Two Arizona women have been arrested and charged with burglary after they went to a mosque — with three children in tow — and recorded themselves mocking the Muslim faith.
The incident, which happened earlier this month, comes at a time of heightening anti-Muslim sentiment in the United States.
Tahnee Gonzales and Elizabeth Dauenhauer went to the Islamic Community Center in Tempe, Ariz., to, as Gonzales claimed, “expose” the evils of sharia law and the “invasion and illegal takeover” by Muslims. Gonzales posted a Facebook Live video of the duo and the children walking into the outdoor playground of the mosque. They grabbed brochures and fliers about events, prayer announcements, classes and services and made disparaging comments about Muslims while Gonzales kept live-streaming.
“Oh, look at that! Food stamps, huh. Oh, look at that, double your food stamps,” Gonzales said, appearing to read a flier posted on a bulletin board. “You’re already getting free tax money. Why don’t you double it? All on the American hard-earned taxpayer.”
“Look at this, you guys,” she added, talking to her Facebook Live viewers.
Walking over to another bulletin board, the women saw an announcement about tax assistance, which prompted Gonzales to say: “What do they work and do? They don’t even work.”
At one point, Gonzales can be heard telling one of the children to not touch the outdoor slide, suggesting it’s covered in “germs.”
“This is the infiltration of the Arabic Muslim, coming in and destroying America,” Gonzales told her Facebook Live viewers. “The Muslims are nothing but evil Satan worshipers. … Pedophilia runs deep in the Muslim community.”
At one point, Dauenhauer marveled at their haul: “We have so much literature.” To which Gonzales said, “Yep, we’re gonna expose this.”
Detective Lily Duran, spokeswoman for the Tempe Police Department, said the women were arrested Thursday and charged with burglary, a felony. She said “an enhancement of hate crime will be considered” for their sentencing.
Arizona does not charge people with hate crimes, but defendants could face an increased sentence if they committed a felony motivated by bias against a person’s race, gender, religion, disability or sexual orientation. Gonzales and Dauenhauer were transported and booked into the Tempe City Jail.
A message left at a number that appeared in public records under Gonzales’s name was not returned. She also did not respond to a Facebook message. The Washington Post was unable to find a contact number and Facebook page for Dauenhauer. The video is no longer on Gonzales’s Facebook page, but versions of it are still percolating online.
The alleged crime appears to have happened on March 4 without the knowledge of the mosque’s staff. Ahmad Al-Akoum, the mosque’s imam, said he didn’t know it had occurred until a few days later, after the Southern Poverty Law Center contacted the mosque about the video. The mosque alerted Tempe police, and authorities later subpoenaed Facebook to obtain the Facebook Live video, Al-Akoum said.
“It’s really disheartening and disturbing to see people this time and age as ignorant as those people are in terms of their knowledge of Islam and Muslims,” Al-Akoum said. “What’s most devastating for me was to see them tagging along those young, innocent children and giving them lessons on hate and teaching them how to be intolerant.”
Referring to the video, Al-Akoum said the women bragged about what they were doing at the mosque and invited people to show up at some of the activities announced in the fliers. He said he had to make calls to warn people that protesters might show up at their events.
Al-Akoum said Gonzales’s comments were filled with misconceptions about sharia law. He noted a part of the video in which the women can be seen walking toward a nearby restaurant that sells halal meat, which Gonzales seemed to associate with sharia law.
“Halal, it means clean. It means it’s really good for you,” Al-Akoum said. “But for her, that was sharia law.”
Sharia law is a set of rules that govern aspects of the daily lives of Muslims. Soner Cagaptay, a senior fellow at the Washington Institute of Near East Policy, wrote: “In the West, sharia law is often associated with corporal punishment, such as beheadings carried out by Islamist extremists and the likes of the Islamic State. But in fact, only a few countries, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, enact sharia in this form.”
In a 2016 column outlining myths about sharia, Asifa Quraishi-Landes, a University of Wisconsin law professor, wrote that sharia is not necessarily a law in the sense that the West sees it.
“Sharia is not a book of statutes or judicial precedent imposed by a government, and it’s not a set of regulations adjudicated in court,” she wrote. “Rather, it is a body of Koran-based guidance that points Muslims toward living an Islamic life.”
Sharia is also not about conquest or forcing Islam on non-Muslims, Quraishi-Landes said. Scholars on fiqh, or the human interpretation of sharia, “always insisted that Muslims in non-Muslim lands must obey the laws of those lands and do no harm within host countries,” she wrote.
“There’s no Muslim in their sane mind who’ll say, ‘We want to establish sharia in America,’ ” Al-Akoum said.
The incident follows a year when the number of hate groups across the country climbed. The Southern Poverty Law Center tallied 954 active hate groups nationwide in 2017, a 4 percent increase from 2016. The center said most of the growth was concentrated in neo-Nazi, anti-Muslim and black nationalist groups.
The mosque, built in 1984, is just outside of Phoenix, home to a thriving Muslim population and Muslim-owned businesses. In 2015, a group of protesters showed up outside the mosque and yelled insults at worshipers.
Pictures and videos on Gonzales’s Facebook page show that she and Dauenhauer often attended anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rallies, and brought the children with them. Several pictures show Gonzales with signs that say, “SHARIAH LAW, HONOR KILLING,” “#NODACA,” “#NOAMNESTY” and “#DACAISCACA.” Her Facebook picture shows her wearing a “Make America Great Again” hat and an American flag with President Trump’s face on it.
One video shows Gonzales and others at a Bernie Sanders rally in Phoenix on Sunday, accosting people who say they support the U.S. senator from Vermont. At one point during the live stream, a Muslim woman walked by Gonzales.
“Muslims have no right in America!” she screamed at the woman, who turned out to be Deedra Abboud, a Muslim running for U.S. Senate.
Gonzales accosted Abboud. The women talked at each other. Gonzales ranted about sharia law and how Muslims hate America, at one point pointing her finger at Abboud. Seemingly unfazed, Abboud responded by saying “I love America” over and over.
Dauenhauer was a member of the Patriot Movement AZ, a “grass-roots organization” that defends “American values against the progressive Leftist and Globalist Agenda,” according to its website. The organization said it removed Dauenhauer as a member after the incident at the mosque. Gonzales, the group said, was never affiliated with Patriot Movement AZ.
In a Facebook post Wednesday, the group said the women “conducted themselves in a manner inconsistent and offensive to the ideas and beliefs” of the organization.
Correction: A initial version of this story incorrectly reported that Gonzales was a member of Patriot Movement AZ.