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Report: Minnesota corporate leaders help fuel anti-Muslim propaganda

Last year's bombing at the Dar Al Farooq Center is one of the reasons this new report hopes to cut off anti-Muslim propaganda at the source.

Last year's bombing at the Dar Al Farooq Center is one of the reasons this new report hopes to cut off anti-Muslim propaganda at the source. Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune

Brent Robbins is the vice president of General Mills. John Gibbs is the vice president of Comcast’s dealings with state governments. Both of them also serve on the board of directors for the Center of the American Experiment, a self-described “think tank” founded in 1990.

And as such, both may be indirectly responsible for spreading some of the most pernicious rumors about Muslims seen this side of state lines, according to a recent report from Minnesota’s Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) and interfaith advocacy group ISAIAH.

If you’re not familiar with the Center, here’s a quick crash course. It’s Minnesotan, and it’s run by John Hinderaker, who also co-founded Power Line – one of the nation’s foremost conservative blogs.

Its view of Islam is, to put it mildly, dismal. In an edition of the think tank’s magazine, Thinking Minnesota, writer Kim Crockett said refugees “from failed Muslim-majority states” bring with them “cultural and law enforcement challenges” like “polygamy and female genital mutilation, low workforce participation by men, and inexperience with the requirements of citizenship and voting.”

Neither Robbins nor Gibbs responded to interview requests, but their names and companies are currently listed among the Center’s leadership on its website. General Mills did release a statement saying the company has a “long history of inclusion” and that “many General Mills employees serve in an independent personal capacity on different boards.”

CAIR and interfaith advocacy group ISAIAH say the Center, along with an exclusive conservative group called the Freedom Club -- run by Alex Kharam, who is also the president of the right-wing blog Alpha News -- drive “most of the anti-Muslim propaganda in Minnesota.”

The anti-Muslim gambit, according to this new report, is this: Think tanks like the Center “develop talking points,” which “lower level operators” (blogs like Alpha News and Deplorable Housewives and even, as in the case of a widely debunked story about “millions of dollars” being smuggled out of MSP to fund al Shabaab, news networks like Fox 9 and KMSP-TV) coopt and disperse.

All of this is powered by a lot of private money “to advance a partisan agenda” and reach the ears of people who actually make policies. The report alleges that many of gubernatorial candidate Jeff Johnson’s talking points share main ideas with the Center’s publications, including the idea that “secondary migrants” might be sneaking into Minnesota after staying briefly in other states.

It’s all pretty typical stuff as far as propaganda goes, says Executive Director of CAIR Minnesota Jaylani Hussein.

“The anti-Muslim movement today is no different than the anti-Catholic movement in this country, the anti-Jewish movement in this country, and the anti-religion and other group movements in this country,” he said during a press conference Tuesday. “In fact, every single strategy that is outlined in this report… is the exact same strategy that was used against other groups.”

Hussein says they’ve been working on this report for a while, and not all of the connections are cut-and-dry.

“This report is alluding to a lot of the dark money which we know is extremely difficult to find because of the nature of using third-parties to fund some of these organizations,” he says. But one thing he is sure of: The past few years have seen a number of stark moments of anti-Muslim sentiment.

“Last year we had a mosque bombing, this year alone three mosques have been vandalized, and there may have been even others that have not been reported,” he said at the press conference. “Just a week ago, I was threatened… my staff, my team have been threatened on social media, which we are now having the FBI look into. This is real.”

Hussein says this is just the beginning -- that there will be more reports to come on how this supposed network functions, and the impact it’s having on Muslims living in Minnesota. The important thing to know, he says, is that people who consume this “anti-Muslim propaganda” aren’t “crazy,” or “stupid,” or “bigoted.” They’re acting rationally based on what they think they know about the world.

“Those who organize and finance anti-Muslim propaganda have insulated themselves from scrutiny,” the report says. “The publishers and profiteers must be held to account.”

And if anyone, Hussein says, takes issue with being lumped into the report’s list of “propagandists,” he says, he and CAIR would love to hear from them.