When the president announced plans to visit a hub of the American Muslim community, local Muslim leaders decided to welcome him with protests.
MINNEAPOLIS — President Joe Biden was met with protests organized by local Muslim leaders when he arrived in Minneapolis on Wednesday for a series of events, the latest sign that Muslim American voters may turn against the president after having supported him in 2020.
The Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the country’s largest Muslim advocacy group, organized three separate protests at various locations Biden visited Wednesday, including the airport, a farm in rural Northfield and downtown Minneapolis.
It is pushing for a cease-fire in Gaza, where the Israeli military — with U.S. support — has been ramping up attacks against Hamas militants, causing a growing number of Palestinian civilian deaths in collateral damage. It says Biden is losing its support by not doing more to rein in Israel in Gaza or combat Islamophobia at home.
“We are going to abandon Biden because he has abandoned us,” Jaylani Hussein, the executive director of CAIR Minnesota, told NBC News hours after he stood next to “Abandon Biden” signs at a news conference, though he said he was speaking in his personal capacity, since CAIR's non-profit tax status bars it from electioneering.
“I don’t think that this is a rash emotional decision by the American Muslim community. It is a foregone conclusion. ... The anger is not going to go away. We don’t have short memories,” Hussein added. “I still have not heard from any Muslim leader in Minnesota who has said this is a mistake."
Minnesota is home to a large community of Muslim Americans. Nationally, most voted for Biden in 2020. But a growing number of Muslim and Arab community leaders in Minnesota and other swing states, like Michigan, warn that Biden has alienated them.
And Hussein said anti-Biden sentiment is not just idle talk — it is becoming organized into real on-the-ground efforts.
“There is literally a c(4) being created every day to run the ‘Abandoned Biden’ campaign across the country,” he said, referring to a tax code designation for politically active nonprofit groups, adding the effort will also look to connect with Black, Hispanic and progressive voters.
Biden’s trip to Minnesota was intended to address other, unrelated matters. But the Muslim Americans’ growing anger appeared to be on the minds of White House officials.
No meeting with local Muslim leaders was scheduled during Biden’s visit to a hub of Muslim life in America, though the White House took other steps.
The administration announced Wednesday evening what it called the first-ever U.S. National Strategy to Counter Islamophobia, a joint effort of the Domestic Policy Council and the National Security Council, which it said will work with community leaders, advocates and members of Congress to develop a comprehensive plan to combat Islamophobia.
“For too long, Muslims in America and those perceived to be Muslim, such as Arabs and Sikhs, have endured a disproportionate number of hate-fueled attacks and other discriminatory incidents,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.
And Biden himself addressed the humanitarian situation in Gaza in Minnesota, saying he would work to get more aid into Gaza and more injured civilians — including U.S. citizens — out of the war zone.
“The number of trucks entering Gaza continues to increase significantly, but we still have a long way to go. The United States is going to continue to drive humanitarian support for innocent people in Gaza who need help,” he said. “We’ve all seen the devastating images from Gaza — Palestinian children crying out for lost parents ... writing their children’s names on their hands and legs to be identified if the worst happens.”
Muslim Democrats say steps like those from the White House are welcome and will help shore up Biden’s support among Muslim American voters.
Minnesota Attorney General Kieth Ellison, who in his previous job was the first Muslim American elected to Congress, met with Biden last week at the White House.
"The President listened carefully, responded sincerely, and showed empathy and compassion for the suffering of everyone. I am hopeful he will act on that empathy," Ellison said in a statement.
And Democrats are counting on the fact that the election is more than a year away, so there is plenty of time for anger to subside and for Muslim voters to better compare Biden to his GOP opponent, most likely former President Donald Trump, who has revived his plan to ban many Muslims from entering the country.
But the anger will be difficult to overcome for some.
Before Biden arrived, Minneapolis restaurant owner Saed Wadi said he had lost his vote and added that he would consider voting Republican if the party prioritized humanizing the Muslim and Arab American community.
“I am honestly not voting Democrat again,” Wadi said. “I’m not going to vote for Biden. My vote is up for grabs.”
Ziad Amra, a Minneapolis attorney, said he understood why Biden expressed outrage for the Israelis massacred by Hamas, but he lamented the lack of similar compassion for hundreds of Palestinians killed in the West Bank by Israeli settlers in recent years.
“This is all before Hamas did what they did, but there was still outrage, because I think Palestinian lives don’t matter to the decision-makers, and that is really troubling,” Amra said.
“Here in Minnesota and post-George Floyd, where we want to increase our empathy and consider that all lives matter,” Amra said, referring to the 46-year-old Black man killed by police in 2020, which sparked national racial protests, “it seems like there’s always a Palestinian exception to that rule.”