Last October, Cutler Bay resident Dustin Hughes stamped his profile picture with an image of a Confederate flag and the message "Heritage not hate." But hate is exactly what has landed Hughes in jail on felony charges.
Prosecutors say Hughes repeatedly called the Jamaat ul Muttaqeen mosque in Pembroke Pines and left voicemails threatening to blow the place up and kill all the worshippers inside. The case marks yet another instance in which someone posting white-supremacist or neo-Confederate iconography has been arrested on hate-crime charges.
According to a criminal complaint filed in Florida federal court last Wednesday, Hughes allegedly called the mosque May 5 at 4:06 p.m. and left the following voicemail:
You fucking Muslim piece of shit. I planted a bomb in your temple; I'm gonna blow your fucking temple up, you fucking Muslim piece of shit. Where you guys have your sanctuary and worship Allah, I'm gonna blow that motherfucker up. l have a detonator, l'm gonna cause that motherfucker to go off, you guys are all gonna be up in flames after l'm done with you! You guys wanna come here and cause mayhem to America, well, I'm gonna cause mayhem to your religion 'cause your religion is nothing but lies. Lies, lies, lies from the Devil! Where's Allah now?
The feds say the mosque immediately called Pembroke Pines Police, who swept the building and found no bombs. But it turns out a man with the same voice had left three other threatening voicemails within the past week. The cops simply checked the mosque's caller ID, and Hughes' name popped up. Investigators later confirmed the number belonged to him.
The feds arrested Hughes at his home May 15. After he was taken to a cell for an interview, prosecutors say, Hughes admitted he had made the calls. When officials mentioned the calls terrified members of the mosque, Hughes clapped his hands together and shouted, "Good!" prosecutors allege.
"During the interview, Hughes stated, in substance, that he wanted to scare members of the mosque and upset them," the feds say.
After the arrest, the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Muslim civil rights organization, released a statement thanking law-enforcement officials for taking action. CAIR also released a copy of Hughes' Confederate-flag post.
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The arrest comes as civil rights advocates and justice activists are warning that law-enforcement officials are not paying enough attention to the very real threats that members of the alt-right pose. Though the FBI in August 2017 said it planned to crack down on "black identity extremists" — a racist fringe that black-rights activists said threatened them — the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) released a February report succinctly warning that "the alt-right is killing people." The SPLC said members of the extreme right have killed 43 people and injured 60 since 2014 — and since that report came out, other murderers have been linked to the far right, including Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz and Santa Fe suspect Dimitrios Pagourtzis, who both wore Nazi iconography before committing attacks.
Hughes' Confederate-flag photo also lays bare the real danger that the "Confederate history" movement poses: Other Confederate-history advocates in Florida, such as Florida Atlantic University Professor Marshall Derosa and Tampa's neo-Confederate group Save Southern Heritage, argue the flag somehow does not represent an army of white supremacists.
People flying the flag, however, sure seem to get arrested a lot for hate crimes.