In his first week in office, Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney dealt with every mayor's worst nightmare — a cop being shot.
In his second week, Kenney has become a national punching bag — at least, in conservative media outlets — for his widely reported comments that the actions of shooter Edward Archer, who said he was inspired by ISIS to attempt to kill officer Jesse Hartnett, had nothing to do with Islam.
"In no way shape or form does anyone in this room believe that Islam or the teaching of Islam has anything to do with what you’ve seen on the screen," Kenney told media at a press conference Friday. "It is terrible and it does not represent the religion or any of its teachings. This is a criminal with a stolen gun who tried to kill one of our officers."
But Police Commissioner Richard Ross had apparently contradicted those statements moments earlier when he said Archer told police he attacked Hartnett out of loyalty to ISIS and because police officers were violating the laws of Islam. Police and the FBI continue to investigate an unverified tip that Archer was a member of a group with three other members who still pose a risk to police.
Republican presidential candidate Marco Rubio pounced on Kenney's comments at a campaign stop Saturday, calling him "delusional" and bashing Democrats in general for avoiding using the phrase "radical Islamic terrorist."
"The mayor of Philadelphia — who I know nothing about other than the fact that he's delusional — said this has nothing to do with ISIS or Islam; this is because there are too many guns in the street," Rubio said, according to CNN.
Kenney responded to Rubio in a statement, "I stand by what I said: this criminal is not representative of Islam. Period. I think candidates for office, particularly for president, should not demonize an entire group of Americans because of the actions of violent criminals with deranged views of Islam. ... Show some class and dignity when you are running for the highest office in the land."
Kenney's spokeswoman Lauren Hitt indicated via email that Kenney is done defending his comments.
"We haven’t released any ‘clarifying’ statements because what the mayor said doesn’t need to be clarified," Hitt wrote.
"The acts of this criminal, regardless of whether or not the FBI finds that he was connected to a larger terrorist group, have nothing to do with Islam. There is nothing in the Quran that promotes terrorism or violent acts of this nature. This deplorable excuse for a human being and any others who invoke Allah to explain their violent actions have a deranged, inaccurate understanding of Islam," she continued.
"It was Mayor Kenney’s most basic responsibility to stand up at Friday’s press conference and both praise the extremely heroic actions of this offer and also remind all Philadelphians that, regardless of what this criminal said, he is not representative of Islam. We cannot scapegoat the 25 percent of Philadelphians who practice Islam because of this criminal’s horrific actions and even more disgusting explanation of why he did it. They are our neighbors."
But in the meantime, more and more conservative pundits are lining up to take swings at Kenney, and show no signs of slowing down.
"The mayor’s comments, so bizarre in their determined denial of the deluge of facts delivered by top police officials standing next to him, were, nonetheless, familiar enough," columnist Dorothy Rabinowitz wrote. "Americans have learned to expect, after every Islamist terror attack, lectures instructing them that such assaults should in no way be connected to Islamic faith of any kind."
Kenney's comments seem to have touched a nerve — particularly with right-leaning media, where a common theme is the alleged concealment by liberal leaders and mainstream media of crimes committed by Muslims.
Pamela Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative and leader of Stop Islamization of America, said of Kenney's argument that the Muslim faith and the actions of Archer were separate, "That distinction is not possible. If Islamic texts and teachings inspired him, how could Islam not be responsible?"
"Kenney, like virtually every other public official these days, seems to think it's his duty to cover for Islam and make sure no one thinks ill of it, no matter how high the stack of bodies of jihad victims gets," Geller said via email. "Kenney may not be stopping police from releasing details related to Islam about the case, but he is seriously derelict in his duty in not investigating what is being taught at Archer's mosque, and closing it down if it is found to be encouraging violence and sedition."
The attacks have become sufficiently widespread that they drew a defense Tuesday morning from City Council President Darrell Clarke, who denounced the criticism as "hateful comments."
“As good neighbors and citizens, Philadelphia’s Muslim leaders were quick to condemn the violent assault on Officer Hartnett," Clarke said in a statement. "Mayor Kenney’s call for tolerance following last week’s hateful act is perfectly appropriate."
He continued, “If Edward Archer’s claims are true, he would join a growing line of hateful outliers who seek to justify their violent acts through a perverted interpretation of Islam. While law enforcement officials continue to investigate this incident, we should act responsibly and refrain from jumping to conclusions, and instead direct our energy toward wishing Officer Jesse Hartnett a speedy and complete recovery."
In an editorial, the South Jersey Times took the middle ground — defending Kenney's comments, but criticizing him for dismissing Archer's own declarations of ties to Islam.
"It's one thing — and the right thing — for Kenney to say that the great majority of Philadelphia-area Muslims have condemned the attack on the officer and can't find a single place in the Koran that justifies it," the editorial said.
"But to classify the incident as a lone-wolf act of a street criminal marginalizes the real possibility that a loose confederation of ISIS followers are actively trying to kill city cops. However small the group is, and however warped its interpretation of the Muslim faith might be, violent acts in the name of those warped values are, indeed, terrorism."