Updated: September 02, 2020 10:29 PM
Created: September 02, 2020 05:54 PM
A self-proclaimed “proud Islamophobe” who traveled around Minnesota spreading conspiracy theories about the state’s large Muslim community is now the Republican nominee for a seat in Congress.
Laura Loomer, who is banned from the largest social media platforms for spreading hateful rhetoric, won the party’s primary in Florida's 21st congressional district back in August.
Loomer’s blowout victory was the culmination of a campaign largely funded by millionaires and billionaires, including a casino titan and the founder of Home Depot, that outraised everyone in the field by hundreds of thousands of dollars.
While polling numbers indicate she is a longshot to win in a historically Democratic stronghold, Loomer’s campaign has been endorsed by prominent Republicans, including a sitting member of Congress and President Donald Trump, whose Mar-a-Lago residence is in Loomer’s district.
Loomer’s rise to political prominence was fueled by frequent trips to Minnesota, home to the country’s largest Somali population, where she repeatedly pushed anti-Muslim and xenophobic views.
Last July, she told a capacity crowd at a church outside Rochester that Minnesota was suffering from an “Islamic invasion.” Organizers blocked 5 INVESTIGATES from attending but several videos remain online.
“Minnesota has been invaded and will continue to be invaded until you guys have strong leaders,” Loomer told those in attendance. “I’m not from Minnesota, but I can’t imagine how embarrassing it must be or how upsetting it must be that your representatives are terrorist-supporting, anti-American, Jew, and Christian haters. It must be very hard for you. But we just have to keep strong.”
After her appearance, 5 INVESTIGATES asked Loomer if she worried her rhetoric, which has been deemed hate speech by social media companies such as Twitter and Facebook, could lead to more violence against the Muslim community.
“No, I don’t,” Loomer said. “Because I’m worried about the impact a lot of these people and their rhetoric is having on the community.”
THE RIPPLE EFFECT
While such views are not new to a Muslim community that has long been subjected to racially-driven conspiracy theories and bigoted stereotypes, Loomer’s winning of a major party nomination raises concerns that such a platform will receive mainstream support.
“As soon as I saw that she won, I was really disgusted,” said Asma Jama, of Burnsville. “It’s going to harm a lot of people.”
Jama was physically harmed back in 2015 when she was hit in the face with a beer mug while dining at an Applebee’s with her family. Her attacker — a white woman — was aggravated that she was not speaking English.
"It will lead to violence," Jama said. "It’s not a matter of will it. It will. And then who do you hold accountable?"
Jama first became concerned during one of Loomer’s first trips to the Twin Cities in February 2019 when she spent days promoting conspiracy theories about Muslims in Minnesota as well as the country’s first Somali-American member of Congress, Representative Ilhan Omar.
During her visit, Loomer — and other out of towners — shared a stream of videos with their large online following portraying Muslim communties as “no-go zones” full of “Sharia police officers walking around in orange vests.”
“No-go zones” have been a tool for conspiracy theorists like Loomer for years, according to a new report from a group that studies Islamophobia at Georgetown University.
The report found that “the idea of the ‘no-go zone’ continues to circulate and is often used to justify anti-immigration and anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric.”
Nonetheless, Loomer and her group begged for donations at the time to supposedly fund a security detail to keep them safe and continued to promote the false claim months later when challenged by 5 INVESTIGATES.
“There is Sharia law in Minnesota. There is,” Loomer insisted during that interview in July 2019. “I’m not making it up. This is well documented,” she added, failing to point to any documented evidence.
RUNNING FOR OFFICE
Shortly after returning to Florida last year, Loomer launched her Republican campaign for Congress, and continued to raise money, including from a small group of donors in Minnesota where she found support.
Brian Crowley, who has covered Florida politics for more than 40 years, said the other Republican candidates never had a chance against her.
“She raised $1.1 million from donors all over the country,” he said. “Her method in her adult life is to try to grab as much attention as she can. And she has been very successful at that.”
Loomer’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. Although she won the primary, experts believe it is unlikely she will unseat the incumbent, Democrat Lois Frankel, in November.
The bigger question now, Crowley said, is how much more mainstream support Loomer will receive from the Republican party. Florida Congressman Matt Gaetz is already publicly supporting her campaign and President Trump tweeted out his congratulations after her primary victory.
“What are your standards today?” Crowley said. “Some of the things that these folks are doing would not be acceptable to either party not that long ago.”
The fact that it has found even partial acceptance in the mainstream is why Asma Jama is considering a return to Africa.
“There’s a part of me that just wants to give up and just throw the towel in. I’ve been thinking about going back home… like go back home for good,” she said. “I’m just saying if people like Laura Loomer can easily win, then we have a lot of work to do. And I don't think I'm cut for that.”
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