Sunday, December 4, 2016

Minnesota man pleads guilty to threatening Islamic center

The FBI reports a spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes.
A MINNEAPOLIS MAN pleaded guilty last week to a federal hate crime for writing and mailing a threatening letter to an Islamic Center. Daniel George Fisher, 57, was charged with obstructing, by threat of force, the free exercise of religious beliefs.

According to the Dec. 1 guilty plea
, in September 2015, Fisher wrote and mailed an anonymous letter to the Tawfiq Islamic Center (TIC), located in Minneapolis. In the letter, the defendant threatened to “blow up your building with all you immigrants in it.” The letter also included statements demonstrating strong anti-Muslim animus. Fisher subsequently admitted to the FBI that he wrote the letter to scare and intimidate the TIC’s Muslim members. 

“America protects the free exercise of religion for all people in every community,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, 
head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“Threats of violence that target religious communities violate federal law; corrode the ideals of our democracy; and threaten the foundation of an inclusive, free and open society. The Justice Department will continue to vigorously prosecute hate crimes that target people because of where they worship.”

“Threatening to blow up a mosque is simply un-American,” said U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger. “It is a bedrock principle of our country, enshrined in the First Amendment to the Constitution, that all people are free to practice their religion of choice. Tens of thousands of law-abiding Muslims do so in Minnesota. The U.S. Attorney's Office and FBI will not allow any resident of our state to have that most basic freedom jeopardized by the threat of violence.” 

U.S. District Judge Wilhelmina M. Wright of the District of Minnesota accepted Fisher’s plea. Fisher faces up to 20 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. 

A recently released report by the FBI confirmed an uptick in anti-Muslim hate crimes. Another report by the Southern Poverty Law Center shows a sharp increase in anti-Muslim incidents since the Nov. 8 election attributed to the hateful rhetoric of the Donald Trump campaign.

A photocopied letter received by the Islamic Center of Ann Arbor on Nov. 30 was also sent to mosques across the country this week, addressing Muslims as "children of Satan" and declaring President-elect Donald Trump as the "new sheriff in town." It is the same letter sent to three mosques in California last week.

"Mr. Trump, for an entire year, stirred up xenophobia and racism in our community to give a level of public acceptability for expressing those things," said Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. "I blame him for this more caustic climate we live in right now. If he is to be a real leader, he should be much more robust in speaking out against all these different expressions of hate that are being done in his name."