Two Minnesota Republican state lawmakers and a local GOP official are facing scrutiny after they reportedly shared a Facebook post accusing Muslims of preparing to “infiltrate” the party’s caucuses this month.
State Reps. Kathy Lohmer and Cindy Pugh, shared the post created by Dave Sina, chairman of the Fourth Congressional District GOP, this week, according to the Star Tribune. Sina has since taken it down, but not before the Star Tribune captured a screenshot.
In the post, Sina said a friend of his had attended a caucus training session held at a mosque by the Muslim American Society. MAS is a nonpartisan organization that promotes civic engagement among American Muslims with local chapters across the U.S.
Sina claimed that Muslims are trying to “infiltrate our republican caucuses on Feb. 6” and that “they didn’t talk about the general election but I am sure they are ahead of us in that as well.”
The local party chair played to a sense of hysteria that American Muslims are, and will always be, foreigners who want political influence only to harm the country.
In reality, the workshop was led by Laura Johnson, the lead organizer at Isaiah, a Christian faith-based coalition in Minnesota that brings together Muslim and Christian congregants to educate their religious communities on civic engagement. HuffPost watched the hour-and-a-half long Facebook Live video of the meeting, which amounted to a tutorial on participating in the political system.
Johnson focused on the nuts and bolts of caucusing and how to get chosen to be a delegate at the parties’ state conventions in June. She broke down how caucuses work and why it’s important the Muslim community get involved ― so that Minnesota politicians can hear and understand the community’s concerns.
The meeting was nothing like what Sina described in his post.
Lohmer and Pugh did not respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment.
Sina, when reached for comment, said he may have been referring to a different video, but declined to identify it.
His post has traveled widely across Facebook, including being shared by the Houston chapter of ACT for America, which has been identified as an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The comments section offers a litany of Islamophobic responses.
“Please share this! If you do not want your grand children wearing a burka in 20 years you need to show up,” wrote one internet user who included the Facebook Live link.
“NO MUSLIMS SHOULD EVER HOLD ANY CITY/STATE GOVERNMENT SEAT...PERIOD! Their Islamic ideology does not mesh with our American constitution & goes against American laws & western culture,” commented another.
A leading Republican candidate for Minnesota governor, Jeff Johnson, defended the GOP lawmakers in a conservative podcast published Wednesday. “There are some here who are trying to change what America is. And we can’t allow that,” he claimed.
“The idea that American Muslims are a danger to America and are disingenuous about their role or their existence in the United States ― this is feeding off this anti-Muslim, white supremacist type of narrative,” Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told HuffPost.
CAIR-Minnesota called Sina’s Facebook post “a bigoted, conspiratorial and un-American reaction” and urged the local GOP to remove him as one of its officials.
Pugh has since told the Star Tribune that she doesn’t support what was in the Facebook post she shared. “I hoped to inspire Minnesotans to participate in the caucus process, in no way did I endorse what was written,” she told the paper.
And Jennifer Carnahan, the chairwoman of the Minnesota GOP, has declared that Muslims are welcome to participate in the Republican caucuses.
The training session that looked so fearful to Sina was nothing new. An Isaiah spokeswoman noted that her organization did over 50 trainings last month in churches and mosques. JaNaé Bates said that caucusing can be confusing and that her group tries to break the process down so that more people will feel empowered to participate.
In collaboration with Isaiah, the MAS Minnesota chapter has been hosting these kinds of sessions for over 14 years. Despite being held in a mosque, the workshop at issue was open to everyone.
“We want to help all citizens engage with the political process. To make a democracy vibrant, people need to engage,” Asad Zaman, an imam and executive director of MAS-Minnesota, told HuffPost.
The organization said it has trained over 300 Muslim leaders to be part of the political process.
“And we intend to do more,” Zaman said. “There is a particular base of Islamophobes that are particularly agitated by the idea that Muslims might acquire political influence. It is obvious from their statements that many of them would prefer [Muslims] not to have any level of political engagement in the American political process.”
There are approximately 150,000 Muslims in Minnesota, including many in the Twin Cities metro area. The community’s history in the state goes back at least to the early 1900s. This year alone, a record number of Muslim Americans are running for office nationwide, from school boards to Congress.
Reprimanding Sina is not enough, according to Zaman.
“I want all political parties, Democrats and Republicans, to come out clearly and unequivocally, to condemn this action,” he said. “Also, I would like both political parties to institute Islamophobia training to make sure that their caucus members do not behave in this nasty way.”
America does not do a good job of tracking incidents of hate and bias. We need your help to create a database of such incidents across the country, so we all know what’s going on. Tell us your story.