The anti-Muslim movement in Minnesota is growing this year, especially during the midterm election, leaders from the Center for American Islamic Relations Minnesota (CAIR-MN) and Isaiah, a coalition of faith communities, said Tuesday.
The two groups released a report, "Minnesota's Anti-Muslim Propaganda Mill," identifying who they think is financing and producing anti-Muslim rhetoric in the state.
"The focus is now shifting toward [anti-Muslim]. It started to shift in 2016 elections, and now it's doubling down in 2018 elections," said Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of CAIR-MN. "That's why the topic of refugee resettlement is a huge topic, but it's really just a Minnesota Nice way of saying 'We don't want Muslims here.' "
The report, which said similar tactics were used in past anti-Catholic and anti-Jewish movements, condemned several activists, journalists and organizations, including the Golden Valley-based Center of the American Experiment.
"It's a pathetic attempt at a smear," said John Hinderaker, the president of the center. "They don't quote a single sentence attributed to the center that could be categorized as anti-Muslim. ... This is a far-leftist group that is smearing people who don't agree with them. The report is being promoted under false pretense."
CAIR-MN invited Republican candidate for governor Jeff Johnson and Democratic candidate Tim Walz to meet, but Walz was the only one to do so, Hussein said. While the report is critical of both Democrats and Republicans — "one party is bashing Muslims, another party is avoiding Muslims," he said — Hussein specifically criticized Johnson, who has said on the campaign trail that it's "time to pause refugee resettlement." Hussein said using refugee resettlement as a political point is "a code word for anti-Muslim rhetoric."
Johnson said he's questioned local costs of refugee resettlement and unemployment rates among Somali men.
"We can't even discuss important issues in society anymore," Johnson said. "When the response is 'you're a racist' it's hard to have this discussion."
Hussein said he worries about rising violence toward Muslims, adding that three Minnesota mosques have been vandalized this year. CAIR-MN is also surveying Muslim children about school bullying in a report planned for 2019.
"Those who consume anti-Muslim propaganda are not crazy, stupid or bigoted. They make rational decisions about the world in which they live ... created by the media they consume," said Natalie Ringsmuth, director of Unite Cloud, a nonprofit in St. Cloud aiming to reduce racial tension. "In a world created by this propaganda, pre-emptive violence toward Muslims is not only defensible and necessary ... it is rational."