“He’s going to do to you Muslims what Hitler did to the Jews,” the letters state.
The Evergreen Islamic Center in San Jose was the first to receive the threatening letter last week, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR. Authorities were alerted on Thursday night after the center’s imam found it in the mail, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.
Over the next few days, more mosques received letters that appeared to have the same language:
- Islamic Center of Southern California, Los Angeles
- Long Beach Islamic Center, Signal Hill, Calif.
- Islamic Center of Northridge, Granada Hills, Calif.
- Islamic Center of Claremont, Pomona, Calif.
- Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, Fresno, Calif.
- Islamic Center of Savannah, Savannah, Ga.
- Islamic Center of Cleveland, Cleveland
- Islamic Society of Greater Harrisburg, Harrisburg, Pa.
- Masjid Miami Gardens, Miami Gardens, Fla.
The letters — signed “Americans for a Better Way” — went on to say that Muslims “would be wise to pack your bags and get out of Dodge.”
“You are evil. You worship the devil, ” the letters state. “But, your day of reckoning has arrived.”
Each of the letters ended with “long live President Trump and God bless the USA.”
Investigators from several jurisdictions are working to track down the source of the letters.
Los Angeles Police Department Deputy Chief Michael Downing of the Counter-Terrorism and Special Operations Bureau said he believes the author likely wrote the letters “out of fear, uncertainty and unknown,” and feels “emboldened” by the current political climate.
“Whoever is the president is the president for all Americans,” Downing said at a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday. “And this isn’t a Muslim problem, a Jewish problem or a Christian problem. This is a problem with humanity.”
“This is a sickness,” Downing added. “It’s a cancer that we cannot allow to metastasize. We have to fix this.”
Though the letters are filled with hateful language, their contents are too vague to be considered a hate crime, Stephen Woolery, head of the counterterrorism division of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, said at the news conference. “The letters are sensational,” Woolery said. “But the letters don’t specifically contain a threat. The letters don’t speak specifically or directly about a threat of violence. And that’s what the FBI looks for when we investigate these types of incidents.”
Woolery said the FBI does not have an open investigation, but the agency is working with local law enforcement agencies to find the author.
On Monday, CAIR’s national executive director, Nihad Awad, wrote to FBI Director James B. Comey to request a formal investigation. A spokeswoman for the FBI said she can’t immediately confirm if the agency had received the letter from CAIR.
At least two of the letters — sent to mosques in Fresno and Savannah — were postmarked Santa Clarita in Los Angeles County. Both letters also had a return address from a “Reza Khan” and had invalid local Fresno and Savannah addresses. A public records search revealed that there’s no person by that name in either city.
Fresno Police Department Chief Jerry Dyer told the Fresno Bee that it’s highly unlikely the name on the envelope is the name of the person responsible for the letters.
“The hate campaign targeting California houses of worship must be investigated as an act of religious intimidation, and our state’s leaders should speak out against the growing anti-Muslim bigotry that leads to such incidents,” Hussam Ayloush, executive director for CAIR-Los Angeles, said in a statement.
Edward Ahmed Mitchell, executive director for CAIR-Georgia, said the Muslim community “fears God, not anonymous hate mail.”
The FBI said earlier this month that hate crimes against U.S. Muslims spiked last year to their highest level since the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Law enforcement agencies across the country reported 257 anti-Muslim incidents last year, an increase of nearly 67 percent from 2014, according to FBI data.
Overall, hate crimes increased by 6.7 percent from 2014 to 2015. Anti-black and anti-Jewish incidents rose by about 7.6 and 9 percent, respectively, according to the FBI.
Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR, told The Washington Post that he believes anti-Muslim rhetoric that came out of the presidential campaign was to blame.
On the campaign trail last year, Republican nominee Donald Trump called for “a total and complete shutdown” of Muslims entering the United States. The temporary ban was one of his most controversial and popular proposals, alongside building a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border and deporting people who are in the United States illegally.
Trump’s campaign later amended the proposal, saying immigration should be suspended from countries “compromised by terrorism.”
In March, Trump told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that “tremendous hatred” partly defined Islam, drawing little distinction between the religion and Islamic extremism. “I think Islam hates us,” Trump said. “It’s very hard to define. It’s very hard to separate. Because you don’t know who’s who.”
Reza Nekumanesh, director of the Islamic center in Fresno, told the Fresno Bee that the idea that Trump created hatred is a “ridiculous concept,” saying that the messages conveyed in the letter represent a deeply rooted hatred that has existed since the country’s inception. “All he did is make it okay to say it loudly,” Nekumanesh told the Bee.
In his victory speech on election night, Trump used a more conciliatory tone, vowing to be president of all Americans. In a recent “60 Minutes” interview with Lesley Stahl, he said he was surprised and saddened to hear about the reports of intimidation and harassment of minorities, including Muslims and immigrants. He called on those committing hateful acts in his name to “stop it.”
More than 100 anti-Muslim incidents have occurred since the presidential election, according to CAIR’s national office. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a hate-watch group, has tallied more than 800 incidents of harassment within the 10 days after the election.
Many appear to have been made in Trump’s name and were directed at immigrants, African Americans and Muslims. The center cautioned that not all incidents had direct references to the president-elect and that not every report could be immediately verified.
CAIR also said this month that the FBI questioned Muslims in at least eight states to seek information about a possible threat from al-Qaeda to carry out pre-election attacks.
Hassan Shibly, a lawyer and executive director of the CAIR office in Florida, told The Post that his clients were asked whether they knew the al-Qaeda leaders killed in U.S. military strikes last month and whether they knew of anyone who wanted to harm Americans at home or abroad. Among those questioned, Shibly said, were a youth group leader and physicians.
“The FBI actions . . . to conduct a sweep of American Muslim leaders the weekend before the election is completely outrageous and . . . borderline unconstitutional,” Shibly told The Post. “That’s the equivalent of the FBI visiting churchgoing Christians because someone overseas was threatening to blow up an abortion clinic. It’s that preposterous and outrageous.”
Imam Sayed Moustafa al-Qazwini, president of the Shia Muslim Council of Southern California, said during Monday’s news conference that the Muslim community would like to “sit and talk” to those who have suspicions about Islam.
“This is a nation of immigrants,” he said. “And what brings them together is acceptance and tolerance.”
This story, first published Nov. 27, has been updated.