Democratic Congressman Keith Ellison tweeted Sunday that there have been 35 “mosque attacks” in the Trump era.
Ellison exaggerates an outdated and imprecise statistic. However, there have been a number of hate crime incidents directed at mosques in recent months. It remains to be seen whether these incidents are part of a growing trend.
In his tweet, Ellison links to a Buzzfeed article that claims there have been around 35 “incidents of threats, vandalism and arson at U.S. mosques since January.” The figure is roughly based on an outdated statistic mentioned in a March press release from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
To establish a more current estimate, The Daily Caller News Foundation analyzed an ongoing list of incidents compiled by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The analysis found alleged incidents at about 60 mosques across the country to date. Many of the incidents noted by CAIR are included in the ACLU listing.
The ACLU’s list relies on local news reports, so the number of incidents could be higher if news outlets did not cover an incident or if the ACLU could not find all instances reported by local media.
The number of “anti-mosque incidents” the ACLU compiled may also be overstated because not all incidents were investigated by police as hate crimes. In addition, the list includes more subjective “incidents” like zoning disputes over the construction of new mosques.
The ACLU listed several burglaries in Alabama that targeted mosque donation boxes. But according to a police statement, authorities found “no evidence that these crimes are hate crime related.”
Another example involves a 16-year-old boy who set fire to a mosque, but authorities do not believe the arson was a hate crime.
The ACLU also lists the murder of a young Muslim woman outside a mosque that occurred Sunday. Police currently believe the crime was a “road rage incident” and not a hate crime.
Police reports and investigations are not infallible, but “anti-mosque” statistics issued by groups like the ACLU should be taken with a grain of salt. According to the FBI, “only when a law enforcement investigation reveals sufficient evidence to lead a reasonable and prudent person to conclude that the offender’s actions were motivated, in whole or in part, by his or her bias, should an agency report an incident as a hate crime.”
Ellison mischaracterizes some of the incidents CAIR reported by calling them “attacks,” exaggerating instances like hate mail by including them in the 35-number from his tweet.
The FBI works with local law enforcement departments across the country to compile statistics on the number and type of hate crimes each year. Currently, this data is only available through 2015.
The most recent FBI data shows that after Jews, Muslims are the second most likely religious group to be a victim of reported and verified hate crimes. The top offenses against Muslims are intimidation, vandalism and assault.
It is unclear how many incidents toward mosques in 2017 were motivated by hatred or how many may be missing in compilations like those from the ACLU. Government statistics have limitations as well. The Justice Department published findings from a 2013 survey that found two-thirds of all hate crimes go unreported, so FBI statistics likely undercount actual hate crimes.
Both Ellison’s tweet and the Buzzfeed article frame recent mosque incidents in the context of the Trump era. The article looks at incidents since January, the month President Donald Trump was inaugurated. However, evidence of a link between Trump’s presidency and attacks on mosques is unsubstantiated.
Many other factors likely contribute to instances of hate crimes, most notably terrorist attacks. Studies show a correlation between terrorist attacks and surges in hate crimes against Muslims. Incidents spiked to the highest level on record in 2001 after the September 11 attacks. In the wake of the Paris attacks and the San Bernardino shooting in 2015, anti-Muslim hate crimes in the U.S. jumped 67% over the prior year. It remains to be seen whether the FBI data will show a continuing upward trend in 2017.
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