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Man faces hate crime charge after threats to Muslim chairman

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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — A Vermont man is facing a hate crime charge that he sent anti-Muslim emails to the state's Democratic Party chairman, who is Muslim.

Faisal Gill (FASS-il Gill), who is believed to be the country's first Muslim chairperson of a state political party, said he received three threatening emails within a week in May.

Christopher Hayden, 48, of Burlington has been charged with disturbing the peace by electronic means, with a hate crime enhancement.

The messages are peppered with racial and religious epithets, and call Gill an "agent for creeping sharia law" who should "get out (of Vermont) or we will make you wish you did."

Gill alerted police.

"I do hope that he gets a sentence that makes him realize that he cannot do these kind of things any more," he told the Burlington Free Press. Vermont Public Radio first reported on the case.

Chittenden County State's Attorney Sarah George said the threats focused on Gill's religion.

"Anytime that an individual is targeted and threatened based on their nationality, religion or ethnicity, I find it extremely concerning and a threat to the integrity of our entire country," she said.

In 2015, Hayden pleaded not guilty to a charge of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon after police said he threatened to kill a man while using racial slurs, according to the Free Press.

A public defender representing Hayden did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment after business hours Friday.

No listed phone number for Hayden could be found.

Gill, whose family moved from Pakistan to the United States when he was 8, said he has been the target of racial and religious harassment before.

"People saying, 'Get out of politics, go home,' stuff like that. Not just me, my children as well," he told Vermont Public Radio. "It makes you question, 'What are you doing?' It does make you question, are you safe? I will say in the last few years though it's gotten a little worse."

He attributes the increase in harassment to President Donald Trump's campaign for the office.

"He's made it OK for all these people who have all these hateful thoughts against immigrants and against Muslims to say them," Gill said.

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