Cenk Uygur speaks during a congressional candidate forum in Palmdale, California, on Feb. 1, 2020. Video screengrab

CAIR-LA calls for hate crime investigation into anti-Muslim remarks at public forum

LOS ANGELES (RNS) — The Council on American-Islamic Relations in Los Angeles is calling for a hate crime investigation after anti-Muslim remarks disrupted a congressional candidate forum.

The event was held in Palmdale, California, on Saturday (Feb. 1) but lasted only about 30 minutes, at which point coordinators wound up abruptly ending the forum.

In attendance were Democratic candidates Aníbal Valdéz-Ortega, David Rudnick, Getro Elize and Cenk Uygur, who are vying for the 25th Congressional District seat that Katie Hill left vacant amid allegations of inappropriate sexual relationships with staffers.

The disruption began as the candidates discussed the Trump administration’s widening of the travel ban.

A video stream of the event shows attendees, some with pro-Trump signs, objecting to Uygur when he said that trying to ban Muslims “is pure bigotry” and that Republicans who agree with Trump “are bigots."

Some people in the crowd told the panel not to refer to the travel restrictions as the “Muslim ban.”

“We don’t want terrorists in our country,” one person said.

At one point, one woman confronted another woman who was wearing a hijab, saying: “This is America. You want to assimilate to America? Take that hijab off and be American.”

Another man was overheard saying: “That’s what we want, assimilation. Muslims don’t assimilate.”

The American Islamic Institute of Antelope Valley and CAIR-LA sponsored the forum.

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of CAIR-LA, said the organization is taking the threats against the woman wearing a hijab seriously and asked that the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department investigate the incident as a possible hate crime.

“Their actions showed a lack of decency and respect for the voters attempting to learn more about people wanting to represent them in Congress,” Ayloush said in a statement.