Ron DeSantis desperately wants you to know he plans to be the Donald Trump of the Sunshine State.
The Florida GOP gubernatorial nominee even released a campaign ad in July that featured his wife declaring, “People say Ron is all Trump, but he’s so much more,” as we saw DeSantis and his daughter playing with building blocks and DeSantis encouraging her to “build the wall!” It’s always touching to see a father teach his daughter to fear immigrants so much that he’s convincing her that we need to build a massive monument to white supremacy on our Southern border.
Now, I’m not sure if DeSantis is “so much more” than Trump as his ad claims. After all, Trump is a colossal figure who has truly perfected using bigotry to help himself politically while supporting men who abuse women, from former aide Rob Porter to Bill O’Reilly. But we can safely say that DeSantis, like Trump, loves to pal around with the most vile anti-Muslim bigots in America.
As was reported on Monday, just a few months before DeSantis formally announced his candidacy for governor, the then member of Congress attended and spoke at an event organized by the nation’s most vile anti Muslim group: ACT For America. To Muslim Americans like myself, this organization is akin to neo-Nazis who seek to demonize and marginalize blacks and Jews. But in the case of ACT, they target Muslims.
So what is ACT about? Its leader, Brigitte Gabriel, has made it clear that every Muslim in America is a threat with her infamous remark that Muslims “cannot be loyal citizens of the United States.” The Anti-Defamation League (ADL) has stated point blank that ACT “is the largest anti-Muslim group in the United States.”
Gabriel, who has no known expertise in the field of counterterrorism but personally profits from demonizing Muslims, has claimed that 25 percent of all Muslims support violence. And, as the ADL notes, ACT recently “circulated a document in Minnesota featuring Muslim elected officials and a warning about an imminent Muslim takeover.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which also designates ACT as an anti-Muslim hate group, has documented the recent comments of ACT local chapter activists such as one who stated last year, “Islam is a supremacist, totalitarian political ideology masquerading as a religion. It's as dangerous as Nazism or communism and must be eradicated.”
The words of ACT leaders clearly conjure up vile Nazi propaganda that claimed Jews weren’t loyal to Germany and all were potential threats. Consequently, it’s not surprising that neo-Nazis and white supremacists have flocked to ACT.
But none of that stopped DeSantis from speaking at ACT’s event. And to make it worse, the DeSantis’ campaign defended his appearance at the hate group by calling the reporting a “desperate attempt” to “try to smear an Iraq veteran that was on the front line of fighting terrorists.”
Then again this is the same DeSantis who made national headlines when speaking about his general election race against Democrat Andrew Gillum, who is African American, with the comment, “The last thing we need to do is to monkey this up.” If you think DeSantis, a Harvard Law School honors grad who is a former federal prosecutor, doesn’t choose his words carefully, please contact me so I can sell you shares in my unicorn ranch.
That racist comment by DeSantis rightfully caused a national media firestorm. But when it comes to DeSantis attending and speaking at a meeting of the nation’s most vile anti-Muslim bigots, it barely gets local press coverage in Florida.
And that’s sadly where we are in America today. We’ve seen under Trump the apparent intentional effort to normalize despicable anti-Muslim activists who had been up until recently relegated to the margins of our society.
For example, ACT’s founder Gabriel just a few weeks ago bragged at the organization’s annual conference that the group has a “weekly” meeting at the White House: “I actually want you to know we have a standing meeting at the White House once a week.” Gabriel added, “We have a president that likes us, President Trump.” I’m sure Trump—who has called for a total ban on Muslims and retweeted vile anti-Muslim videos last November—does love Muslim haters.
And just look at the Trump administration’s ties to anti-Muslim activists. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has a well-documented relationship with ACT. Pompeo even helped the organization reserve a room on Capitol Hill, enabling ACT leaders to spew their hate there. And he received ACT’s highest award in 2016 for being a “steadfast ally” in Congress.
Think about that for a moment. Trump’s secretary of state is a “steadfast ally” of an organization whose primary mission is to demonize Muslims in the hopes of silencing and marginalizing us.
Then there’s Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, who also is closely tied to various anti-Muslim activists. Bolton even wrote the foreword for a book written by notorious anti-Muslim activist Pam Geller, who has argued there’s “no difference between Muslims and radical Muslims.” Add to that, Bolton’s chief of staff, Fred Fleitz, had worked at an organization, the Center for Security Policy, that both the ADL and SPLC have called out for its history of anti-Muslim fear-mongering.
Trump’s attempts to normalize white supremacy have been thankfully countered by many in the media and in our nation. But we don’t see the same reaction in opposition to Trump, DeSantis and others’ efforts to normalize ant-Muslim bigotry. Hate is hate. It must be vocally countered whether it’s racism, anti-Semitism, anti-LGBT animus or any form of bigotry. If not, it will make it easier for these bigots to normalize their hate in the future against other minority groups.