An Arizona mother who filmed herself making virulently racist, anti-Muslim comments and taking her children to steal materials from a Tempe mosque last year was sentenced to two years of supervised probation on Tuesday.
Tahnee Savanna Gonzales, who had pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal damage, must complete 225 hours of community service and write a letter of apology to the Islamic Community Center of Tempe, the Arizona Republic reports. She faces a 30-day deferred jail sentence if she does not satisfactorily complete her probation.
Gonzales apologized in court for setting a poor example for her kids and for attacking “one of the most sacred of all liberties that I hold near and dear to my heart.”
“I was taken by the sensationalism of the media coverage on a conservative media outlet,” Gonzales told reporters after the sentencing. “I am deeply remorseful for my actions that brought my misdirected passionate patriotism into question.”
In March 2018, Gonzales posted Facebook videos showing her and a friend, Elizabeth Ann Dauenhauer, taking Gonzales’ three children to the Tempe mosque to “collect” information, “expose mosques” and teach the kids how to be “American patriots.”
In the videos, the adults spew blatantly racist and false rhetoric about Muslims and encourage the children to do the same. Gonzales filmed the group walking around the mosque’s property, taking pamphlets, fliers and other items. She can be heard in the videos claiming that Muslims are destroying America, trying to impose Islamic religious law and “worshipping the anti-Christ.”
At one point, Gonzales can also be heard yelling at a worshipper exiting the mosque.
“We’re coming after you. We, the people. We’re exposing you. You guys stand for evil and nothing but evil,” she says in the video.
Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told HuffPost that the mosque incident occurred during a time of heightened Islamophobic activity in Arizona, including a protest outside a Phoenix mosque where demonstrators openly carried guns.
“After Trump’s nomination and election, local ‘patriot groups’ began to harass not only Muslims but many marginalized communities with a sense of impunity,” Siddiqi said. “Gonzales and her cohort were offshoots of this movement, individuals who felt they had a mandate to violently confront and harass minorities.”
On Tuesday, Gonzales told reporters that her actions at the mosque were “reprehensible” and “abhorrent.” She said she now strives “to exemplify what a model citizen looks like.”
Her attorney Marc Victor said that his client acted out of ignorance and that her views on Muslims have changed significantly over the past 14 months.
“Her crime is that she was horribly uneducated,” Victor said.
He also said that Gonzales has experienced a substantial amount of public humiliation over the incident. According to Victor, she is now open to sharing her reformed views about Islam with anti-Muslim groups and serving as a mediator to help build bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims.
The other adult involved in the incident has also apologized. Dauenhauer, who similarly pleaded guilty to aggravated criminal damage, was sentenced last November to 18 months of probation and 200 hours of community service.
During Gonzales’ sentencing, Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Mark Brain told her that he hopes she has learned from the incident.
“I hope your attorney is right that you’ve figured this out, that Muslims are not all terrorists any more than Christians are all Timothy McVeigh,” Brain said, referring to the Oklahoma City bomber.
As for Siddiqi, he hopes that the case shows anti-Muslim groups they will be held accountable for their actions ― and that Gonzales realizes that “expending all this hate and vitriol in the world is only harmful to oneself.”
“Obviously, when you’re faced with the real possibility of prison and being branded as a violent hater ― it gives you a sense of perspective,” he said. “Our hope is that through meeting and dealing with Muslims, she will put to rest the facade that she put forth so brazenly before and build strong bridges with our community moving forward.”