The co-chairman of the Buffalo Parent Teacher Organization and a local Muslim leader lashed out at Carl P. Paladino on Friday after the Buffalo school board member revived the myth that President Obama is a Muslim.
At least three fact-checking websites – PolitiFact, FactCheck.org and Snopes – debunked the Obama-is-a-Muslim rumor years ago. But that didn’t stop Paladino from telling the New York Observer on Thursday: “In the mind of the average American, there is no doubt he is a Muslim. He is not a Christian.”
Larry Scott, the co-chairman of the Buffalo Parent-Teacher Organization, called Paladino’s remarks “absolutely despicable.”
Dr. Khalid J. Qazi, one of the region’s first Muslim leaders, termed Paladino’s comments “outrageous.”
Despite the fact that what Paladino said was false, his comments spread far and wide – to the Huffington Post, to Talking Points Memo, to Gawker – because Paladino is co-chair of Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump’s New York campaign.
The Observer story by reporter Will Bredderman said that Paladino made those comments during a telephone interview for an unrelated article, in which Paladino “abruptly changed gears” to attack the president.
Paladino cited Obama’s policies in the Middle East as proof of the president’s supposed Muslim faith.
“Look at what he’s done with Iran, what he’s done with the Sunni-Shia thing over in Iraq and Iran, and with ISIS,” Paladino told the Observer.
The newspaper’s publisher is Jared Kushner, who is Trump’s son-in-law.
After seeing Trump’s comments, Scott said they were an insult to students of color, who make up 80 percent of the enrollment in Buffalo city schools.
“There’s an underlying presumption that there’s something wrong with being Muslim,” Scott said. “That’s just not the Buffalo I know or the America I know.”
Scott also said it’s disturbing that someone who helps set policy for Buffalo’s schools would repeat a long-established falsehood.
Meanwhile, Qazi noted that American Muslims will take part in the Summer Olympics and serve in all four branches of the military, and that the freedom of religion guaranteed in the Constitution means that a Muslim could serve as president some day.
“Even if Obama were a Muslim, so what?” Qazi asked. “A president can be of any faith or no faith so long as they are a real American patriot.”
Paladino did not return a phone call seeking comment, but he elaborated on his thoughts on Obama in a Facebook post in response to Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz, who went online to call Paladino’s comments “uneducated” and “bigoted in nature.”
On Facebook, Paladino appeared to backtrack slightly from his comments to the Observer, but he again cited the Iran nuclear agreement and America’s struggle against ISIS as reasons to suspect where Obama’s heart truly lies.
“Do you think that the half-ass attempts to neutralize ISIS are acceptable and that leaving our soldiers on the ground to be slaughtered in Benghazi fit the tradition of the American military, etc., etc. etc.?” Paladino asked.
Regarding Obama, Paladino wrote: “Whether he is a Muslim or a sympathizer, stop fooling yourself. The man has no respect for America. He has marginalized us with the world, sold out our economy to Wall Street. He has no legacy to leave and only the uninformed and the elitist liberals support him.”
Paladino’s allegation that the president is a Muslim echo Internet rumors going back to Obama’s first race for the presidency in 2008. Fact-checkers have been debunking those rumors ever since.
“PolitiFact has done extensive fact-checking on Obama’s faith and has debunked false claims in chain emails that he attended a radical Islamic school, that his political rise mirrored a biblical tale about the Anti-Christ, and that he took the oath for U.S. Senate on a Koran,” said PolitiFact, a fact-checking news service allied with The Buffalo News. “All three earned our lowest rating, Pants on Fire.”
“Our fact-checking also showed clear evidence that Obama is a Christian,” PolitFact said in 2010.
FactCheck.org also debunked the claim in 2008 in a post titled “Sliming Obama,” in which it also offered a detailed analysis of the Chicago church Obama attended for years. In addition, Snopes, the rumor-quashing website, has debunked the rumor that Obama is a Muslim.
Nevertheless, a significant minority of Americans has continued to believe the falsehood. A CNN-Opinion Research Corp. poll last September found that 29 percent of those surveyed said Obama was a Muslim, and a May poll by Public Policy Polling found that two-thirds of voters who have a favorable view of Trump believe that the president is a Muslim.
And Trump, while not directly repeating the rumor, has hinted that Obama may have Islamic sympathies.
“We’re led by a man that either is not tough, not smart, or he’s got something else in mind,” Trump told “Fox and Friends” in June. “And the something else in mind, you know, people can’t believe it, people cannot believe that President Obama is acting the way he acts and can’t even mention the words ‘radical Islamic terrorism,’ ” he said. “There’s something going on – it’s inconceivable. There’s something going on.”
Controversial comments are nothing new to Paladino. The 2010 Republican nominee for governor of New York – and a possible candidate again in 2018 – most recently made headlines last month with a quickly deleted tweet that suggested that Attorney General Loretta Lynch be lynched. Paladino and an aide said that tweet was a typing error.
Years earlier, during his race for governor, Paladino drew fire for forwarding an email portraying President Obama and his wife as a pimp and a prostitute, and another showing a group of blacks trying to get out of the path of an airplane, with a caption that included a racial epithet.
And as for Paladino’s latest comments, Qazi speculated that they would do little to help Trump, who spent several days in the past week feuding with the Muslim father of a slain soldier who spoke out against the GOP candidate at last week’s Democratic National Convention.
“I guess Trump’s surrogates are losing their credibility – if they had any credibility to begin with,” Qazi said.