With a thumb’s up, a half-hug and a smile, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Brian Kemp posed for a photograph with a well-known far-right and anti-Muslim activist at a campaign event.
The far-right conspiracy theorist James Stachowiak wore a t-shirt that read, “Allah is not God, and Mohammad is not his prophet”, in a photo posted on what appears to be his Twitter account on October 15.
The tweet reads, “This is me a week ago meeting Brian Kemp in August Georgia he will be on the governor of Georgia.”
On Friday, the Georgia chapter of the CAIR called on Kemp, a Republican who currently serves as Georgia’s Secretary of State, to apologise for the photograph.
With less than two weeks until midterm elections, Kemp’s photo controversy comes on the heels of a lengthy spate of a lengthy spate of anti-Muslim incidents in 2017 and 2018, according to a new report.
“I am rarely surprised when I see anti-Muslim bigotry these days, but Mr Kemp should apologise, meet with us and other Georgia Muslim leaders, and renounce this man’s support,” Edward Ahmed Mitchell, CAIR-Georgia’s executive director, told Al Jazeera.
Stachowiak, a pro-Trump activist and former police officer, has been “defaming, harassing and threatening Georgia Muslims for at least the past two years”, Mitchell added.
In the past, CAIR-Georgia has had to call the police on Stachowiak over alleged violent threats and intimidation, he said.
At the time of publication, Kemp’s campaign spokesperson had not replied to Al Jazeera’s request for a comment.
With less than two weeks before US midterm elections, Kemp is polling neck and neck with Democratic challenger Stacey Abrams.
In campaign ads, Kemp, a vocal supporter of President Donald Trump, joked about his willingness to “round up… criminal illegals” in his “big truck” and bragged about owning guns.
Posing with Stachowiak marks the latest in a spate of controversies marring Kemp’s campaign, including allegations that Kemp has engaged in voter suppression through his position as Georgia’s secretary of state.
In the past, Stachowiak has called on the US military to bomb Mecca, urged people to open fire on Black Lives Matter (BLM) protesters and destroyed copies of the Quran in front of Georgia mosques.
The Alabama-based Southern Poverty Law Center has described him as “a long-time militia organiser”.
Stachowiak has also bragged about his guns. In an August 2016 YouTube video, he lifted a military-grade gun to the camera and held up a bullet with “BLM” written on it in black marker.
“I’ll drop you like it’s hot, you little maggots,” he said in the video. “And by the way, Black Lives Matter are working with the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Uptick in anti-Muslim campaigning
Earlier this week, the Muslim Advocates civil rights group released a report documenting at least 80 instances of political candidates using “clear anti-Muslim rhetoric” in 2017 and 2018.
The vast majority of those incidents involved Republicans, and 64 percent of the listed candidates held office before or enjoyed a presidential endorsement.
More than a third of the candidates included in the report alleged that Muslims are innately violent or pose a physical threat.
Although anti-Muslim movements have been growing for years, Scott Simpson, public advocacy director of Muslim Advocates, explained that Trump’s election energised them.
“[Anti-Muslim] individuals are in power right now, and we see the outcome of that on a weekly basis,” he told Al Jazeera by telephone.
On Monday, Trump baselessly claimed that “unknown Middle Easterners” had embedded in a US-bound caravan of Central American refugees and migrants.
The following day, the president defended his comments, but admitted that he had no evidence to substantiate the claim.
“There’s no proof of anything, but they could very well be,” Trump told reporters at the White House.
Throughout the ongoing midterm campaigning period, Republicans and right-wing Super PACs have attempted to link Democratic candidates to “terrorism”, in many cases evoking Islam and Muslims.