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Law Enforcement, Islamic Community Leaders Respond To Hate Letters Sent To Mosques

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As we'd reported on Saturday, two mosques in Southern California had received threatening letters on Wednesday claiming that President-elect Trump will "cleanse" the country of Muslims. On Monday, leaders of the Muslim community joined law enforcement officials at a press conference to address the incident. They also revealed that more letters were discovered to have been sent to mosques and Islamic centers in Signal Hill, Koreatown, Northridge, and a handful of other cities, including one in Georgia. The author of the letters remains unknown.

At the conference, Salam Al-Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, challenged the author to step forward and meet with Muslim representatives. "Let me speak directly to the person who wrote these letters to these mosques. You are a coward, unless you come here and debate the points you apparently believe so much in," said Al-Marayati.

He added that the letters do not exist in a vacuum; they exist as part of a larger problem in which misconceptions about the Muslim faith are rampant and contagious. "There are still people who are impacted by these conspiracy theories about Islam, by these myths, by these falsehoods," said Al-Marayati. "As they say: the more you repeat a lie, the more it becomes a fact."

According to FBI Special Agent Stephen Woolery, the letters may have been penned by the same person. "They all look similar in language," said Woolery. "I don't want to be too absolute, but they look like they came from the same author."

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Woolery confirmed that there were multiple letters (rather than one letter being photocopied) and that the letters were delivered via the post office.

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One of the letters. (via CAIR/Facebook)

The letters do not amount to a hate crime, however, as they do not cite a specific action. Woolery said that, "The letters don't speak specially or directly about a threat of violence, and that's what the FBI looks for when we investigate these types of incidents." Officials are using the term "hate incidents" instead to refer to the letters.

While the FBI is monitoring the incidents, the investigations are being handled by local law enforcement. In recent weeks, the LAPD has been voicing a hard stance against hate crimes and other acts of racial bias. Last Wednesday, Police chief Charlie Beck noted in a release that the LAPD has added a "Hate Crime Coordinator" and dedicated hate crime detectives at each of their police stations.

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At Monday's conference, LAPD Deputy Chief Michael Downing, who works with the Counter Terrorism Special Operations Bureau, echoed the LAPD's commitment to taking hate crimes seriously. "A hate crime is considered to be as serious as a homicide to us, and we'll pull out all the stops to investigate them and to stop them," said Downing.

The conference addressed the political overtones of the letters as well. "If [the author] feels emboldened by the political environment that's in place right now, that's just not true. Whoever's the president is the president for all Americans," said Downing. Al-Marayati, meanwhile, said that politics and ideological differences are irrelevant, especially in the face of such threats. "The problem comes when we politicize one incident over another, and we make that into a religious conflict or a ideological conflict. In reality it's just violence, whether it's ISIS-inspired, or white supremacy-inspire, or any kind of nationalist-tendency-inspired. It's a social ailment."

There have been claims that Trump's election has given a boost to hate speech, and there's data to back up these allegations. The Southern Law Poverty Center reports that there have been 701 reports of hateful harassment in the seven days following Election Day. According to their data, 65 % of the incidents happened in the first three days after the election; the incidents gradually tapered off after that.