Far-right activists held anti-Muslim demonstrations in least 28 cities across the United States on Sunday (June 11). The demonstrators, spurred by one of the largest grass-roots anti-Muslim group, and in many cases were met by larger crowds of counter protesters.
Counter protesters amassed in several cities to oppose the nationwide marches, with clashes and skirmishes taking place at a handful of the march sites. Clashes reportedly broke out between anti-fascists – known colloquially as Antifa – and march participants in a handful of cities, including Seattle, Washington. The protests and counter protests in more than a dozen cities come at a time of increased tensions and frequent physical confrontations between Antifa and far-right activists.
During a rally and counter protest in New York City, local media reports estimate that around 200 Antifa protests outnumbered several dozen participants of the National March Against Sharia.
At least one planned rally was canceled in Portland, Oregon, where two men were fatally stabbed last month while defending two Muslim women from a man who taunted them with racial slurs.
Members of the alt-right – a loosely knit movement that includes white supremacists, neo-Nazis and other far-right groups – had announced their intention to participate in many of the marches.
The demonstrations were also held Seattle, New York, Chicago, Saint Paul (Minnesota) and Santa Clara (California).
According to Reuters news agency, on the steps of the Pennsylvania state capitol in Harrisburg, barricades and a heavy police presence, including officers mounted on horses, separated about 60 anti-sharia demonstrators from an equal number of counter-protesters. Many of the latter were dressed in black masks and hoods and chanting “No Trump, no KKK, no Fascist USA.”
The atmosphere was tense but the protest went off with no violence and only one arrest, police said.
More than a dozen men belonging to the anti-government Oath Keepers were on hand, invited by ACT to provide security. Most of them carried handguns.
In Seattle, about 75 anti-sharia protesters were outnumbered by counter-protesters at a rally that was moved from Portland, Oregon. Tensions are running high in Portland after a man yelling religious and racial slurs at two teenage girls on a commuter train fatally stabbed two men who tried to stop him.
Oath Keepers said on its website that it was “answering the call to defend free speech against those who would use terrorist violence or the threat of violence to shut it down.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center says Oath Keepers is “one of the largest radical antigovernment groups in the United States,” organized around a “set of baseless conspiracy theories.”
The so-called anti-Shariah rallies were organized by Act for America, deemed an anti-Muslim hate group deemed by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The demonstrations prompted security fears at mosques across the country and come at a time when hate crimes against Muslims are on the rise.
A coalition of 129 national and local organizations amplified concerns on June 9 in a letter urging mayors to denounce the marches, which also coincide with Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims fast during the daylight hours.
“We are deeply concerned about the type of message that these protests send to the American public and to the good people in your city – that it is acceptable to vilify people simply because of their faith,” the groups wrote on Friday in their letter to 29 mayors.
“We, the undersigned national and local civil rights, faith-based, and community organizations, ask that you use your voice as an elected representative of your city to reject bigotry.”
The FBI has documented a surge in anti-Muslim hate crimes in recent years, reporting a 67% spike between 2014 and 2015 of incidents motivated by bias against Muslims, Arabs, South Asian and other immigrant communities.
The belief that Sharia law is infiltrating the United States is a tactic the far-right has used to instill a fear against Muslims among those who aren’t familiar with Islam and to push forward Islamophobic policies.
For example, in July, former 2012 presidential candidate Newt Gingrich said that any Muslim who believes in Sharia should be deported. Other anti-Muslim figures like conservative radio show host Mark Levin have claimed Sharia law has already creeped into the country, claiming that “free speech under attack. Non-Islamic religions under attack, in many respects. You can see the gays under attack.”
Neo-Nazis have been actively recruiting people online to help organize and attend Saturday’s demonstrations. For example, neo-Nazi group White Lives Matter is using the Daily Stormer (a popular neo-Nazi website) to recruit white nationalists to organize and join the anti-Sharia rally in Austin, Texas, according to SPLC. In Batesville, Arkansas, longtime neo-Nazi Billy Roper volunteered to organize the anti-Sharia rally. Roper, founder of the white nationalist group National Alliance, wrote an email to his members immediately after 9/11 praising al-Qaida for hitting the Twin Towers in New York City.
The nationwide anti-Muslim demonstrations were called by Act for America founded by Brigitte Gabriel, American of Lebanese origin, in 2007.
In recent years Gabriel made a barrage of anti-Muslim comments. During a speech at the Joint Forces Staff College in 2007, she said “a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah … who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day — this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.”
She has referred to Arabs as “barbarians” and claimed they have “no soul”.
Her group has worked in state legislatures pushing anti-Muslim laws. In February 2017, she said that she provided a “national security briefing” to President Trump.
Between 2008 and 2013 ACT for America was one of 33 anti-Muslim groups that had access to more than $204 million in revenue and helped push for legislation targeting Muslims.
Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Chief Editor of the Journal of America (www.journalofamerica.net) email: asghazali2011 (@) gmail.com