WASHINGTON — Leading Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump is calling for the United States to close its borders to all Muslims, a sharp escalation of his unprecedented attacks on Islam and its adherents.
In an openly anti-Muslim statement unlike any other in recent U.S. politics, Trump proposed “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Trump had for weeks made barely veiled appeals to Islamophobia. He abandoned the cloak on Monday, explicitly accusing “large segments” of the Muslim population of hating America.
“Where this hatred comes from and why, we will have to determine,” he said. “Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses, our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad, and have no sense of reason or respect for human life.”
The proposal was greeted with shock and horror by Muslim leaders. Nihad Awad, national executive director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called it “reckless and simply un-American.”
“Donald Trump sounds more like the leader of a lynch mob than a great nation like ours. He and others are playing into the hands of ISIS. This is exactly what ISIS wants from Americans: to turn against each other,” Awad said.
Trump, who holds a wide lead in Republican polls, had previously proposed a ban only on Syrian refugees, but he had regularly questioned the loyalties of American Muslims. His call for a religious test at the border, which may well be unconstitutional, comes less than a week after suspected Muslim extremists killed 14 people in a shooting spree in San Bernardino, Calif.
It also comes a day after President Barack Obama used an Oval Office address to urge Americans to reject discrimination against Muslims.
The proposal poses a test for his rivals: a substantial percentage of the party electorate is suspicious of Islam. Some candidates treaded gingerly on Monday; Sen. Ted Cruz said simply, “That is not my policy.”
Others were more pointed. The most forceful response came from a long-shot, Sen. Lindsey Graham, who said Trump was “bigoted” and “downright dangerous.”
Trump, though, has proven adept at reading the mood of his base. In interviews at his rally in Manassas, Va. last week, several attendees casually expressed anti-Muslim sentiments.
“I don’t trust any Muslim. None of ’em. Even their children,” said Neal Kriete, 65. “They need to stay where they belong.”
Others made a distinction between extremists and the ordinary faithful.
“I don’t classify all of them as bad people,” said Tim Tkacik, 34. “I don’t really know many of them personally.”