The new religious freedom adviser at the U.S. Agency for International Development once called Islam a “barbaric cult” and shared a meme that said people should be forced to eat bacon before purchasing a gun, among other racist posts. Those sentiments are dangerous, and he needs to step down, several Muslim civil rights groups said in a letter Thursday.
Mark Kevin Lloyd, a former Virginia field director for President Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, started at USAID on Tuesday. The Associated Press first reported on the Islamophobic posts in 2016. This week, The Washington Post confirmed his new position at the agency and found additional posts linked to Lloyd’s Facebook page where he spread more anti-Muslim comments and memes, including stating that people who believe Islam is a peaceful religion don’t understand history.
It’s not altogether surprising to Muslim groups that the Trump administration would hire someone who posted bigoted statements against Muslims; organizations already raised warnings about other officials and, of course, the president himself. But it’s alarming that the pattern extends to Lloyd’s role at USAID, the agency responsible for administering civilian aid across the world.
“How is it that the agency that does a lot of work in Muslim countries and makes decisions that affect the lives of millions is going to hire a so-called religious freedom adviser who denigrates the world’s second-largest religion?” said Wa’el Alzayat, the chief executive officer at Emgage, a national Muslim American civic engagement group headquartered in Washington, D.C.
Emgage organized a coalition letter Thursday with more than a dozen co-signers that called for Lloyd’s resignation. The letter, which was addressed to USAID Acting Administrator John Barsa, said that “Mr. Lloyd’s rhetoric is disturbing, and demonstrates a clear bias against Islam and its adherents.” Emgage and the other groups urged the agency to remove him and “instead find an individual capable of upholding the religious freedom of peoples from all backgrounds and creeds.”
A USAID spokesperson told HuffPost that Lloyd’s comments “were in reference to radical Islam, not Islam” and that the agency”has prioritized support for religious and ethnic minorities, whether it be persecuted Christians in Iraq or the Muslim Rohingya in Burma.”
Allowing Lloyd to remain in the role could be damaging for treatment of Muslim aid recipients and would send a terrible message to other nations, said Robert McCaw, the government affairs director at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil liberties organization and a co-signer of the letter.
“Llyod is one of many Islamophobes that the Trump administration has elevated into U.S. government policymaking circles,” McCaw said. “It conveys a message that our nation has an ill will toward Muslims domestically and abroad.”
But the Trump administration has already shown it’s willing to accept anti-Muslim sentiment in its officials. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has a documented history of spewing Islamophobic comments and has been associated with hate groups, including speaking at the Center for Security Policy, a far-right, anti-Muslim think tank. Stephen Miller, the architect of Trump’s hard-line immigration policies, including the Muslim-targeting travel ban, has also been linked to white nationalist propaganda. In 2017, Faith Vander Voort, a former senior adviser at the Department of the Interior who has since joined Vice President Mike Pence’s office, voiced support for more surveillance of Muslim communities and proclaimed that a Muslim “could never serve” as president. Ken Cuccinelli, an immigration hard-liner who is the acting deputy secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, previously praised a notorious anti-Muslim hate group. The list goes on.
Earlier this week, Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization, renewed its calls for Cuccinelli’s resignation in addition to Lloyd’s.
“Since Trump took office, we lost count of how many problematic people he’s hired,” said Alzayat of Emgage. “We feel that this a continuation of the anti-Muslim, anti-minority and anti-brown policies of this administration.”