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I Islamophobia

Police say he made death threats to Muslims. His defense: America’s ‘toxic national discourse.’

By Travis M. Andrews, For Washington Post, On 04 November 2016, Read Original
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Mark Feigin is a nice guy.

He really is, his lawyers said.

In a statement released last Friday, his lawyers stated, “Mark Feigin is a good, decent man. He has no criminal record and he is not a danger to anyone. He has worked as a Chinese translator, as a screenwriter and as a real estate developer.”

His record and résumé aside, police claim that in September the Agoura Hills, Calif., resident called the Islamic Center of Southern California in Koreatown, threatening to kill its members.

The threats, according to Los Angeles police Cmdr. Horace Frank, stemmed from the 40-year-old’s “hatred for Muslims and his belief that Muslims will destroy the United States.”

Police arrested Feigin on Oct. 19 on charges of making terroristic threats.

When they did, they found in his house at least nine guns — shotguns, pistols and rifles — along with many modified high-capacity magazines and thousands of rounds of ammunition, according to CBS.

Some were registered to him; many were not.

(Feigin’s fascination with guns seems to predate this incident. Journalists at NBC4 uncovered a flier made by Feigin, a real estate agent, promising a free AR-15 assault rifle to anyone who purchased a home from him.)

He allegedly called the center at least twice. The first came on Sept. 19, and was “peppered with vulgarity and espoused hatred toward the Muslim faith.”

The next day “the male caller threatened to kill the person who answered the phone along with other members of the center,” Frank told KABC.

Since his arrest, Feigin’s lawyers have argued that it was “all an unfortunate misunderstanding.”

Robert Sheahen, one of his lawyers, admitted to the Los Angeles Times that Feigin “made some intemperate comments,” but he’s a nice guy. They weren’t his fault — instead, they were the fault of the current presidential election.

“If anything,” the statement read, “Mr. Feigin was a victim of the toxic national discourse of this political season.”

Feigin’s attorneys told the LA Times that he had been exposed to a torrent of alt-right media coverage. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes the alt-right movement this way on its website:

The Alternative Right, commonly known as the Alt-Right, is a set of far-right ideologies, groups and individuals whose core belief is that “white identity” is under attack by multicultural forces using “political correctness” and “social justice” to undermine white people and “their” civilization. Characterized by heavy use of social media and online memes, Alt-Righters eschew “establishment” conservatism, skew young, and embrace white ethno-nationalism as a fundamental value.

Much of the media coverage, Feigin’s attorneys said, was largely negative in tone toward Muslims. (Think: Donald Trump’s statement earlier this year of banning Muslims from entering the country.)

That coverage affected Feigin so deeply, it led to the calls.

It should be noted that Feigin’s now-deleted tweets were also laced with anti-Islamic statements, such as calling Muslims “filthy Islamic beasts,” stating that “drowning them is best” and advocating for Muslims to be “quarantined.”

Hours before he was arrested, as KTLA noted, he tweeted, “hillary wins= end of america – start hoarding guns and ammo for the coming war.”

Not everyone is surprised by Feigin’s alleged behavior, nor his reasoning for it.

“Unfortunately, in today’s political climate, such hate is not uncommon,” Omar Ricci, a spokesman for the Islamic Center of Southern California, told the Los Angeles Times. “We get a call every once in a while. This particular call rose to a different level.”

Hassan Shibly, chief executive director of the Florida branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, has experienced a similarly hateful climate and believes the deluge of anti-Muslim sentiment in some media outlets is to blame, at least to some degree.

“While that is no excuse or defense … it certainly is a reality that hateful rhetoric is not cost-free,” Shibly told The Washington Post.

He pointed to CAIR Florida’s annual report, which stated there is a “troubling 500% spike in anti-Muslim hate incidents in 2015” in Florida.

“This is a direct result of anti-Muslim hate promoted by certain politicians who have advocated for ‘banning’ and ‘monitoring’ American Muslims,” the report stated.

“There’s certainly a strong link between politicians demonizing and targeting the American-Muslim community and the right-wing media targeting and attacking the Muslim community, and then these unstable individuals being incited to violence,” Shibly told The Post. “While those individuals must be held responsible for their actions … their actions did not come about in a vacuum.”

He believes that individuals like Donald Trump and organizations like Fox News “have created an environment where hate is normalized, and hate is one step removed from violence.”

Added Shibly, “It is worse than it was in the days following 9/11.”

Currently Feigin, who has posted bail, is awaiting a Nov. 10 arraignment hearing. He also “faces an additional allegation of committing a hate crime and a misdemeanor count of making annoying telephone calls,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Meanwhile, Feigin’s lawyers claim the man’s learned the error of his alleged ways.

“Mr. Feigin now realizes we must work as a nation to put an end to fear and intolerance,” the statement said. “Our Islamic brethren must be both protected and respected. We hope to be able to reach out to Islamic representatives in the near future to begin a process of apology, contrition, dialogue — and education.”

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