Vandalism at a mosque in Madera, Calif., is being investigated as a potential hate crime by the U.S. Department of Justice, officials confirmed Tuesday.
U.S. Atty. Benjamin Wagner said prosecuting hate crimes is a priority, particularly in the Eastern District of California, which includes Madera County and covers Central California, one of the fastest-growing regions in the state.
"It's an environment with rapid urbanization. The diversity and change that makes California such a great place also means … there are more potential flashpoints," he said. "This office has a lot of experience prosecuting hate crimes."
Central California has many growing Muslim communities. In Madera, however, there are only about 200 Muslims in a city of 58,000 and most are long established. Many are doctors.
A brick nearly smashed a window at Madera's mosque, and signs were left behind that read, "Wake up America, the enemy is here," and "No temple for the god of terrorism." The latest incident occurred Aug. 24.
A group called American Nationalist Brotherhood claimed responsibility for the attacks and also, this week, took responsibility for vandalizing a Planned Parenthood office in Madera.
Wagner said it was not uncommon to see multiple targets.
"It's what they call 'the mosh pit of hate,'" he said. "A lot of hate crime perpetrators are not single-issue haters."
Kamal Abu-Shamsieh, director of the Islamic Cultural Center of Fresno, welcomed the announcement.
"It's a declaration that our society, our government will not tolerate hate crimes, no matter what," he said. "But we still really hope local and national law enforcement increase patrols around Islamic centers during the next three days."
This year, Sept. 11 coincides with the celebration of Eid al-Fitr, the conclusion of the monthlong Ramadan celebration, a time of great joy and festivity in the Muslim community. In Fresno, an annual festival was canceled because of concerns over escalating tensions stirred up by the debate over a proposed Muslim cultural center near ground zero in New York.
In Madera, some spoke out in solidarity with the town's Muslim community.
Wagner said such personal stands help law enforcement.
"There's no way to measure it in terms of crimes that aren't committed, but often the perpetrators of hate crimes are under the misguided impression that they are attacking an outlying community no one cares about," he said. "It helps law enforcement when the greater community speaks up and corrects that impression."
Marcum is a special correspondent.