With speakers at Saturday’s anti-Shariah rallies already receiving death threats, it was no surprise that the events were marred by violence in several of the 28 cities where they were held.
The “March Against Shariah” was organized by Act for America, a counterterrorism organization opposed to the implementation of Islamic law within the U.S.
“This is a march against Shariah law and for human rights. Our nation is built on the freedom of religion — a pillar of our democracy — which we must always respect, protect, and honor. However many aspects of Shariah law run contrary to basic human rights and are completely incompatible with our laws and our democratic values,” the organization said in a statement on its website.
“We, at ACT for America, are committed to protecting women and children from Shariah Law and its impact on Muslim women and children including honor killing and female genital mutilation. We must ensure that every woman and child enjoy the protection afforded by the U.S. Constitution,” the statement adds.
The most reported violence was in Manhattan and at the State Capitol in St. Paul.
Manhattan anti-Shariah rally attendees were “dwarfed” by Islam-supporting counter-protesters, according to the New York Daily News.
Although police kept the two groups separate most of the day, counter-protesters, who branded themselves as anti-fascists, crossed the street to confront the rally-goers, throwing jugs of rotten milk across the barrier that separated them.
“We’re making so much noise to drown out the fact that they are furthering hate speech,” said Eric Josephson, 66, a retired union organizer from the Bronx, noting the use of cowbells, drums and air horns to stop their opponents side from being heard.
“I do not believe they have a right to a platform. They are planning murder and mayhem,” he said. “This is to attempt to push back against Nazis and other extreme right wingers, who are apparently protesting against a movement to impose Shariah law in the U.S. This is obvious horse manure. There is no such movement.”
In St. Paul, the ACT event held inside the Capitol rotunda was attended by about 100 people, according the Star Tribune, with about 300 counter-protesters gathering outside on the building’s steps.
People on both sides held signs and listened to speakers. Among the signs inside were messages that read, “Oppose Shariah law,” “Shariah is jihad,” “Islam is un-American,” “End Muslim immigration,” “Female genitalia matters … unless you’re antifa” and “Deus vult!” — Latin for God willing and a battle cry adopted by early Crusaders.
Outside a sign read, “Shariah law doesn’t threaten America, but your hate does. Love your neighbor.” The crowd chanted, “Our Muslim brothers are under attack. What do we do? Stand up, fight back.”
Both rallies were peaceful until the anti-Shariah group attempted to exit the building. Angry words, pushing and shoving followed on the Capitol steps, with state troopers intervening to separate the groups. Officers’ attempt to escort the anti-Shariah group across the Capitol lawn failed when counter-protesters followed, with one breaking through and kicking a member of the anti-Shariah group.
This was followed by more attacks when officers escorted the group through a building across the street from the Capitol. Upon exiting, another counter-protester initiated another fight. More troopers were called in to restore safety, and five or six people were placed in squad cars, according to local reports.
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ACT for America was criticized for organizing the day’s rallies, being accused by the Southern Poverty Law Center of disseminating “lies and fallacies about Muslims to spread fear about the religion.”
“ACT demonizes all Muslims as terrorists who want to subvert the political system in this country,” said spokeswoman Heidi Beirich.
But ACT disputes the charge, saying it condemns bias against religious groups and is “proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with peaceful Western Muslims as well as peaceful Muslims worldwide.”
“ACT for America has never, and will never, tolerate any bias, discrimination, or violence against anyone, based on their religion, gender, race, or political persuasion. Freedom to practice one’s religion in peace is afforded to each of us by the U.S. Constitution and we will continue to defend it vigorously,” the group’s website says.
This week, ACT canceled one of its planned rallies in Batesville, Ark. after it learned that a self-identified neo-Nazi was its primary organizer.
“Any event held by this individual is not sanctioned by Act for America, and is not supported or endorsed by Act for America in any manner,” the group said in a statement. “We regret any confusion that this individual’s actions may cause, and are working with our counsel to demand he cease and desist promotion of his event in a way that will confuse it as being sanction or approved by us.”
Most other events were non-violent, with opponents of the anti-Shariah rallies organizing interfaith gatherings, teach-ins, food drives and proclaiming there was no threat of Shariah being established in the U.S.
That assurance notwithstanding, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Louisiana, Kansas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee have already enacted laws prohibiting the use of foreign law in state courts, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.