The front of Friday’s New York Times featured liberal campaign reporter Astead Herndon making a detour to St. Cloud, Minnesota, to name and shame local alleged Islamophobics. The headline: “Resettled Refugees Unsettle a Mostly White City -- Anti-Muslim Backlash as Somalis Start Over in Minnesota.” A front-page photo caption: “John Palmer reads conspiratorial websites at a restaurant each weekday in St. Cloud, Minn.”
The online photo caption (and the story itself) gave the name of the restaurant, though the picture itself (of a posing Palmer) makes it relatively obvious as well. That's a whole lot of contact information about a member of the public who reads websites the Times does not approve of.
As more Somali refugees arrive in St. Cloud, white anti-immigration activists have pressed an increasingly explicit anti-Muslim agenda.
John Palmer, a former university professor, has always had a cause. For decades he urged Minnesota officials to face the dangers of drunken driving and embrace seatbelts. Now he has a new goal: curbing the resettlement of Somali refugees in St. Cloud, after a few thousand moved into this small city where Mr. Palmer has lived for decades.
Every weekday, he sits in the same spot....and begins his daily intake of news from xenophobic and conspiratorial sites, such as JihadWatch.org, and articles with titles like “Lifting the Veil on the ‘Islamophobia’ Hoax.” On Thursdays, Mr. Palmer hosts a group called Concerned Community Citizens, or C-Cubed, which he formed to pressure local officials over the Muslim refugees. Mr. Palmer said at a recent meeting he viewed them as innately less intelligent than the “typical” American citizen, as well as a threat.
“The very word ‘Islamophobia’ is a false narrative,” Mr. Palmer, 70, said. “A phobia is an irrational fear.” Raising his voice, he added, “An irrational fear! There are many reasons we are not being irrational.”
Palmer indeed has some objectionable ideas -- but was it necessary to name the time and place he shows up every week?
In this predominantly white region of central Minnesota, the influx of Somalis, most of whom are Muslim, has spurred the sort of demographic and cultural shifts that President Trump and right-wing conservatives have stoked fears about for years. The resettlement has divided many politically active residents of St. Cloud, with some saying they welcome the migrants.
But for others, the changes have fueled talk about “white replacement,” a racist conspiracy theory tied to the declining birthrates of white Americans that has spread in far-right circles and online chat rooms and is now surfacing in some communities.
Herndon briefly laid out the demographic changes, which would pose a challenge to any community.
Dave Kleis, the Republican mayor of St. Cloud, has voiced support for the resettlement program, but he has also drawn criticism for not forcefully denouncing groups like C-Cubed, which he refused to discuss in an interview. Mr. Kleis said the city was facing the same challenges as other parts of Minnesota and other changing communities around the country. St. Cloud, the state’s 10th-largest city, increased in population by 33 percent over the last 30 years, to roughly 70,000 people. The share of nonwhite residents grew to 18 percent from 2 percent, mostly with East African immigrants from Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia, and the numbers of Somalis are estimated to grow.
Their increased presence -- and an attack at a mall in 2016, when Dahir Adan, a Somali-American refugee living in St. Cloud, stabbed 10 people -- has emboldened a loosely connected network of white, anti-immigration activists who are trying to pressure local and state Republicans to embrace an increasingly explicit anti-Muslim agenda.
(The paper doesn’t mention that Adan’s spree was an Islamic terrorist attack – he talked of Allah and asked at least one victim if he was Muslim. The Times didn’t get overly concerned about the attack in 2016 either, judging by this headline: “Friends Say Minnesota Attacker Was ‘Normal American Kid.’”)
Herndon blamed Trump’s rhetoric, while portraying controversial Muslim Democratic figures and a controversial Muslim pressure group, CAIR solely as victims.
In St. Cloud, some opponents of the refugee program have taken the introduction of non-pork options in the local public schools as an attack on their way of life. The 2018 elections of Representative Ilhan Omar and Attorney General Keith Ellison, who are Muslim, fueled xenophobic conspiracies that Muslim residents were planning a long-term coup to institute Shariah Law. They also point to individual instances of crime by Somali-Americans as proof of an innate predisposition to violence, and ignore the repeated studies showing that there is no demonstrated link between immigrants and criminal behavior.
Herndon further unbalanced the story by finding hostility on only one side, skipping the multiple anti-semitic statements from Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar and similar allegations against former Democratic National Committee co-chairman Keith Ellison, preferring to target Minnesota civilians. He also quoted the paper’s favorite pressure group CAIR.
Jaylani Hussein, the executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Minnesota, said St. Cloud was the “epicenter” of anti-Muslim sentiment in the state. Mr. Hussein condemned people like Mr. Kleis and other members of the Republican Party, who he said had been too neutral as xenophobia festered within their ranks.
Once again, the Times skipped CAIR’s controversies like its ties to the anti-Israel terrorist group Hamas, documented in federal court and by Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer.