As they gathered for the main Friday prayer service on 11 December, Muslims at the Islamic Society of Palm Springs heard a loud explosion and saw flames erupt from the lobby of the building. While no one was injured, the bombing of the Palm Springs centre represented the 63rd attack on a mosque in America so far this year, with 17 taking place in November alone. This is roughly three times the number of incidents compared with last year.
After the shootings in San Bernadino on 2 December by an Islamic State (Isis)-inspired couple, according to The New York Times the top Google search in California using the word "Muslims" was "kill Muslims". The Times said in the same article that it had found a direct correlation between anti-Muslim searches and anti-Muslim hate crimes.This all comes off the back of Donald Trump's call to temporarily ban all Muslim immigration from America.
Even here in the UK, there was a tripling of anti-Muslim attacks in London after the Paris terror atrocities; a woman was pushed into the path of a Tube train, while other high-profile incidents took place before and after Paris on public transport, including two women who attacked and then threw a Muslim woman off a London bus in October, shouting "this isn't bloody Africa".
These incidents, and many more besides, reflect growing anti-Muslim sentiment which we, at HOPE not hate, have characterised as "moving from the margins to the mainstream" in a new report into the "counter-jihad" movement.
The term "counter-jihad" is used by scholars and commentators to describe a broad range of anti-Muslim activists and organisations which don't just attack Islamism, but also Islam and Muslims more generally. Many share a belief that Islam is an expansionist, often violent or intolerant religion, which is on a collision course with the West, with Europe at danger of turning into "Eurabia". A few even want to bring about that confrontation.
As well as documenting the rise of organised anti-Muslim activity, our report (which covered over 900 organisations across 22 countries, using publicly accessible data) showed how the rhetoric of this broad movement has become worryingly mainstream.
While the report was clear that criticism of Islamist extremism (as well as criticising religion) was perfectly legitimate – we ourselves have exposed violent Islamists, as well as opposed intolerant preachers, strongly supported the Jewish community, and called on the Left to do more to tackle Islamist extremism – it was important for authorities to take note of rising anti-Muslim prejudice.
At its most extreme end, one of counter-jihadism's most notorious adherents is Norwegian killer Anders Breivik, who slew 77 mainly young victims in Norway in 2011. He cited many counter-jihadist thinkers (both American and European) in the 1,500 page manifesto he produced to justify his killings, blaming "cultural Marxism" for undermining Europe via mass immigration from the Islamic world.
His Facebook friends included 600 members of the English Defence League (EDL), the notorious anti-Muslim street movement whose founder, Tommy Robinson, is a prominent counter-jihadist and now preparing to launch an anti-Muslim Pegida UK. (Robinson has revealed he was paid £8,000 by counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation after supposedly quitting the EDL "thanks" to the organisation in 2013.)
Breivik also quoted a prominent counter-jihadist blogger nicknamed Fjordman, aka Peder Jensen, who has written that immigration and multiculturalism are to blame for allowing Islam to take hold in Europe. He predicted civil war within a generation and in one blog urged people to take up arms.
Breivik heavily quoted writings from two of the US's most notorious counter-jihadist activists, Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, who were banned from entering the UK in 2013, following a mass petition and lobbying by our organisation. Geller has placed anti-Muslim advertisements on to US buses and metro systems, via her organisation the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). She runs an organisation with Spencer called Stop Islamization of America (SIOA).
Geller and Spencer in turn have links to scores of other counter-jihadist networks, both in the US and internationally. "Geller has mingled comfortably with European racists and fascists," says the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), adding she has called Islam "the most radical and extreme ideology on the face of the earth". Spencer and Geller both share strong links to Robinson.
Meanwhile, when Donald Trump claimed Muslims supported violence and wanted to be governed by Sharia law, during his now-infamous "ban Muslims" speech, he was referring to a shoddy poll produced by Frank Gaffney Jr, founder of the Center for Security Policy (CSP). Although he denies having formally advised Trump, this year Gaffney organised three National Security Action Summits, each of which hosted Trump, as well as other Republican candidates, Ted Cruz and Ben Carson.
Gaffney, whom the SPLC refers to as "one of America's most notorious Islamophobes", is the host of a programme on Secure Freedom Radio where he has interviewed anti-Muslim and far-right figures, including the white nationalist activist Jared Taylor.
Gaffney has promoted all manner of bizarre anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, including the idea that Barack Obama is a secret Muslim and wasn't actually born in America; that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the highest levels of the US government; and talks of "creeping sharia", a common refrain among counter-jihadist thinkers that has been reflected in those states passing anti-Sharia law legislation.
During his speech, Trump also referred to "no-go" areas in Europe – "sections in Paris that are radicalised where the police refuse to go" – which again pulled on counter-jihadist thought. Daniel Pipes, an influential player in the international counter-jihad movement, has been credited as being the first to popularise this myth. While he has since withdrawn his comments, the no-go zones idea persists.
We profiled dozens of other counter-jihadist organisations in the US, including ACT! for America, which is one of the most pernicious groups. It campaigns against the introduction of Sharia law and the (perceived) Islamisation of America. ACT! is run by Brigitte Gabriel, who denies that there can be a moderate Muslim.
"A practising Muslim goes to mosque... believes God gave him women to be his property – to beat, to stone to death... He believes Christians and Jews are apes and pigs because they are cursed by Allah. He believes it is his duty to declare war on the infidels because they are Allah's enemies," she has said.
A tiny number of (self-identified) "reform Muslims" linked in our report have spoken at meetings organised by ACT!, appeared in films organised by Frank Gaffney, or sit on the advisory or editorial boards of other noted counter-jihadist organisations.
As we wrote recently, "when attacking anti-Muslim hatred we must apply the same standards that we would when taking on Islamists and the traditional far right: namely that sharing a platform with extremists or showing them any support is completely unacceptable, let alone sitting on the board of such groups or addressing their meetings".
Sadly, it is all too easy to write off the Trumps of the world as rambling, unintelligent and reactionary racists – but the truth is much more worrying. These figures are simply the most high-profile proponents of an increasingly influential set of ideas being promoted by a group of activists around the world and which deserve exposure – just as we would do with any other extremists.
Nick Lowles is founder and chief executive of anti-extremism campaign, HOPE not hate. The Counter-Jihad Movement: Anti-Muslim hatred from the margins to the mainstream is available at: www.hopenothate.org.uk/counter-jihad.