“Think about it,” Jeanine Pirro told her viewers Saturday, at the opening of her Fox News program. She was speaking about Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who has faced accusations of making anti-Semitic remarks, and this is what Pirro wanted her audience to think about: “Omar wears a hijab, which, according to the Koran 33:59, tells women to cover so they won’t get molested. Is her adherence to this Islamic doctrine indicative of her adherence to sharia law, which in itself is antithetical to the United States Constitution?”
Sharia is the legal framework of Islam and a general term used to describe the guidelines for living an ethical Muslim life. The term has become central to a right-wing conspiracy theory claiming that Muslims are secretly attempting to take over the U.S. government.
Pirro’s comments, falsely equating adherence to the Muslim faith with opposition to the U.S. Constitution, caused a wave of outrage. On Twitter, a Fox News producer criticized the host of “Justice with Judge Jeannine” for contributing to “the false narrative that somehow Muslims hate America,” noting that some of Pirro’s co-workers at the network are Muslim. In a statement to The Washington Post, the network said it “strongly condemn[s]” the host’s words, and that Fox News executives “have addressed the matter with her directly.”
It was not the first time Pirro has exposed her audience to anti-Muslim rhetoric.
‘Non-Muslims just simply don’t go in.’
In 2015, after deadly terrorist attacks in France, Pirro invited Steve Emerson, a journalist and commentator, to discuss “no-go zones” in Britain. Emerson, who runs the Investigative Project on Terrorism, often identifies himself as a terrorism expert. In a 2011 report on “the roots of the Islamophobia network in America,” the Center for American Progress said Emerson was a “misinformation expert” who raises money for his nonprofit with the claim that Muslims pose an immediate danger to American life. He has, among other things, claimed that 80 percent of American mosques are run by extremists.
The “no-go zones,” which don’t really exist, are supposed to be concentrated areas of Muslim communities where sharia law is enforced and non-Muslims, including law enforcement, aren’t allowed to go. Right-wing commentators have pointed to them as proof of a secret Muslim takeover of Western Europe.
“In Britain, it’s not just no-go zones. There are actual cities like Birmingham that are totally Muslim where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in,” Emerson told Pirro, who did not challenge the claim. “And parts of London, there are actually Muslim religious police that actually beat and actually wound seriously anyone who doesn’t dress according to Muslim, religious Muslim attire. So there’s a situation that Western Europe is not dealing with.”
The segment was so egregiously wrong that it became a meme. David Cameron, then the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, called Emerson a “complete idiot.” Pirro later issued a correction for Emerson’s remarks, saying that Fox News could find no credible evidence to back up Emerson’s on-air claims. “A guest made a serious factual error,” Pirro said, “that we wrongly let stand unchallenged and uncorrected.”
It was one of four apologies issued on air at Fox News that day for inaccurate claims about Muslims in Europe.
‘They have conquered us through immigration.’
It wasn’t just Emerson who had made alarming comments that day. In the same episode, Pirro shared her views on the threat “radical” Islam poses to American public life. “We need to kill them, the radical Muslim terrorists hellbent on killing us,” Pirro told her viewers before her interview with Emerson. “You’re in danger. I’m in danger. We’re at war, and this is not going to stop.”
After first referring to Muslim terrorists, Pirro rendered her perception of the threat in much broader terms.
“Our government’s response to the terror threat is to have interfaith dialogue, to try to understand and empathize with our enemy. And when they want to shut us up, they call us ‘Islamophobes,’ ” she said. “Muslim groups like CAIR” — the Council on American-Islamic Relations — “and the Nation of Islam have been integrated into our society. Muslims were even invited to worship at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.”
Pirro added: “They have conquered us through immigration. They have conquered us through interfaith dialogue. And they have conquered us by co-opting our leaders into a position of embarrassment.”
‘They’re coming here to kill us!”
In early December 2015, 14 people were killed and 22 wounded in a terrorist attack in San Bernardino, Calif., when Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik opened fire at Farook’s workplace. Farook and Malik, a married couple, were radicalized online and pledged allegiance to the Islamic State before the shooting, according to authorities, although there wasn’t evidence indicating that the couple were directed by an outside group to carry out the attack.
In the days after the attack, Pirro made statement after statement on Fox News urging viewers to treat Muslim immigrants as potential threats.
“We need to close the borders from Mexico and from Canada, pure and simple,” Pirro said on her program, days after the attack. “I don’t care if it’s a business visa or a vacation visa, an education visa, a fiance visa, a 90-day visa. Stop. These people do not have a right to be here. Period. End of story.” Pirro also called for a halt to the entire refugee program.
She went on: “We’re told to say something when we see something, but don’t say anything against people who act suspiciously who happen to be Muslim, because that would be Islamophobic. . . . If we are stopped from saying something against Mohammed, the Muslim religion, or Muslims in general, then sharia law is already here.”
Pirro is not the only conservative American worried about “sharia law.” Over the past decade or so, nearly a dozen states have enacted legislation limiting or prohibiting the use of “foreign law” in the United States. Although not every bill mentioned sharia specifically, the American Civil Liberties Union wrote that the wave of state legislation was part of a push to “single out Muslims and to advance the ugly idea that anything Islamic is un-American.”
Two days before Pirro called for closing the borders and ending visa programs, she and Geraldo Rivera had argued on “Fox & Friends” about whether it’s okay to treat practicing Muslims as inherently suspicious. Pirro said that the San Bernardino attackers could have been stopped if their neighbors weren’t trying to be “politically correct.” She argued for shutting down the visa program that allowed Malik to live in the country.
“The peril to our society does not just come from this one segment,” Rivera said on “Fox & Friends” that week while talking about non-Muslim mass shooters, such as the Americans who went on killing sprees in Aurora and Sandy Hook. After some cross-talk, Pirro responded: “Let’s not be stupid here. The people who are killing us . . . are the Muslim jihadists.”
“Let’s talk about America; they are coming here to kill us,” Pirro said later.
As my colleague Aaron Blake pointed out, Pirro’s comments this week aren’t particularly unique for Fox News hosts, or President Trump himself.