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Shawn Vestal: Anti-Muslim lobby hungry for falsehood

ACT for America – an anti-Muslim group with chapters around the country fermenting sour, ignorant racism – claims that it is leading a fight against Islamic terrorism.

Its chief weapon? Smoldering piles of manure.

How fortunate we are that an ACT chapter is being formed in the Inland Northwest. By Rep. Matt Shea, naturally.

An example of the extremism surrounding anti-refugee fervor surfaced this week with the false reporting of an alleged sexual assault of a 5-year-old girl by boys from immigrant families in Twin Falls, Idaho. Twin Falls has an especially vocal chapter of ACT, whose members and fellow travelers peddle falsehoods about Syrian refugees and the end of the world. “ISIS is here,” one of these refugee refuseniks told the City Council recently.

Someone took the story of this terrible incident with the young girl and cynically added a bunch of utterly false red meat for bigots. Before you knew it, echo chamber websites – such as InfoWars and the Drudge Report – were pumping out headlines designed to tickle prejudices:

“THREE SYRIAN ‘REFUGEES’ RAPE LITTLE GIRL AT KNIFEPOINT”

One anti-refugee warrior, Vicky Davis of Twin Falls, told her City Council: “Islam has declared global jihad on us. And Obama, this administration, is bringing them in as fast as he possibly can … They’re on your head, your head, your head, yours, yours,” she said, pointing to each member of the council.

Did three Syrian refugees rape a girl at knifepoint as part of Islam’s global jihad? Police, prosecutors and public officials in Twin Falls say no. As the police chief said, each word of that headline is false. There was inappropriate sexual contact between three boys of immigrant families and a young girl, though the details of the case are sealed, as they always are with juvenile cases. Two boys have been charged; it appears that one of them touched the girl, but authorities aren’t being specific.

No gang rape. No knifepoint. No Syrians.

These extra details were not mistakes. They were intentional falsehoods that someone embroidered into the story, despicably.

Newspapers, including this one, ran articles debunking the original story. Which the true believers took as proof that the lies were true. Part of the entire dynamic here is not just that hordes of Muslim terrorists, aided and abetted by Secret Muslim Obama, are posing as refugees, flooding America and raping children – that hordes of Muslim terrorist children are doing this – but that anyone who says they’re not is lying.

Here’s what Shea, the Spokane Valley Bundy apologist, had to say about the S-R’s reporting of the story on Facebook: “SOCIALIST REVIEW ARTICLE CLAIMING STORIES ABOUT SEXUAL ASSAULT OF 5-YEAR OLD ARE FALSE IS DEBUNKED … ”

Shea, who organized a meeting this week to form an ACT chapter here, proceeded to list a few facts about the case that were not remotely the facts in question and linked to an article at World News Daily that supposedly performs the debunking. WND is to journalism what bird vomit is to gastronomy, but it’s considered persuasive and relevant among the people who have declared themselves the warriors against radical Islam.

The WND story essentially doubles down on the original false report. It restates that “some local residents” are charging the police and city officials with covering up the fact that the boys were from immigrant Muslim families. It says at least three newspapers “have tried to discredit the assault,” focusing instead on a few minor details and ignoring the broader truth “that Muslim migrants stripped down and humiliated a little girl.” Apparently, that’s what “Syrian refugees rape girl at knifepoint” means, if you love America enough. The WND says that even though the boys weren’t Syrian, they were Sudanese and Iraqi. Close enough!

The accuracy of those reports never mattered in the least to those who sold or bought them. There was only one word required for full buy-in: Muslim.

It is increasingly obvious that many anti-Islam, anti-immigrant activists have no ability to grasp the fact that the Islamic world might be anything but a foreign monolith marching under the umbrella of ISIS. The idea that a quarter of the planet’s population might include a wide range of believers – from deadly fundamentalists to peaceful believers to mostly secular adherents – is treated as naïve. The fact that there are 3.3 million American Muslims of wide-ranging ethnicities and backgrounds seems not to have occurred to them. The notion that a Muslim might not be a terrorist, or might in fact be an actual victim of terrorism, goes unthought. In their minds, a burqa is a mosque is a terrorist is a Syrian is a refugee is Obama is the end of the world.

What little we know about what happened in Twin Falls does not tell us anything about the threats facing America. For that, you have to look to the lies attached to the story, and the reasons they were.

Shawn Vestal can be reached at (509) 459-5431 or shawnv@spokesman.com. Follow him on Twitter at @vestal13.