state senator, is doubling down on comments he made Thursday in the Michigan Senate alleging that the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group with roots in Egypt, is waging “civilization jihad” in the United States ― which has been debunked as a conspiracy theory. He also repeated unfounded speculation that Abdul El-Sayed, a Muslim American doctor running for the Democratic nomination, has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Muslim Brotherhood has influence throughout the Middle East. U.S. foreign policy and counterterrorism officials have been highly critical of the organization and its ideology but have generally not viewed it as a threat to national security. However, advocates for American Muslims have long insisted that conspiracy theories about the Muslim Brotherhood are promoted to foster mistrust of legitimate Islamic organizations working to advance their communities’ interests.
Colbeck claims that the Muslim Brotherhood has ties to the Muslim Student Association, a student-run religious group that El-Sayed participated in at the University of Michigan. The MSA, which has chapters across the U.S., seeks to empower Muslim students and foster religious community on colleges campuses.
On Friday, Colbeck, who is not showing much support in polls, said in a statement that he was being attacked by Democrats and “their allies in the media” for suggesting El-Sayed “has ties to an organization that seeks to eliminate and destroy Western Civilization from within.”
Colbeck said of his Senate floor speech, “My statement was not anti-Muslim any more than associating someone with the Westboro Baptist Church would be seen as anti-Christian.”
Michigan Democrats issued condemnations of Colbeck’s remarks. State Sen. David Knezek called Colbeck a “coward” and a “bully,” describing his behavior as “a cheap rip-off of Joseph McCarthy.” State Rep. Abdullah Hammoud of Dearborn, a Democrat from a district with a large Arab-American population, called for Colbeck’s resignation.
El-Sayed’s team said Republican leaders haven’t done enough to reject Colbeck’s conspiracy theories.
A spokesperson for the Donald Trump–endorsed Republican front-runner in the race, state Attorney General Bill Schuette, said he “took an oath to defend the Constitution and enforce the laws of the state of Michigan, and he believes that all people must be treated with dignity and respect.”
His representatives did not reply to a request for a more direct response to Colbeck’s allegations.
Dr. Jim Hines, another GOP candidate, apologized in a statement “for any disrespect that Senator Colbeck has caused.” Hines said, “No one, regardless of their faith, should be discriminated against.”
Lt. Gov. Brian Calley, who is also seeking the Republican gubernatorial nomination, did not respond to HuffPost’s request for comment.
Adam Joseph, the communications director for El-Sayed’s campaign, said his team is not satisfied with Schuette’s and Calley’s responses. Joseph is calling on both men to “clearly and unequivocally denounce” Colbeck’s statements.
“Anything short of this is a clear kowtow to racism and hatred for political gain,” Joseph said. “In their silence, they have yet to prove themselves any different from Colbeck — and they should be ashamed.”
President Donald Trump is scheduled to speak at a campaign-style event in Washington, Michigan, on Saturday. HuffPost’s requests for comment from his campaign team were not returned.
State GOP spokeswoman Sarah Anderson insisted that Colbeck’s remarks on Thursday were not made on behalf of the party. “The party isn’t interested in peddling any conspiracy theories,” she told The Detroit News.
One of Colbeck’s biggest supporters, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), is listed as an endorser of Colbeck’s campaign on the candidate’s website. Cruz has also peddled theories that the Muslim Brotherhood is intent on “destroying the West.”
Requests for comment from Cruz were also not answered.
Colbeck has touted support from Fox News host Sean Hannity. But Hannity has attempted to distance himself from the candidate, telling BuzzFeed News that an endorsement was never formalized and that he doesn’t support Colbeck’s views.
El-Sayed said he wasn’t surprised by the allegations against him.
He said in a statement, “Of course, I knew that in choosing to run for Governor as an unapologetic, proud Muslim and American, I was going to contend with the ugly face of white supremacy that Donald Trump and his friends have sanctioned.”