The recent beheadings of two American businessmen in the Middle East have increased an already strong backlash against Arab-Americans and Muslims, who have been persecuted since the 9/11 attacks.
The murder of former New Jerseyan Paul Johnson has prompted hate mail, verbal attacks and anti-Islam signs and graffiti in New Jersey. Elsewhere in the country, Muslims have received death threats and mosques have been vandalized in the days after Johnson's killing.
"Since 9/11, every time there is an incident overseas attributed to Muslims or Arabs, we go on orange alert ourselves," said Sohail Mohammed, a Clifton immigration lawyer. "With the death of Paul Johnson, we were extremely concerned that what happened overseas would have an impact here. There are individuals here who are off the wall, who think that every woman who wears a hijab or every man named Mohammed is out to blow things up."
In the days after Johnson's killing, anti-Islam signs surfaced in and around the rural, south Jersey neighborhood where he used to live. One read "Stamp Out Islam" next to a drawing of a boot over a crescent and star. Another, hung on a mailbox next door to Johnson's sister's home, was more detailed.
"Last night I wasn't a racist but today I feel racism towards Islamic beliefs," it read. "Last night Islamics had a chance to speak up for Paul Johnson, but today it's too late. Islamics better wake up and start thinking about tomorrow."
New Jersey Attorney General Peter C. Harvey sent bias crimes investigators to the area, along with stepped-up State Police patrols. The signs are gone now, replaced with hand-lettered placards on utility poles that say "Our Prayers Are With the Johnson Family." Yellow ribbons festoon fences, road signs, stores and homes, the hope they had for Johnson transferred now to the American troops and civilians still in harm's way.
On Thursday, however, more anti-Muslim graffiti appeared on a Muslim man's home in Egg Harbor Township.
"It's really our fear coming true," said Faiza Ali of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "It indicates a hatred that could turn into something violent..."