During what his campaign claimed was the first visit to a mosque by any of the 2016 presidential candidates on Friday, Democratic hopeful Martin O'Malley assailed Donald Trump, the Republican primary's chief agitator and frontrunner, for proposing that Muslims should be prohibited from entering the United States.
In a speech before worshippers and Muslim community leaders at a mosque in Sterling, Virginia, the former Maryland governor called Trump, who has given voice to some of the most unabashedly provocative and fiery anti-Islamic discourse of late, a "hate preacher."
"That sort of language that you hear from Donald Trump is not the language of America's future. I know the language of America's future," O'Malley said. "I speak to our young people under 30 every day, and I rarely find among them any that feel like Donald Trump."
"Donald Trump is not what America is about," he added at a subsequent press conference.
The visit came four days after Trump issued a statement calling for a "total and complete shutdown" of any Muslims coming to the US — including would-be immigrants, students, and tourists — to be blocked from entering the country based on the terrorist threat they allegedly pose. The controversial and divisive proposal was made in response to shootings that left 14 people dead and 21 wounded in San Bernardino, California, by a Muslim couple who authorities have said were radicalized.
"Until we are able to determine and understand this problem and the dangerous threat it poses," Trump declared, "our country cannot be the victims of horrendous attacks by people that believe only in jihad and have no sense of reason or respect for human life."
While many prominent Republicans — including presidential candidates Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, and Marco Rubio, as well as House Speaker Paul Ryan — were quick to distance themselves from Trump's comments this week, the positive reactions to Trump's often outlandish comments among his supporters and his persistent and seemingly durable lead in national polls signals a striking level of public support for an idea that politicians on both sides of the aisle have labeled "outlandish," "reprehensible," and "probably illegal."
O'Malley, who is current polling third behind fellow Democrats Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, has not been shy in laying into Trump, frequently calling him a "carnival barker" at Democratic debates and on the stump as well as calling him out recently for his "fascist demagoguery."
O'Malley's remarks on Friday, in which he said that "violent extremism is not what the Muslim people of America" are about, echoed a sentiment expressed 14 years ago by former President George W. Bush when he visited an Islamic center just days after the 9/11 terror attacks.
"Islam is peace," Bush said at the time.
The Democratic candidate also referred to the San Bernardino shooting. They do "not define Islam any more than that horrible murder that took place in Charleston defines Christianity," he said, in reference to the murder in June of nine black church congregants by a white supremacist in South Carolina.
But while "no nation is immune from the scourge of hate preachers," the former governor said, Americans give up their values when they fail to speak out against harassment and acts of violence carried out against some of the 1.8 million Muslims in America. Those attacks have increased in the wake of deadly terror attacks in Paris and hysteria surrounding the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the US.
"I know that there have been many acts of violence," said O'Malley. "But the larger arc of our history... is a larger arc of love and generosity and respect for one another."
Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields