- June 12, 2017
- By Bruce Tomasco / Religion News Service
RICHARDSON (RNS)—If Muslims have their way, the man with the megaphone said, there will be no justice for America’s goats.
“Why do Muslims rape their goats so much?” Jim Gilles asked his fellow protesters gathered June 10 outside one of the largest Islamic worship centers in the Dallas area. “It’s because they’re perverted, demonic, sex-crazed … sick perverts.”
Such outlandish statements appeared completely plausible to many of the 200 or so participants of the rally held outside the Islamic Association of North Texas in Richardson.
The demonstration was one of about two dozen “Marches against Shariah” organized in cities across the country by ACT for America, a self-styled grass-roots national security organization.
ACT for America labeled a 'hate group' by Southern Poverty Law Center
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks extremist groups, including neo-Nazis, Ku Klux Klansmen and black separatists, considers it to be a hate group. The center says since ACT for America’s founding 10 years ago, it “has grown to become the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group” in the country, with 1,000 local chapters and a claimed membership of 280,000.
It also sponsored anti-Shariah rallies in major cities such as Boston, Chicago, Denver and Seattle. In some places, the protests were met by counter-demonstrations, and in some cases, there were scuffles between two sides. In Manhattan, the counter-rally was significantly larger, the New York Daily News reported.
A small number of counter-protesters, many of whom have friends who worship at the Islamic center, marched in Richardson. Some in the anti-Shariah crowd wore desert fatigues and carried military-style handguns or rifles.
The rhetoric often was rancorous, and tempers seemed to rise with the North Texas heat, but a contingent of Richardson police officers kept the peace by keeping the two groups separated.
Group says it wants to safeguard Western values, protect U.S. from terrorism
ACT for America—the first three letters stand for American Congress for Truth—says its mission is “to protect America from terrorism” and safeguard “the Western values upon which our nation was built.”
Among its initiatives has been to push for passage of state statutes and constitutional amendments—known collectively as “American Laws for American Courts” measures—that would prohibit courts from deciding cases by applying Shariah, a body of Islamic laws and practices derived from the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.
Headquartered in Virginia Beach, Va., ACT for America was founded in 2007 by Brigitte Gabriel, a Maronite Christian who was born in Lebanon.
The group steadfastly denies being anti-Muslim. The enemy isn’t Islam, its website says. The enemy is “radical Islam,” which seeks “to destroy our Western way of life.”
But Gabriel, in her writings, in interviews with right-wing publications and in other public pronouncements, has often blurred any line between “good” and “bad” Islam—as did many of her followers in Richardson. Gilles, for example, carried a large placard that said, “Every real Muslim is a Jihadist!”
“Islamic terrorists … are really just very devout followers of Muhammad,” Gabriel wrote in 2006. “They are following his example and doing exactly what the Koran teaches.”
In a 2007 lecture at the Defense Department’s Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va., she said a devout Muslim “cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.” In the same lecture, she was reported to have said Muslims shouldn’t be allowed to hold public office.
Anti-Shariah rallies denounced by variety of groups
The June 10 demonstrations, scheduled during Islam’s holy month of Ramadan, were denounced by more than 100 religious, community and civil-liberties organizations across the country, including Amnesty International USA, the Anti-Defamation League, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the United Methodist Church, the Sikh Coalition, the American Friends Service Committee, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the National Council of La Raza.
In a letter to the mayors of host cities, the groups said the demonstrations were “intended to manufacture fear of Muslims” by “disingenuously” raising concerns about Shariah taking root in American courts.
“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 letter said.
Khalid Hamideh, the lawyer and spokesman for the Richardson Islamic center, said “it is absolute nonsense” to suggest Muslims are plotting to set up religious courts in America, substituting the judgment of Shariah for, say, the Bill of Rights or the Kansas Motor Vehicle Code.
Shpendim Nadzaku, the center’s imam and resident scholar, said of the protests: “They are anti-Muslim. Let’s just call a spade a spade.”
However improbable the establishment of Shariah in America may be, ACT for America and allied groups have attracted broad populist support by vowing to stamp out the threat.
In 2015, tea party Republicans cheered Beth Van Duyne, then-mayor of Irving, for fighting to stop a court in her city from imposing Shariah. As it turned out, there was no such court—Van Duyne heard about it through a chain-letter rumor, which proved to be false.
But that didn’t stop her from pushing for passage of an American Laws for American Courts bill in the Texas Legislature. Muslims, she warned, were intent on “bypassing Texas courts, bypassing American courts.”
This spring, after Van Duyne opted not to seek a third term as Irving’s mayor, President Trump selected her as a regional administrator of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, overseeing federal housing programs in Texas and four surrounding states.