Hate on the wall: Vandalism of Sacramento-area houses of worship coincides with emboldened nativist fringe
Two mosques and one church struck by vandals leaving bigoted messages
Detectives are investigating a pair of anti-Muslim hate crimes that hit mosques in South Sacramento and Davis last week, days after authorities arrested a man for spray-painting swastikas on a Catholic church in downtown Sacramento.
The separate attacks on religious institutions mirror other bigoted intimidation attempts that have been accumulating since President Donald Trump’s election.
The latest flare-up involved two possibly unrelated acts of vandalism on June 24.
The first occurred at the Masjid Annur Islamic Center, which neighbors a central division substation of the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Department. Located on 65th Street, Masjid Annur is the area’s largest cultural meeting spot for followers of the Islamic faith. Authorities say that, around 2:30 p.m., a passerby noticed a burning Quran filled with bacon handcuffed to a cyclone fence between the mosque and the sheriff’s outpost. A deputy driving by was quickly flagged down.
A sheriff’s spokesman was asked about the incident taking place so close to a marked station.
“It’s an obvious law enforcement building,” said Sgt. Tony Turnbull. “That presence usually deters crime from happening in that area. … So this is a little more brazen because of the law enforcement vehicles parked right there, and because the Islamic center constantly has people around day and night—it has a school.”
Later that same evening, an unknown person tore a Quran apart and scattered its pages around the Islamic Center of Davis.
Turnbull told SN&R that, while no immediate evidence has come to light that the crimes are related, he also can’t rule it out. “It’s just too early in the investigation to know,” he said, adding that the Regional Terror Threat Assessment Center is tracking the cases.
The Sacramento Valley chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement thanking law enforcement for its response to the mosque incidents, and advising American Muslims to take extra precautions.
“We thank all the officers involved in these investigations for their prompt and professional actions in responding to these troubling incidents,” said local CAIR Executive Director Basim Elkarra in a statement. “Decisive action by law enforcement authorities sends a strong message of deterrence to anyone who contemplates turning their bigoted views into acts of intimidation.”
This was not the Davis mosque’s first experience with bigotry this year. In January, a 30-year-old woman smashed six windows and left bacon wrapped around the door handles of the sanctuary.
The perpetrator, Lauren Kirk-Coehlo, was ultimately convicted of a felony hate crime, for which she received five years of supervised probation. Kirk-Coehlo’s actions coincided roughly with a similar crime at the Tarbiya Institute in Roseville, in which hateful slurs were spray-painted across the only mosque in south Placer County. That crime remains unsolved.
Detectives in Sacramento did arrest a man they believe tagged the St. Francis of Assisi Church on 26th Street with two swastikas and what authorities described as hateful writing on the night of June 17, a week before the vandalism of the two mosques.
Nico Traversie, 23, was already in the Sacramento County Main Jail on unrelated vandalism charges from another county at the time authorities identified him. According to Sacramento Superior Court records, Traversie was arraigned on two misdemeanor vandalism charges last week. He was released from jail on Monday, two days after the mosques were hit.
Though four months elapsed between the anti-Muslim crimes in Davis and Roseville and the latest incidents on June 24, other Northern California cities have experienced bigotry in the interim. In mid-March, a 27-year-old San Francisco man allegedly approached a woman wearing a hijab and her toddler in the Mission District and threatened to shoot them. On the national scene, an alleged white supremacist was arrested in May on suspicion of murdering two men on a Portland train, after they tried to stop him from menacing Muslim teenagers.
Beyond an increase in anti-Muslim attacks, a national advocacy organization that monitors organized nativist groups says the emboldened fringe is now trying to influence legislation.
According to Lindsay Schubiner, advocacy director at the Center for New Community, far-right groups like the Center for Immigration Studies and Federation for American Immigration Reform have made a concerted effort to lobby the white nationalist agenda while camouflaging their extremist views.
Schubiner cited the Trump administration travel ban against six mostly Muslim nations, which the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review this fall, as well as the president’s first two executive orders targeting undocumented immigrants. Both initiatives had their roots in ideas funneled by anti-immigrant organizations, Schubiner said. The anti-immigrant lobby has found less political success in California, Schubiner added, but is firmly rooted in the state’s nativist history.
“These ghosts of the past continue to promote racist stereotypes and policies today,” Schubiner said during a conference call with reporters and lawmakers. “While they’re not particularly effective, the racism is indeed dangerous.”