On Dec. 10, 2015, the Council on American-Islamic Relations evacuated its Washington, D.C., office after being sent an envelope containing white powder and a threat. The group then faced something it had never experienced: broad public sympathy.
"We were seeing personal messages coming from people we do not know," marveled Nihad Awad, the group's co-founder and executive director. "People sending donations to CAIR that are not Muslim, with very nice messages, people saying, 'Please, this is my small contribution, but I want you to know you're not alone.'"
That wasn't the only new thing happening at the group's dingy headquarters in a Capitol Hill townhouse. Awad said he got dozens of calls from members of congress and non-Muslim clergy. Then he made his first appearance on a Sunday morning political talk show — a key elite credential — after 21 years leading the organization. The next day, the head of CAIR's Florida Chapter, Hassan Shibly, was invited to a meeting of Muslim leaders at the White House, the first time in many years CAIR has been represented at a gathering of that sort. It was CAIR's third White House visit this year, after many years of being locked out.