Tonight will be a lively one in the Anchorage Assembly chambers. Tempers will flair, voices will rise, and charges of hate and intolerance will be lobbed back and forth. And that will be well before we get to the charged debate over the taxi industry regulation, which itself is likely to get heated.
So what will have the room so riled up? The national conversation on the validity of “fake news” and the nationwide fear of Muslim immigration in the wake of a string of terrorist attacks in the U.S. motivated by extremist Islamic groups have converged and landed squarely in the Municipality of Anchorage.
Why? Well, from here forward, the answer to that question will probably depend on the political viewpoint with which you came to this article.
The Left would say it is because of a post by Anchorage Assemblywoman Amy Demboski to her radio show’s Facebook page on Friday, while the Right will think it is because of left-wing overreaction to that posting.
For the record, here is Demboski’s Facebook post: (You can click here to read the article linked to the post)
The candidate Demboski references is Greg Jones, the 2016 Democratic nominee in House District 8 (Western Mat-Su) Jones is open about his family’s Muslim faith.
Back in late July, a national alt-right group called The Clarion Project posted an article claiming Jones, a Bernie Sanders delegate to the 2016 Democratic National Convention, was a member of a Muslim “Terror Cult” named Muslims of the Americas, but formerly called Jamaat ul-Fuqra.
For full disclosure, Ms. Demboski is wrong in indicating she is “the only one who has even mentioned it”. We at The Midnight Sun included the Clarion Project’s article in the September 2nd edition of our Friday in the Sun column. We did little more than mention it for two reasons: we believed Mr. Jones had little or no chance of victory, and we found the idea of an Islamic terrorist trying to win office in the Mat-Su, one of the most ravenously conservative areas of the entire country, frankly didn’t pass the straight-face test. As such, we treated the story as an interesting tidbit, but nothing yet worthy of more attention than we gave it.
If you are like us, you remember Jones best for his awesome campaign logo:
BEST. CAMPAIGN LOGO. EVER!!!!!!!!
Other than that logo, his campaign was unmemorable. Jones ultimately and predictably lost to Republican Rep. Mark Neuman by 63 points.
The Facebook post by Ms. Demboski Friday spurred this article by left-wing blogger John Aronno where he quotes Jones as saying Demboski is endangering he and his family with attention to the issues brought up by The Clarion Project article and the Fox News video. Aronno also quotes Anchorage NAACP President Kevin McGee as saying Demboski should be held accountable for defamation of character and that she should be censured by her Anchorage Assembly colleagues.
Aronno’s article sent out the Anchorage Democrat bat-signal for action. Within hours liberal activists had created several event pages on Facebook (View two here and here) encouraging people to come the Anchorage Assembly’s meeting tonight to protest against Demboski.
Yesterday, Demboski took to her radio show to respond.
She said she was just passing along information she had seen reported on Fox News and right-wing websites about the group Jones was reportedly connected to and other troubling Muslim activity. That information included assertions such groups are stockpiling arms and building compounds in various areas of the U.S., including Alaska.
“My point was this,very, very simple. Number one, national media is focusing on an issue that they are highlighting, showing this particular map is happening in Alaska. Yet, we have had no Alaska coverage on this particular issue…So my point was this is a failure of the Alaska media. The failure is when we get national stories like this we want you to either validate it or disprove it.”
“Either way, I’m fine. Wherever the facts lead, the facts lead. Just address it.”
Demboski said of Jones, “He was on the show. He was a nice guy. I asked the question, he answered. We moved on. We talked about other issues.” Demboski continued on to say “I never called this guy a terrorist. Never!!!! I’ve never said he lives on a compound.”
Her producer then chimed in to say that during the interview Jones had admitted to being affiliated with Muslims of the Americas in the past because his family had gotten him into it. There are no podcasts of Demboski’s show, so we can’t confirm this recollection.
Here is the audio from the segment of Demboski radio show yesterday with her full comments:
Is this then a case of a conservative lawmaker getting carried away by Fox News and alt-right websites in a manner that has become truly threatening to a candidate and his family or is it more a case of liberal overreaction to any discussion of ties between American Muslims and terrorism?
Well, there is legitimate truth on both sides.
Given both the national and Mat-Su climate among conservatives towards Muslims, it is easy to see why Mr. Jones feels threatened. The idea that Rambo-ed up conspiracy theorists might be driving around looking for me and my family would have me worried too. And, sadly, these days that belief isn’t beyond the realm of possibility for Muslims in America.
Unfortunately for Mr. Jones, that unease is part of being a public figure such as a candidate for state house. Over the years, I have heard the exact same concerns about personal and family safety from over a dozen candidates, some liberal and some conservative. Mr. Jones has more legitimate reason to worry than most, but that worry isn’t unique to him or his situation.
The question Ms. Demboski raised with Mr. Jones on her show about his association with Muslims of the Americas is a fair one, as is her examination of that group’s history. What groups a candidate is or has affiliated with and what those groups espouse is one of the best ways we as citizens have of knowing what they really believe.
Ms. Demboski, as far as I can tell, has not crossed the line. There is no evidence of her calling Mr. Jones or his family terrorists. There is also no evidence of her calling for any action against Mr. Jones or other Muslims, either explicitly or implicitly. She clearly is asking the question “is this real” with a want to believe it is, but that isn’t inappropriate, either for an elected official or a radio host. In fact, in it is often their jobs.
It is worth noting that in the Spring of 2015, when the author of this writing asserted that Ms. Demboski bore some responsibility for inappropriate accusations made against her mayoral opponent Ethan Berkowitz because of her close ties to, and support from, the Christian Right leaders making them, none of those now so up in arms disagreed. Mr. Aronno himself wrote an article detailing and agreeing my position.
What is good for the goose, well, you know the rest.
In my view, this is a case where Anchorage’s leftist community is spoiling for a fight on the issue of Muslim immigration and intolerance. It is no accident this fight comes in the wake of Donald Trump’s presidential election victory where he made anti-Islamic immigration policy a cornerstone of his campaign. Anchorage liberals want to fight back, but they don’t have a way to get at Trump right now, so Ms. Demoski is being targeted for all their pent up anti-Trump vim and vitriol.
The bottom line is Ms. Demboski’s position may be intolerable to many and she would be well advised to be conscious of how those less responsible than she might act on her words, but there has yet been no evidence presented of her doing anything that merits any more than vocal disagreement.
The fact that those who disagree with her are calling for Demboski to be punished for doing nothing more that voicing her views, questionably sourced as they are, is more concerning than are her views themselves. In a free and tolerant society, people get to express any non-violent view they choose and everyone else is expected to TOLERATE it. We aren’t expected to agree with it or support it, simply to accept that they get to have and express that repugnant view.
Frankly, the whole idea of Mr. Jones and Anchorage’s Left taking their concerns to the Assembly hoping to get them to punish Demboski has a juvenile “tattling to mom and dad” feel to it. It is also a very real attempt to use the coercive power of government to shut someone up. THAT IS WRONG.
That said, it will be interesting to hear the back and forth at tonight’s Assembly meeting. I am open, as we all should be, to having my mind changed based on what is said on the record by both sides.
The fun begins at 5 PM. Get your popcorn, it’s going to be quite a show.