Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump on Monday called for a ban on Muslims entering the United States in the most dramatic response by a candidate yet to a shooting spree last week by two Muslims who the FBI said were radicalized.
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Trump's "statement on preventing Muslim immigration" drew fierce criticism from some of his rivals for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination, all of whom have been searching for ways to knock him out of the lead.
Withering reaction flowed in from former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, Ohio Governor John Kasich, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie.
"Donald Trump is unhinged. His 'policy' proposals are not serious," Bush said in a tweet.
The billionaire developer and former reality TV star, who frequently uses racially charged rhetoric, called for a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the country "until our country's representatives can figure out what is going on."
"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," Trump said.
Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, asked in an email if the shutdown would apply specifically to immigration or more broadly to student visas, tourists, and other travelers to the United States, replied: "Everyone."
Trump went farther than other Republican candidates, who have variously called for a suspension of a plan by Obama to bring into the United States as many as 10,000 Syrian refugees fleeing their country's civil war and displacement by Islamic State militants.
Ibraham Hooper, director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, had a blistering response to Trump's demand.
"We're entering into the realm of the fascist now," he said. "It should be disturbing not only to American Muslims, but it should be disturbing to all Americans that the leading Republican presidential candidate would issue essentially a fascist statement like this."
White House spokesman Josh Earnest told MSNBC that Trump is "seeking to tap into a darker side, a darker element, and try to play on people's fears in order to build support for his campaign." Obama on Sunday night in an Oval Office address had called for Americans to be tolerant of fellow citizens regardless of their religion.
Democratic presidential candidate Martin O'Malley was the first to react on Twitter, calling Trump a fascist: ".@realdonaldtrump removes all doubt: he is running for President as a fascist demagogue. " Condemnation from the other Democratic candidates also followed, with Hillary Clinton calling Trump's proposal "reprehensible, prejudiced and divisive" and Bernie Sanders saying that "Demagogues throughout our history have attempted to divide us based on race, gender, sexual orientation or country of origin."
Trump acknowledged the backlash to his proposal at a rally in South Carolina, admitting that his plan is "probably not politically correct." However, he added: "I don't care," CNN reported.
Trump further elaborated on his plan, saying that it doesn't apply to Muslim Americans.
'Stereotyping and scapegoating'
Jewish groups blasted Trump's proposal. The Anti-Defamation League sharply criticized Trump's statement, saying that a plan that "singles out Muslims and denies them entry to the U.S. based on their religion is deeply offensive and runs contrary to our nation’s deepest values."
"In the Jewish community, we know all too well what can happen when a particular religious group is singled out for stereotyping and scapegoating," the ADL statement added.
The American Jewish Committee’s director, David Harris, noted the timing of Trump’s statement, which called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United Statee,” coincident with the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah.
“As Jews who are now observing Hanukkah, a holiday that celebrates a small religious minority’s right to live unmolested, we are deeply disturbed by the nativist racism inherent in the candidate’s latest remarks,” Harris said. “You don’t need to go back to the Hanukkah story to see the horrific results of religious persecution; religious stereotyping of this sort has been tried often, inevitably with disastrous results.”
Other Jewish groups condemning the comments included J Street, Bend the Arc, the National Jewish Democratic Council and JAC, a Jewish political action committee.
To support his proposal, Trump pointed to data from the conservative think tank Center for Security Policy indicating that a quarter of Muslims in a poll thought violence against Americans was justified.
The center's president, Frank Gaffney Jr., has been critical of Muslims in America, and the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group, calls him "one of America's most notorious Islamaphobes."
Senator Graham tweeted that Trump has "gone from making absurd comments to being downright dangerous with his bombastic rhetoric."
"This is just more of the outrageous divisiveness that characterizes his every breath and another reason why he is entirely unsuited to lead the United States," said Kasich.
A spokesman for Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson, Doug Watts, said Carson did not believe that religion should be a litmus test for entry to the country but said everyone visiting the United States should be monitored during their stay, saying that is the case in many countries.
Trump's latest comments followed a speech by U.S. President Barack Obama, in which he said that a shooting at San Bernardino that left 14 dead was an "act of terrorism designed to kill innocent people," but warned that Americans "cannot turn against one another by letting this fight be defined as a war between America and Islam".
After Obama's speech, Trump tweeted: "Is that all there is? We need a new President – FAST!" In a following tweet, Trump criticized Obama for "refusing to say (he just can't say it), that we are at WAR with RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISTS."
Last month, Trump voiced support for creating a mandatory database to track Muslims in the United States. "I would certainly implement that. Absolutely," Trump told an NBC News reporter between campaign events in Newton, Iowa, according to video posted on MSNBC.com.
He said Muslims would be signed up at "different places," adding: "It's all about management." Asked whether registering would be mandatory, Trump responded: "They have to be."
Trump's aim is to bolster his position among conservative voters who have kept him atop opinion polls of Republican voters for months to the point that establishment Republicans fret he could win the nomination and do so poorly in the general election next November that Republicans could not only lose the White House but also control of Congress.
Whether Trump will pay a price for the move is unclear.
A Reuters-Ipsos poll last week found that 51 percent of Americans view Muslims living in the United States the same as any other community, while 14.6 percent are generally fearful.
Republicans were more likely than Democrats to support closely monitoring mosques (64 percent compared with 43 percent) or closing ones with suspected extremist ties (69 percent to 48 percent).