Police cleared out an Islamic civil rights center Thursday in Santa Clara after a staffer opened a letter dusted with a suspicious white powder.
Santa Clara police dispatched haz-mat crews to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) office just off of San Tomas Expressway, where upward of a dozen people were evacuated and evaluated by medics. Lt. Kurt Clarke said he has no updates on the incident today, but that his investigators have alerted the FBI.
A similar scene unfolded at CAIR’s Washington D.C. headquarters, where three employees came in contact with a similar letter. Field tests indicated that the substance was harmless, but it came with a threatening message.
According to CAIR staff attorney Maha Sayed, the note read: “Die a painful death, Muslims.”
“We receive hate messages daily because of our advocacy on behalf of the American Muslim community,” Sayed said in a media release. “It’s frightening to experience the hate manifest itself to such a real level. This will not deter us from continuing to protect the civil rights and liberties of all Americans.”
From the PIO: at 1:13 pm Santa Clara Dispatch received a call from 3000 Scott Blvd of an envelope with white powder.
— Santa Clara Police (@SantaClaraPD) December 11, 2015
The CAIR office in San Diego did not receive such a letter, but that could be because the SoCal branch moved after a series of threats earlier this year.
CAIR officials said they have seen a surge in attacks and threats against mosques, Islamic centers and their own offices since January. Just this afternoon, officials said someone fire-bombed a mosque in Coachella.
Molotov cocktail thrown at California mosque https://t.co/oRKTUDe9pR
— CAIR National (@CAIRNational) December 11, 2015
The organization attributes the violence to backlash against Muslims following the Charlie Hebdo terrorist bombing in Paris and more recently because of the November attacks that killed another 130 people. Closer to home, two Muslims shot and killed 14 people in San Bernardino County, which the FBI is investigating as an act of terrorism.
Rhetoric spouted by GOP presidential frontrunner Donald Trump has exacerbated anti-Muslim sentiment, leading to threats like those targeting CAIR this week, said Hanif Mohebi, executive director of the San Diego office. Several local mosques and Islamic centers told San Jose Inside that they have heightened security in recent weeks.
Thursday’s incident took place days after Trump suggested banning Muslims from entering the United States. His statements sparked outrage throughout the nation, leading to protests and counter-protests.
CAIR plans to release a comprehensive report about the anti-Islamic backlash at a later date. Meanwhile, the nonprofit has compiled a partial list of incidents online.
The Bay Area is home to upward of 250,000 Muslims—one of the highest concentrations in the nation. About 27 percent of them live in Silicon Valley. A 2013 report by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding found that 23 percent of them reported being victim of a hate crime because of their religion, while 40 percent said they had experienced discrimination.
Mohebi said attacks against a specific religious community should be treated as hate crimes, at least, or acts of domestic terrorism.
“You go into work every day knowing that your life is in danger,” Mohebi told San Jose Inside. “You’re essentially a walking, talking dead person. As one of the threats said, it’s a matter of when, not if. So that’s the atmosphere that we live in.”