A social media mix-up has caused a Montana contractor to receive endless death threats from neighbors who think he is building houses for Muslim refugees.
John King, the owner of J & J Excavating and Trucking in Hamilton, told Western Montana’s KPAX news station on Wednesday that for the past several weeks, he has been receiving hundreds of death threats over allegations that the two four-plex apartments his company is building will house mostly Muslim refugees from Syria. King said while it is not true that he is building housing for Syrian refugees, he said the claims originate from a Facebook post from a University of Montana student, who posted a photo of the four-plexes on the social media network earlier this spring.
“A professor had his class go ahead and look for new housing developments to see if they’d look like something that they could say ‘what would happen if the Muslims, refuges, moved into this area’?” King told KPAX.
Ravalli County Sheriff Chris Hoffman, who is investigating the threats against King, told KPAX that while he could not release the names of the professor and college student involved in the class project, his best guest was that the student’s Facebook post unwittingly started a perfect storm of threats against the contractor.
I’m imagining that this student, for whatever reason randomly chose a building project east of Hamilton, and posted it as a possibility for Syrian refuges,” Hoffman told KPAX. “And it just sort of took off from there.
The Facebook post has since been deleted, but in the weeks since the University of Montana student posted photos of his development project online, King has been bombarded with letters, phone calls, and other messages, threatening both the contractor’s business and his own life. King told KPAX that the threats are “just getting worse instead of better.”
According to KPAX, one of the letters King receives reads:
“Anyone supporting Muslims and free hand-outs from the Obama administration don’t deserve to live. We will be posting and asking for more help to run you out of Montana and burn your buildings to the ground. Burn, burn, burn, burn burn.”
While John King’s ordeal is terrifying, it is not necessarily unique. Threats of violence against American Muslims and Middle Eastern immigrants have often spiked after global and domestic attacks involving the so-called Islamic State and other Muslim extremist groups.
As Talking Points Memo reported last December, after the December 2 terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California left 14 dead and 22 injured, Muslim Americans and mosques across the US were targeted with death threats and other acts of violence. TPM noted that these incidents included someone breaking about half of the Islamic Center of Palm Beach’s windows two days after the tragic shooting; a Muslim shop owner in Queens being punched by an assailant who shouted, “I kill Muslims!”; and Muslim Congressman Andre Carson (D-IN) reporting a death threat that same week.
After gunman Omar Mateen killed 49 people and wounded many others at Orlando’s GLBTQ-friendly club, The Pulse, on June 12, Yahoo News reported that residents of the small Muslim community in Fort Pierce, where Mateen lived, endured “profanity-laced taunts” and death threats in the days after the shooting.
But it may appear strange that someone like King is receiving similar attacks to those experienced by Muslim community members. As the contractor noted in an interview with NBC Montana last week, he is a self-described conservative Republican who is not too political.
Still, the death threats keep coming.
King told NBC Montana that some of the most recent threats he’s received have involved people “[t]hreatening to burn us down, or shoot me or hang me.”
While King may not be the typical target for Islamophobic vitriol, tensions in the contractor’s town of Hamilton have remained high after Ravalli County commissioners held a public hearing earlier this year on whether to allow Syrian refugees into Montana’s Bitterroot Valley area. NBC Montana that the public hearing, which brought out hundreds of Bitterroot residents, ultimately culminated in the Ravalli County Commission voting against housing the refugees.
The larger issue of the US cities housing Middle Eastern migrants was brought to light again during this election cycle, when Donald Trump criticized President Obama’s promise to allow 10,000 Syrian refugees into the country by the end of the year.
“We have to stop the tremendous flow of Syrian refugees into the United States,” Trump said in June. “We don’t know who they are. They have no documentation and we don’t know what they’re planning.”
But according to NPR, the number of Syrian refugees the Obama administration has vowed to let into the US is relatively small, compared to other countries. In June, NPR noted, the State Department reported that just 2,800 refugees have come from Syria so far this year. NPR also reported that, contrary to Trump’s claims, refugees go through more security checks than any other immigrant to the US.