Last week, Pamela Geller published another anti-Muslim screed on the conservative site Breibart News. Geller is the co-founder and spokesperson for the American Freedom Defense Initiative; she is well-known for a series of bigoted bus ads (most recently in Boston) and regular appearances on Fox News. In her Breitbart article, Geller alleges that Muslims, as a growing minority population in the UK, present a threat to the national British character and identity.
She cites news coverage of the 2011 UK census, which found a growing proportion of young children in the UK live in Muslim families. Geller calls this a “vivid illustration of how rapidly Britain is being Islamized” and warns: “As the Muslim population grows, so does violent intimidation and lawlessness.” It is because of this, she argues, “that there is now ‘record support’ for severe curbs on immigration in the UK.”
This focus on population, combined with racist tropes of criminality and deep-seated anxiety about demographic changes, reflects a shared ideological project between two different tendencies in organized nativism: the broader anti-immigrant movement and organized Islamophobia.
More pointedly, last spring, Geller and AFDI called for “an immediate halt of immigration by Muslims into nations that do not currently have a Muslim majority population.” This was part of an 18 point platform, which included extensive surveillance and profiling of Muslim immigrants, citizens, and places of worship.
Geller’s latest tirade against Muslims is part of a broader call for extreme restrictions on immigration. She has pointed to specific programs through which immigrants come to the US. Last May she wrote on her blog, Atlas Shrugs, “We have been importing jihadists for years now with Muslim immigration programs under the Refugee Resettlement program, diversity visas and religious visas.”
In Tennessee, Don Barnett, a Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) fellow, also brings together these two tendencies within organized nativism, arguing that “some American towns have been overwhelmed by the arrival of refugees.” Barnett works for an organization whose president, Mark Krikorian, is close friends with prominent anti-Muslim spokesperson Frank Gaffney.
Like Barnett, Geller has been involved in Tennessee politics, and this summer recruited busloads of anti-Muslim enthusiasts to disrupt a forum in middle Tennessee meant to build cross-cultural understanding, particularly between Muslim and non-Muslim neighbors.
Where Geller is explicit about her Islamophobic bigotry, people like Barnett more strategically pursue policies to push Muslim immigrants out of Tennessee. Specifically, Barnett has pushed legislation that undermines political and financial support for refugees. Last year, Tennessee’s state legislature passed a bill to measure the cost of refugee resettlement. Groups like Eagle Forum have seen such bills as stepping stones towards a goal of stopping refugees from being resettled in Tennessee.
Though Tennessee’s immigrant population is small compared to many other states in the US – and compared to that in the UK – it has been growing rapidly. People like Geller and Barnett, and the groups they represent, exploit the situation, exacerbating xenophobic sentiment and pushing anti-immigrant policy. It’s up to the rest of us to be vigilant, to learn from, and support immigrant and community groups on the frontlines of combatting organized nativsim.