Four large pieces of construction equipment, including an excavation hauler, were destroyed by fire Friday night at the construction site of a mosque expansion in Mufreesboro, Tenn., a suburb of Nashville. Local officials are calling the attack arson, and federal officials, including the FBI, are investigating.
Displays of hatred against Muslims have been on the rise this summer, fueled by attack rhetoric from GOP-tea party leaders like Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck, Newt Gingrich, former N.Y. Gov. George Pataki and former Tea Party Express Chairman Mark Williams, who made headlines in July by issuing a racist rant in the form of a letter in which he used the term “colored people” a dozen times. After stepping down from TPE, Williams, who lives in Sacramento, announced he was going to work full time on preventing the construction of the Park 51 Islamic center in New York.
In fact, most of the GOP-tea bagger hate rhetoric this summer has been leveled at the so-called “Ground Zero mosque,” as the Park 51 center has been dubbed by Republicans and in the corporate media. The center is slated to be built in a long-abandoned building in a section of mostly derelict buildings situated a block west of New York City Hall and two blocks north of the World Trade Center plaza.
In addition to the anger over Park 51, attacks against Muslims and new mosque construction have taken place across the country:
Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Illinois, Wisconsin, California – all have seen fights over mosque proposals. There are even two other New York mosque projects, in Brooklyn and Staten Island, that have provoked attacks and demonstrations.
There have also been attacks on existing mosques, not just planned ones. A bomb exploded during services at a mosque in Jacksonville, Fla., and there have been reports of arson and vandalism of mosques in Texas and Tennessee. (No one was hurt in the incidents, which are being investigated.)
The fact that the arson attack occurred in Tennessee is particularly troubling because Murfreesboro is just 70 miles northeast of Pulaski, the Tennessee town where the Ku Klux Klan first launched its terrorist campaigns after the Civil War.
The rise in violence this summer was foreshadowed by the rise of tea party rage last year:
[Several] tea partiers brought handguns into a town hall organized by Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) in Memphis, Tennessee. Additionally, an attendee at a meet and greet with Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) in a supermarket dropped a handgun, leading her staff to call the police. Most recently, a man was filmed openly carrying a handgun outside of President Obama’s town hall meeting in New Hampshire. He held a sign that read, “IT IS TIME TO WATER THE TREE OF LIBERTY!” a reference to the following Thomas Jefferson quote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.”
On Aug. 17, 2009, in a sermon titled “Why I Hate Obama,” a Baptist preacher in Arizona encouraged his audience to take loaded weapons to an event at which Pres. Obama was speaking in Tempe the next day. As a result, about a dozen men brought guns to the arena where the presidential event was held. When asked why they felt the need to show up a presidential visit with loaded weapons, the men said they did it because carrying weapons was their right.
This summer, leaders of the tea bagger faction within the Republican Party have shifted the focus to Muslims — a move that appears to have been focused-grouped and poll-tested as means for energizing voters in the tea bagger base. A Pew poll out last week found that 54 percent of Republicans had an unfavorable view of Muslims. (Pew also found that 31 percent of Republicans believe Pres. Obama is a Muslim, despite the intense media focus during the 2008 presidential campaign on his membership in the United Church of Christ in Chicago after the minister there, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, was caught on tape making controversial remarks.)
Republicans must know that they are (literally, now) playing with fire. They have been lucky that no one has been hurt, so far, in the violent attacks. But in light of the arson in Murfreesboro over the weekend, it appears that violence is growing. If so, the risk that Palin, Beck, Gingrich and the rest will find themselves with the blood of Muslim American citizens on their hands is also rising. Not that they care.