Last weekend a small group of haters burned a Quran in a picnic barbeque at a Gillette park.
When social media exposed the Campbell County bigots’ plans, some blamed Donald Trump’s Islamaphobic rhetoric. You don’t have to look that far from home.
Others blamed Wyoming. One wrote, “Unfortunately, it's this sort of ignorant bigotry that forms the lasting impression I have of Wyoming, despite so many tolerant and wonderful people living there. It's the reason I'll never return.”
My first reaction was defensive. C’mon, not everyone in Wyoming is like those fools in Gillette. Right? Well the truth is more complex. Not everyone needs to be a Quran-burner to create a petri dish for cultivating the germs of hate. Bigotry is a sin of both commission and omission.
Acts of commission include the website “Stop Islam in Gillette,” boasting 391 members. Their goal, though inelegantly expressed, is to “stop the islam invasion sponsored by mat meade and barrack obama. remove the mosque and islam school from gillette.”
Someone named Lincoln Applegate Hahn applauded the effort. He responded last January. “Why oh why …. Muslims in Whyoming (sic) could it be they like the name Gillete (sic) famous for razor sharp blades ?” James Hance joined in. “It’s basically a terrorist group. Their religion don’t like us (sic).”
Gillette members of something called “Americans For A Secure Wyoming” took it another step backward last weekend. They set fire to a Quran to publicize their goal to “ban Islam from Wyoming.” Spelling is not a strong suit for these self-radicalized Gillette-ites. It appears they can’t read either. At least they haven’t read the U.S. Constitution, which I’d bet they’d tell you they love.
At least these folks are out front with their bigotry. We know who they are. Their agenda is open for all to see. Worse are those encouraging bigotry by omission. Unfortunately, that includes many of our elected officials.
First, it’s important to acknowledge those who participated in a counter protest. Those who lit the fires of hate to burn the Islamic holy book were outnumbered more than 40 to 10 that day in Gillette. People of integrity from throughout Wyoming traveled to Gillette and held signs saying, "No room for hate” and "Don't hate what you don't understand."
Even so the silence coming from the Governor, our Congressional delegation, members of the legislature, and other elected officials, with a single exception, is as deafening as it is troubling. Gillette mayor Louise Carter-King was alone in her courage to speak against the haters.
The politicians weren’t the ones whose tongues were tied.
A concerned Gillette resident sought help from the “more liberally-minded” churches in the northwest Wyoming town. Only three responded. They refused to participate “out of safety concerns.” Where would Christianity be if Jesus had refused to participate “out of safety concerns”?
And where were our elected officials? Anywhere but there.
The Governor’s lack of courage on this issue is neither new nor unexpected. His unwillingness to take a stand leaves Wyoming all alone among the 50 states without a refugee resettlement agreement. The Governor could send a meaningful message to the ignoramuses organizing the Quran burning and others who think like them by entering into such an agreement and advocating for its success.
The legislature likewise creates the environment for bigotry by refusing to enact hate crimes legislation, rejecting bills to protect the LGBTQ community from discrimination, and tolerating hate speech even on the floor of the legislature.
The role of the voters can’t be ignored. They elect the politicians who refuse to speak up. These voters demonstrate little concern for Judeo-Christian and Islamic values of tolerance and love of neighbor.
In this case, acts of omission are more damaging than acts of commission. People seeking attention for their bigotry by desecrating the holy book of another faith should be met with loud, uniform public rejection.
Sadly, many Wyoming political, business, academic, and faith leaders meet the bigotry with a wink and a nod.