American Muslims are bracing for a wave of anti-Islam rallies outside mosques this weekend, upping security measures at houses of worship as “patriots” gather across the country to decry their religion.
In August, a Facebook page appeared calling for a “Global Rally for Humanity” outside mosques all over the world on October 9 and 10. The event description claims “humanity is attacked daily by radical Islam,” and many comments express anger at Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who made controversial remarks about the American flag in June. Although the website boasts just over a thousand “likes,” groups in Georgia, Michigan, Arizona, and other states are already mobilizing to protest this Friday and Saturday, according to Imagine 2050.
“As this invasion of Muslim colonization continues unchecked on American soil, we can only expect the same suffering now endured by EUROPE,” reads the description of a proposed protest in Dearborn, Michigan.
A similar page for a protest in Charleston, South Carolina calls Islam an “evil cult,” and a Kentucky-based group asks “fellow Patriots, Veterans, Bikers, Rednecks and Good Ol Boys” to join them outside a local Muslim community center, along with supporters in other “open carry states.” An event page for a demonstration in Hernando County, Florida cites opposition to asylum for immigrants fleeing war-torn Syria, asking participants to “say NO to the importation of ISIS ‘refugees’!!”
On Monday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Islamic civil rights group, issued a warning to U.S. mosques asking them to take additional safety precautions. They noted anti-Muslims vitriol could be heightened by several recent Islamophobic statements made by Republican presidential candidates Donald Trump and Ben Carson, the latter of whom said he would not support a Muslim candidate for president.
“The anti-Islam rallies come at a time of increased hate-motivated crimes and bias incidents nationwide targeting persons and property associated, or perceived to be associated, with Islam and the American Muslim community,” CAIR’s statement read. “Many of these planned rallies may not take place, or they may consist of only a handful of people shouting slurs at worshipers. But given the recent endorsement of Islamophobia by national public figures, it would only be prudent for mosque and community leaders to prepare for any eventuality.”
CREDIT: AP Photo/Mark Humphrey
Leaders of mosques and community centers targeted for protests are taking the warning to heart, as many have already endured anti-Islam protests and vandalism in the past. Officials at the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro, Tennessee told ThinkProgress they have “contacted authorities” to prepare for the Saturday’s demonstration, something they have done numerous times before: Some locals passionately opposed a proposed expansion to the mosque in 2010, when the community center also fell victim to attempted arson.
“We have mixed feelings about the protest, because we believe strongly that people should speak their mind, and we’re proud that the Constitution gives everyone the right to speak his or her mind,” Dr. Ossama Bahloul, the center’s Imam, said in an interview. “But we believe freedom comes with responsibility, and we hope people will be responsible enough to know that while we can disagree with each other, we are citizens of the same country.”
Bahloul noted that the local Muslim community has “been here for years and hasn’t hurt anyone.” He said that Muslim leaders like himself have spoken against radical Islam before and are ready to stand together against radicalism and violence.
“We hope everyone will be safe on both sides,” he added.
The “Global Rally for Humanity” appears to be inspired by a smaller protest staged in May, when anti-Islam demonstrators rallied outside a mosque in Phoenix, Arizona after two congregants affiliated with the center were killed attempting to attack a “Draw Muhammad” contest hosted by an anti-Islam hate group in Garland, Texas. Participants at the protest, many of whom were members of motorcycle gangs, held signs and wore shirts with slogans defaming Islam, and several brandished firearms openly.
The Global Rally for Humanity Facebook page includes several videos from Jon Ritzheimer, a former U.S. Marine who helped organize the Phoenix protest. In one video, Ritzheimer calls for supporters to rally outside of “any Muslim establishment” on October 10 — including CAIR buildings — before holding up a Quran and shooting a hole through it with a handgun. He posted a similar video to YouTube in July, where he ranted about the tragic murders in Chattanooga, Tennessee at the hands of a Muslim man. He then placed a copy of the Quran on the desert floor and shot it multiple times with a semi-automatic weapon and a handgun.
“And of course I’m going to tell everybody to utilize your Second Amendment [rights while attending the rallies], in case we come under that much-anticipated attack,” Ritzheimer says in one of his videos. “I’m an atheist, but there’s one religion out there that’s continuing its attack against humanity — Islam.”
Ritzheimer’s dramatics have a habit of backfiring, however. The Phoenix rally drew attention for the presence of armed bikers, but the aggressors were equally matched by peaceful counterprotesters who came out to support the mosque. Later that week, local faith leaders from across the religious spectrum packed the mosque for a multi-faith prayer service to “show that when one of us is mistreated, our community responds with a message of Love and Not Hate.”