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Muslims in Georgia 6th Worry About Baiting by GOP

Ads criticizing Ossoff on terrorism recall infamous Max Cleland ad

An ad from the NRCC shows Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff juxtaposed with an image of an Islamic State militant behind him (Screenshot)
An ad from the NRCC shows Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff juxtaposed with an image of an Islamic State militant behind him (Screenshot)

Ads criticizing Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff over terrorism have some Muslims in Georgia’s 6th District concerned they are being used as a rallying point for Republicans.

The National Republican Congressional Committee recently released an ad that says the Islamic State terrorist group is “infiltrating America and using Syrians to do it” and criticizes Democrats for allowing refugees into the United States.

The ad then blasts Ossoff for supporting the Iran deal, before flashing an image of the perpetrators of the 2015 San Bernardino, Calif., mass shooting attack, who were neither Iranian, Syrian nor refugees.

Similarly, a pro-Donald Trump group called America First Policies released an ad last week that showed images of recent terrorist attacks in Europe and the U.S. and criticized Ossoff for embellishing national security credentials as a congressional staffer.

Ossoff faces former Georgia Secretary of State Karen Handel, a Republican, in the June 20 special election runoff to replace former GOP Rep. Tom Price, now the Health and Human Services secretary. Most polls have shown a close race, with Ossoff holding a slight lead.

This isn’t the first time Republicans have hit Democrats for being weak on terrorism.

Perhaps the most infamous incident also happened in Georgia in 2002 when Republican Saxby Chambliss ran an ad during his successful Senate campaign against Democratic incumbent Max Cleland, a war hero, that featured images of Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Cleland lost his legs and his right forearm serving in the Vietnam War.

Last year, Trump made refugees a major issue in the presidential campaign, calling for a total ban on Muslims entering the United States after the San Bernardino attack. And the issue of refugees and terror featured in many congressional races across the country.

The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC linked to House GOP leadership, put out an ad criticizing Ossoff for working with Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based state-funded network, which featured an image of bin Laden.

“I think it’s insulting to Muslim communities and it’s another stock partisan attack that they bring out every year,” Ossoff spokeswoman Sacha Haworth said.

Ruwa Romman, communications director for the Georgia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, was disturbed by the ad by the NRCC, the House GOP campaign arm.

“A GOP committee doing it seems a little more direct and more disingenuous,” Romman said. “I am seeing people saying Ossoff is sympathetic to terrorists.”

Asked about the ad, Handel’s campaign referred to the NRCC. Maddie Anderson, an NRCC spokeswoman, said the ad was relevant to show a contrast between the two candidates. 

“The NRCC’s primary goal in this race is to show Georgians who will best keep them safe,” she said. “This is especially relevant when one person in the race lied about their national security credentials.”

Republicans have accused Ossoff of exaggerating the nature of his security credentials when he worked as a congressional staffer for Georgia Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson.

Romman also expressed disappointment that Handel has not reached out to the district’s Muslim community while Ossoff has visited a mosque in Roswell.

But Handel spokeswoman Kate Constantini said in an email that Handel was “proud that her message of getting things done is resonating with citizens all over the 6th district including with voters in the Muslim community.”

Aisha Yaqoob, executive director of the Georgia Muslim Voter Project, said she was surprised how the larger, national topics were becoming localized.

“I see that they are playing to the Trump base,” she said. But she added that such tactics would alienate some voters.

“I don’t think people appreciate getting ads with terrorists in their mailbox,” Yaqoob said.

Romman said it’s possible that this kind of rhetoric could have dangerous consequences and her organization released a report showing a 44 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes in 2015, when the presidential campaign began.

“Anti-Muslim bigotry happens and spikes during election seasons, because of things like this,” Romman said.

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