Last week, legislators in Tennessee introduced a radical bill that would make “material support” for Islamic law punishable by 15 years in prison.
The proposal marks a dramatic new step in the conservative campaign against Muslim-Americans. If passed, critics say even seemingly benign activities like re-painting the exterior of a mosque or bringing food to a potluck could be classified as a felony.
The Tennessee bill, SB 1028, didn’t come out of nowhere. Though it’s the first of its kind, the bill is part of a wave of related measures that would ban state courts from enforcing Sharia law. (A court might refer to Sharia law in child custody or prisoner rights cases.) Since early 2010, such legislation has been considered in at least 15 states. And while fears of an impending caliphate are myriad on the far-right, the surge of legislation across the country is largely due to the work of one man: David Yerushalmi, an Arizona-based white supremacist who has previously called for a “war against Islam” and tried to criminalize adherence to the Muslim faith.
Yerushalmi, a lawyer, is the founder of the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), which has been called a “hate group” by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). His draft legislation served as the foundation for the Tennessee bill, and at least half a dozen other anti-Islam measures – including two bills that were signed into law last year in Louisiana and Tennessee.
But Tennessee’s SB 1028 goes much further, defining traditional Islamic law as counter to constitutional principles, and authorizing the state’s attorney general to freeze the assets of organizations that have been determined to be promoting or supporting Sharia. On Monday, CAIR and the ACLU called for lawmakers to defeat the bill. “Essentially the bill is trying to separate the ‘good Muslims’ from the ‘bad Muslims,'” said CAIR staff attorney Gadeir Abbas in an interview with Mother Jones. “Out of all the bills that have been introduced, this is by far the most extreme.”
But it’s not just Muslims who draw Yerushalmi’s scorn. In a 2006 essay for SANE entitled On Race: A Tentative Discussion, Yerushalmi argued that whites are genetically superior to blacks. “Some races perform better in sports, some better in mathematical problem solving, some better in language, some better in Western societies and some better in tribal ones,” he wrote.
Yerushalmi has suggested that Caucasians are inherently more receptive to republican forms of government than blacks – an argument that’s consistent with SANE’s mission statement, which emphasizes that “America was the handiwork of faithful Christians, mostly men, and almost entirely white.”
And in an article published at the website Intellectual Conservative, Yerushalmi, who is Jewish, suggests that liberal Jews “destroy their host nations like a fatal parasite.” Unsurprisingly, then, Yerushalmi offered the lone Jewish defense of Mel Gibson, after the actor’s anti-semitic tirade in 2006. Gibson, he wrote, was simply noting the “undeniable Jewish liberal influence on western affairs in the direction of a World State.”