An Islamic American civil rights group is calling for an Alabama police chief to be investigated after he posted alleged “anti-Muslim bigotry” on his Facebook page.
On Sept. 23, Gurley Police Chief Barry Pendergraft shared a picture of a box of ammunition on his personal Facebook account with the caption: “100 more bacon grease covered bullets in the box! This relaxes me so!!”
Four days later, Pendergraft posted a short video of ammunition being picked up with a similar caption: “Happiness is a couple thousand rounds in the ammo box! Bacon grease dipped of course!!”
According to the Alabama chapter of the Council on Islamic-American Relations, the idea of bullets covered in bacon grease refers to “a theme often used by anti-Muslim bigots because they falsely believe Muslims cannot enter heaven if they are shot by such ammunition.”
“We call on state and federal authorities to investigate whether the evident anti-Muslim bigotry expressed by Chief Pendergraft is acceptable for someone in his position, who is obligated to provide all citizens, regardless of faith or ethnicity, equal and fair treatment,” CAIR-Alabama Executive Director Khaula Hadeed said in a statement. CAIR is a national advocacy group that aims to promote understanding of Islam.
Hadeed told The Washington Post that a few people alerted her last week to the Facebook posts, which at the time were publicly visible.
“It was extremely disturbing to see that. In the beginning I didn’t even believe it,” she said. “This is an intimidation tactic. It’s basically telling us ‘Buddy, I’m getting ready for something.’ What are you getting ready for? This is the scary part.”
A person who answered the phone for the Gurley Police Department on Saturday referred all questions to Pendergraft. The police chief did not respond to inquiries Saturday. As of Friday, his Facebook account was no longer publicly visible, according to Hadeed.
Located about 15 miles east of Huntsville, Ala., rural Gurley has a population of about 800 people, according to the 2010 census. Gurley Mayor Robert Sentell told AL.com on Friday that he did not know about the Facebook posts until the newspaper called that and would investigate the matter.
Hadeed said the chief’s Facebook posts reflect a rise in Islamophobia nationwide, which she attributed “at least in part to anti-Muslim bigotry expressed by Donald Trump and other public figures.” Early in his campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, Trump had called for a total ban on Muslim immigrants and refugees, though it has been unclear lately whether Trump still supports such a ban.
Hadeed said she is worried Trump may have directly incited others because of a campaign speech he made in February. At a rally in South Carolina, Trump told a story — later found to be baseless — of U.S. Gen. John Pershing allegedly capturing 50 terrorists as prisoners in the “early 1900s” and then dipping 50 bullets in pigs’ blood.
Though he didn’t mention where this happened, variations of the story circulating online usually state that it happened during the Philippine-American War, according to an earlier report by The Post. “There’s a whole thing with swine and animals and pigs, and — you know the story, you know they don’t like that,” Trump says at one point, referring to Muslims.
“And he lined up the 50 people and they shot 49 of those people, and the 50th person, he said, ‘You go back to your people, and you tell them what happened,’ ” Trump told the crowd. “And for 25 years, there wasn’t a problem, okay? Twenty-five years, there wasn’t a problem. So we better start getting tough, and we better start getting vigilant, and we better start using our heads, or we’re not going to have a country, folks.”
After his speech, historians and fact-checkers debunked the Pershing story as false, misleading and apocryphal, according to Time, PolitiFact and even Snopes.com, among others. Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), who also ran for the GOP nomination, called the anecdote “bizarre,” according to CNN.
“I’m sure people are offended,” Rubio said during a “Today” show appearance a day after Trump’s rally. “We hope people are offended by that. That’s not what the United States is about.”
If it mattered to voters then, it didn’t show at the polls. Trump won the South Carolina primary election that month.
It is not the first time Muslim groups have felt targeted because of a pork-related incident — even though the concept is misguided, religious experts say.
In 2013, Idaho-based sporting goods company South Fork Industries produced a new ammunition, coated in pork-infused paint, that it claimed would be a “defensive deterrent to those who violently act in the name of Islam,” according to the Religion News Service.
“With Jihawg Ammo, you don’t just kill an Islamist terrorist, you also send him to hell,” the company said in a news release, the news service reported. “That should give would-be martyrs something to think about before they launch an attack. If it ever becomes necessary to defend yourself and those around you our ammo works on two levels.”
Jihawg Ammo appears to be no longer available for purchase.
At the time, Shannon Dunn, assistant professor of religious studies at Gonzaga University, told the Religion News Service that “Jihawg Ammo” was based on an inaccurate understanding of the Koran.
“There is no penalty for coming into contact with pork given by the [Koran],” Dunn told the news service. “To my knowledge, Muslims, especially unknowingly, would not be banned from heaven for eating or getting hit by pork. There are some interpreters who suggest that Muslims should eat pork rather than starve, if faced with that alternative.”
That has not stopped some from continuing to try to intimidate Muslim people with pork-based threats.
In January, vandals left raw bacon on the door of the Islamic Center of Omaha, according to the Omaha World-Herald; it was the fourth time in recent months that mosque had been vandalized.
Around the same time, similar acts of vandalism took place at mosques in Florida and in Nevada, several media outlets reported. Last week, two men allegedly threw pieces of bacon at worshipers at a London-area mosque, according to the Camden New Journal.
“Update: None of the Muslims melted,” Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of the CAIR-Arizona chapter, tweeted sarcastically.
— Imraan Siddiqi (@imraansiddiqi) October 4, 2016
“We’re developing a bacon tolerance,” Siddiqi tweeted in a wry follow-up. “We’re like the Deadpool of religious communities.”
Siddiqi said the organization keeps track of acts of Islamophobia and how they affect communities on a special website, HateHurts.net. Bacon-related incidents are not new and somewhat hackneyed, at best, he said.
“A common response from Muslims is ‘Bacon isn’t our Kryptonite,'” Siddiqi told The Post. “To Muslims, it’s just annoying and cliched, even though attackers think it’s something that negates our religion.”
In Alabama, Hadeed said she hopes the Gurley mayor responds and questions why posts like that would be allowed from a public official.
“I feel like this is a time where people are literally trying to deal with some of the hate out there,” she said. “To see something like this is actually … it’s beyond imagination.”
Either way, Hadeed said she hopes to be able to open a dialogue with the Gurley Police Department.
“Actually I would be very happy to go there myself, give diversity training, talk about Islam, build that relationship,” Hadeed said. “That’s what they need … to be able to understand a community they serve.”