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Did Sean Hannity Push a Conspiracy Theory on ‘Islamic Training Camps’ in the U.S.?

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Fox News presenter Sean Hannity aired a segment in 2009 on a "documentary" claiming a Muslim group was building "training camps" in the U.S.

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Fox News presenter Sean Hannity devoted an episode of his show in February 2009 to pushing a particular kind of Islamophobic disinformation stoking fears about “Islamic training camps” within U.S. borders

Hannity claimed that an “investigation” by a right-wing Christian group produced evidence that a Muslim group had established 35 such “camps” in the U.S.

“Why have these communities been left to flourish here in the U.S.?” Hannity asked, according to a transcript of his broadcast. “And is it only a matter of time before this anger spills on over into a violent incident?”

Hannity’s “story” was part of a line of anti-Muslim conspiracizing stories that were spread by his employer, leading to a 2015 encounter between then-presidential candidate Donald Trump and a supporter who told him, “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims. When can we get rid of ’em?” while also claiming that there were “training camps” within the United States.

“We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things,” said Trump, who would go on as president to enact various travel bans explicitly targeting people from Muslim-majority countries. President Joe Biden, who defeated Trump’s bid for re-election, ended that practice in January 2021.

As a Vox analysis found:

The implication and basis of the conspiracy theory are pretty clear: that the 2.6 million Muslim Americans in this country are not equal citizens who happen to follow a different faith, but rather a frightening enemy within that must be confronted, violently if necessary. Calls for a mass ethnic cleansing campaign against Muslims, like the one the Trump supporter implied is necessary, are merely the next step in that horrifying logic.

Like much of the rising tide of Islamophobia in America, this conspiracy theory has been around for a while but has grown since the emergence of ISIS, helped along by US media coverage that frequently conflates ISIS with all Muslims and suggests, as CNN often does, that Muslims are inherently violently people.

The conspiracy theory also feeds into far-right fears about demographic change, and a belief that, as white Christian Americans lose their demographic dominance, they will come under physical threat as well.

The “documentary” Hannity promoted was put together by the Christian Action Network, one of several right-wing religious groups that expanded into Islamophobic rhetoric after starting out focusing on homophobic remarks. As the Southern Poverty Law Center reported:

In 2005, for example, after actress Ellen DeGeneres came out as a lesbian on her popular sitcom, CAN President Martin Mawyer warned, “If we allow the tidal wave of gay and lesbian smut to continue to pour into our homes, it will utterly consume us in no time at all!”

CAN recently announced a “Counter-Jihad Summit” for this August, saying, “Our public schools are sneaking into their curricula pro-Islamic teachings that actually promote Sharia law. An entire generation of our children is being brainwashed!” (The similarity between this claim and anti-gay groups’ claims about gays is hard to miss.)

Not surprisingly, the group’s “documentary” had no actual merit. As CBS News reported:

Officials describe the film to CBS News as “sensationalistic” and without any real foundation. According to one official, it is strictly designed to upset and inflame people and does not present a true picture of any so-called “homegrown Jihad” danger. No current intelligence exists to suggest any threat connected with this group, which officials describe as “wannabes” and not terrorists.

The Department of Homeland Security and the FBI are aware of the movie and have no plans at this time to issue any new alerts or bulletins.

Update 11/19/2021, 2:15pm PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. -ag