GREENVILLE, South Carolina – Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz called on the United States to acknowledge “the evil” of “radical Islamic terrorism” following a series of deadly attacks on civilians in Paris, telling reporters moments before a religious liberty rally here at Bob Jones University that “we are at war” with the Islamic State. At least 129 people were killed in the coordinated attacks at several cites around the French capital.
“The Islamic State said today that this is just the beginning,” Cruz said Saturday, hours after ISIS claimed responsibility for the Paris assault – the deadliest attack on French soil since World War II. “Unfortunately, we have a president who doesn’t recognize the enemy who has declared war on us.”
The Texas senator warned that unless the U.S. acts to defeat terrorism, “this violence will come to America.” He called on Congress to pass the Expatriate Terrorist Act, a measure that would revoke U.S. citizenship for anyone fighting or supporting ISIS.
“[Congress] should not allow jihadists to come back to America using U.S. passports,” Cruz said.
Militarily, Cruz called for the use of “overwhelming air power” and arming the Kurds, whose peshmerga forces have been fighting ISIS insurgents.
“[The Kurds] are right now fighting against ISIS every day, but their weapons are vastly outclassed because ISIS has American equipment they seized in Iraq,” Cruz said.
Asked whether he was reconsidering putting American boots on the ground to fight ISIS – a move he said earlier this year would be not be necessary – Cruz said: “We have boots on the ground. The Kurds are our boots on the ground.”
Saturday’s rally is the second that Cruz has organized this year to promote the concept of religious liberty – a right he consistently warns is under attack in America. It’s also the second event in as many days in which a Republican presidential candidate has appeared at Bob Jones University, an evangelical school that became a flashpoint in the 2000 GOP presidential primary over its longstanding ban on interracial dating.
Cruz’s Republican rival, Dr. Ben Carson, drew an audience of more than 5,000 for a town hall on Friday, hosted by GOP Sen. Tim Scott. of South Carolina. Approximately 2,000 people were in attendance for Cruz’s rally Saturday – about 500 people short of the number that showed up for his religious liberty rally three months ago in Des Moines, Iowa.
Like the Des Moines rally, Saturday’s event featured what the Cruz campaign refers to as “heroes,” or people who claim to have been persecuted for their religious beliefs, often in cases involving LGBT rights. Among them were Dick and Betty Odgaard, an Iowa couple who was sued for refusing to host a same-sex couple’s wedding at their venue; David Welch, a Texas pastor who helped defeat a broad civil rights ordinance in Houston and had his sermons subpoenaed in the process; and Angela Hildenbrand, a former Median Valley High School student who fought a successful legal battle to be able to pray in her valedictorian speech.
“Many folks in the media belittle the threat to religious liberty,” said Cruz, who has aggressively been courting evangelical voters, ahead of the rally. “The purpose of this conference is to put a human face, a human story on these threats so people understand they are real. They are growing.”
“I have spent two decades fighting to defend religious liberty,” he added. “And I believe believe 2016 is going to be a religious liberty election.”