In response to November’s terrorist attacks in Paris, Donald Trump called for an indefinite ban on Muslims entering the United States. It was a disgusting, if not surprising, response, one that went over terrifyingly well with many conservative voters. But following Tuesday’s terrorist attacks in Brussels—which caused Trump to again tout his closed-borders worldview—Ted Cruz carved out an even more aggressively Islamophobic position, at least in terms of targeting Muslims here at home.
In a statement that began by lamenting Western “political correctness,” Cruz offered up an anti-Muslim checklist of sorts for how he believes the United States could avoid a similar terrorist attack:
We need to immediately halt the flow of refugees from countries with a significant al Qaida or ISIS presence. We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized. We need to secure the southern border to prevent terrorist infiltration.
We’ve heard similar proposals before, from both Cruz and his fellow Republicans. Even while much of the GOP pretended to be shocked by Trump’s blanket ban on Muslims, much of the party was backing various bans on refugees that were clearly targeted at Muslims. Likewise, Republicans have long hyped unsupported fears that ISIS terrorists would travel to Mexico and sneak over the United States’ southern border—a convenient two-fer that allows them to talk tough on both immigration and terrorism.
But it was Cruz’s second proposal that really stands out: We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized. That one sentence could mean so much in practice—or so little. How do you define a “Muslim neighborhood”? How would Cruz “empower” police? What exactly does “patrol and secure” entail? Is Cruz calling for widespread domestic surveillance? A stop-and-frisk policy? A police state where Muslims have to go through checkpoints? All of the above? None of the above? Cruz, of course, doesn’t say.
I (and presumably many other reporters) reached out to the campaign for clarification on the specifics this afternoon. Several hours after the original remarks, the Cruz campaign put out a second statement that offered more rhetoric about “political correctness” but did little to clear up the ambiguity about Cruz’s aggressive Muslim-policing stance. (emphasis mine):
We know what is happening with these isolated Muslim neighborhoods in Europe. If we want to prevent it from happening here, it is going to require an empowered, visible law enforcement presence that will both identify problem spots and partner with non-radical Americans who want to protect their homes. … The police should have every tool available to follow leads and take action against those who would do us harm. That is what Cruz is calling for and it is the basic responsibility of our elected leaders—to prioritize the safety of our citizens.
Despite the intentional vagueness, though, Cruz’s proposal still delivers a forceful, albeit depressing, message. He wants to target “Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” With that phrasing, the GOP hopeful is telling voters that as far as he’s concerned, it’s not a question of if a neighborhood with Muslims in it turns to terror; it’s a question of when. That bigoted and dangerous paranoia, sadly, is all too common among a wide swath of the American electorate.