This article has been updated.
As Hillary Clinton slams Donald Trump’s rhetoric on Muslims, some liberal and Muslim advocacy organizations are calling on the Democratic presidential front-runner to distance herself from Wesley Clark, the retired general and longtime Clinton ally who made controversial remarks on segregating radicalized Muslims this summer.
Clark, the retired four star general and NATO commander who ran for president in 2004, has been a surrogate for Clinton’s 2016 campaign, most recently stumping on her behalf in Iowa last month. But in a letter the 11 advocacy groups plan to send to Clinton’s presidential campaign Thursday, they ask the former secretary of state to remove him from that role.
“We appreciate that you forcefully condemned the proposal put forward by Donald Trump to ban any Muslims from entering the United States — but we are concerned that your campaign is sending mixed messages when it comes to Islamophobia,” the letter reads. “Just months ago, one of your prominent campaign surrogates, Gen. Wesley Clark, called for the internment of some American Muslims. We call on you to make clear that you find such extreme proposals unacceptable by immediately removing Gen. Clark from his role as a surrogate for your campaign … and promise to do the same with any campaign surrogates caught aiding and abetting the dangerous anti-Muslim mob mentality fostered by your opponents.”
The diverse effort was organized by the San Francisco based liberal group CREDO Action, joined by Muslim community advocacy groups MPower Change, the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, and the Muslim American Society of Boston. The letter is also signed by the South Asian-American group Emerge USA, African-American group ColorOfChange, the Latino group Presente.org, and the liberal Jewish group Bend the Arc, among others.
A Clinton spokesperson declined to comment.
Appearing on MSNBC in July, Clark said that radicalized people need to be separated from society. “If these people are radicalized and they don’t support the United States and they’re disloyal to the United States as a matter of principle, fine. That’s their right and it’s our right and obligation to segregate them from the normal community for the duration of the conflict. And I think we’re going to have to increasingly get tough on this,” he said.
“In World War II, if someone supported Nazi Germany at the expense of the United States, we didn’t say that was freedom of speech, we put them in a camp, they were prisoners of war,” he added.
In an statement sent to MSNBC on Thursday, Clark said he regretted any misunderstanding about his comments. “My comments from last July were not directed at any religion or faith but in response to a question about ISIS recruitment inside the United States. The persecution of Muslim Americans is intolerable. I reject any proposal to inter anyone on account of his or her religion. I am troubled by the reaction, from some, to those comments and regret any misunderstanding,” Clark said.
After the comments made headlines and sparked some controversy, Clark said in a statement that he was misunderstood. “Any implication that I support racial profiling or interning people based on their ethnicity or heritage is dead wrong. I’m for separating people who have made dangerous decisions from the rest of society,” he said. “I’m frustrated with the argument that sedition is free speech because there is a role for government to step in to prevent a dissenter from becoming an active shooter, or worse.”
He then expanded on the comments in an interview the next day with liberal radio host Alan Colmes, where he called for a more aggressive counter-recruitment program. If the counter-recruitment program doesn’t work,” he said, “at some point they either get arrested, get treated as terrorists, or they get put in a prisoner of war camp.”
Clinton’s campaign removed the mayor of Roanoke, Virginia from its state leadership team after he suggested the use of internment camps for radicalized Muslims. “The internment of people of Japanese descent is a dark cloud on our nation’s history and to suggest that it is anything but a horrible moment in our past is outrageous,” Clinton spokesperson Josh Schwerin said at the time.
Clinton has been extremely aggressive in attacking Trump’s comments on Muslims, and said the other GOP presidential candidates have not done enough to speak out. “It’s a shameful idea. It’s also dangerous,” Clinton said in an 800-word statement posted on her website.
In an email sent to supporters Wednesday night with the subject line, “My message to Muslim Americans,” Clinton wrote, “I’m proud to be your fellow American.”
Later Thursday, a Clinton campaign spokesperson reiterated Clinton’s stance on Islamophobia, but did not directly address Clark. “Hillary has vocally opposed any discrimination against Muslims, believing that any of policies or comments that discriminate against a religion are wrong and not who we are as a country,” spokesperson Jesse Ferguson said in a statement to MSNBC.