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In Wake Of Boulder Shooting, Extremism Expert Sees Targeting Of Muslim Americans – Again

Flowers left at a memorial outside the King Soopers in Boulder that was the site of Monday's mass shooting.
Adam Rayes
Flowers left at a memorial outside the King Soopers in Boulder that was the site of a mass shooting on March 22.

At least one extremism expert is sounding the alarm about far-right actors using the mass shooting at a Boulder King Soopers to sow division and propagate misinformation.

Eric Ward, executive director of Western States Center, which focuses on extremism movements, hate crimes, and ways to strengthen democracy, says far-right figures have weaponized the tragedy after reports emerged that the suspect is Muslim.

“We are likely now to see a rise in targeting of Muslim Americans who are simply trying to do what the rest of us are trying to do in this moment: survive a global pandemic, live, love, work and worship free from fear and bigotry,” he said.

Ward says messaging highlighting the suspect’s faith is part of the far-right’s larger blueprint to promote racism while conflating race and religion.

“I have seen individuals and these far-right leaders and figures reposition Islam as if it is a racial category rather than a religious belief,” he said. “And this is quite concerning to me because it seems to mirror how anti-Semitism has taken root in the United States."

Anti-Muslim hate crimes in the U.S. — and crimes against people perceived to be Muslim — spiked after events like 9/11 and the Paris terror attack in 2015, which involved perpetrators that subscribed to radical Islamic ideology. A few years later, the Council on American-Islamic Relations pointed to former President Donald Trump’s rhetoric as fueling a continued rise.

Meanwhile, Muslim American groups have been mourning and fundraising in the name of the Boulder victims.

“Our hearts are heavy as we stand with the survivors of violence,” reads a statement issued by the Colorado Muslim Leadership Council, which comprises Muslim American organizations across the state. “We will continue to remember and grieve for the innocent victims of this horrific and senseless crime.”

The organization called for “the prosecution of the shooter to the fullest extent of the law.” It suggested people donate to the Colorado State Lodge Fraternal Order of Police, the Colorado Healing Fund and the Community Foundation of Boulder County.

Celebrate Mercy, a national nonprofit that teaches about the Prophet Muhammad and has raised hundreds of thousands for victims of previous mass shootings, has raised more than $25,000 for the Boulder victims.

In 2017, the organization raised more than $100,000 for vandalism at a Jewish cemetery. It was amid a rise in anti-Muslim hate crimes and Celebrate Mercy’s Tarek El-Messidi told NBC News: "We are tired of being grouped along with the crazies, they scare us just as much as any American. We need the administration to talk about the three million Muslim Americans who just want to pursue life, liberty, and happiness just like everyone else here in America."

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUNR in Nevada, the O'Connor Center for the Rocky Mountain West in Montana, KUNC in Colorado, KUNM in New Mexico, with support from affiliate stations across the region. Funding for the Mountain West News Bureau is provided in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

I wear many hats in KUNC's newsroom as an executive producer, editor and reporter. My work focuses on inequality, the systems of power that entrench it, and the people who are disproportionately affected. I help reporters in my newsroom to also uncover these angles and elevate unheard voices in the process.