Two GOP state legislators and a local Republican Party official warned on Facebook this week of a plot to “mobilize Muslims to infiltrate our Republican caucuses on Feb. 6.”
State Reps. Kathy Lohmer, R-Stillwater, Cindy Pugh, a third-term Chanhassen Republican, and Dave Sina, the chairman of the Fourth Congressional District GOP, posted to Facebook that “a friend” went to a caucus training held at a local mosque, where he witnessed Muslim-Americans being taught to “penetrate” and “infiltrate” American politics to enact a Muslim political agenda.
The posting drew a swift rebuke from fellow Republicans, the League of Women Voters and an interfaith religious group.
Jennifer Carnahan, chairwoman of the Minnesota GOP, said Muslim-Americans are welcome to caucus with the Republicans.
“There is no religious test to participate in the Republican caucus,” she said. “We welcome those who are in agreement with the values of the Republican Party, those who voted Republican in the last election or plan to vote with the party in November.”
In an e-mailed statement to the Star Tribune, Pugh distanced herself from her own Facebook post: “I hoped to inspire Minnesotans to participate in the caucus process, in no way did I endorse what was written,” she said. “I myself attended my first caucus in 2008. Before that, my level of civic engagement was largely voting. I now understand the importance of engaging in the process at the grass roots level and encourage others to get involved as well!”
Sina did not respond to a Facebook message and could not otherwise be reached for comment. The Fourth Congressional District includes nearly all of Ramsey County, including St. Paul.
Both political parties, as well as civic and religious groups, hold training sessions in advance of the Feb. 6 precinct caucuses because they can be confusing to people unfamiliar with the process, despite being the bedrock of a Minnesota election year. Party activists will gather to choose local leadership at the caucuses, beginning the long process of choosing delegates to the parties’ state conventions in June. Participants also have the opportunity to raise issues to appear as party platform planks.
The allegations that Lohmer, Pugh and Sina posted about the training could not be confirmed. Sina’s Facebook post was removed Monday. The posting has been repeatedly cut and pasted and reposted, though it’s unclear who the original author is.
Pugh, Lohmer and Sina report in the post that a Macalester College professor “from Bangladesh” conducted the training and told the people gathered that the caucus system is easy to “penetrate” because “you show up, you win.” The trainer is alleged to have said, “Americans don’t show up.”
“He encourages them to infiltrate them all, Republican, Democratic, as well as Green and Independent, get in them all because the power is in showing up. The easiest is the Republican caucus because they don’t show up,” Sina and Pugh wrote.
The three Republicans said the political agenda discussed included “loosening up immigration, religious justice, handling the Islamaphobia and more money for education.”
They implied that Muslim-Americans at the alleged mosque training were not actually Americans and have a hidden agenda to enact their own law: “I hope caucus night will be packed by Americans who want to keep American Law and only American Law.”
Bryan Strawser, GOP activist and chair of the MN Gun Owners Caucus, was critical of Sina on Twitter: “I can’t stand this sort of Islamophobia crap from certain parts of” the Republican Party, he wrote.
Terry Kalil, president of the League of Women Voters, which conducts its own caucus training sessions, said in a statement: “Fear and bigotry have no place in the building blocks of our democracy.”
The Rev. JaNaé Bates, spokeswoman for ISAIAH, a progressive interfaith group that has conducted caucus trainings, including at mosques, condemned the language used by Lohmer, Pugh, Sina and others: “This work of encouraging civic participation has provoked some politicians and people to launch a divisive and hateful attack on Muslim people’s right and responsibility to engage fully and powerfully in our civic life,” Bates said. “As people of faith, we repudiate and reject any attempt to bully or threaten people to keep people of faith silent.”