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On Saturday, some 120 people attended an anti-Muslim “March Against Sharia” at city hall in downtown Seattle. One of more than 20 such events organized around the country by the anti-Muslim ACT for America, the event showcased the bigoted forms of nationalism that have emerged during the Trump presidency. It also demonstrated the kind of paramilitary and quasi-paramilitary coalitions that are emerging in this movement that inseparably intertwines anti-Muslim bigotry with an American nationalism.

Anti-Sharia, Anti-Muslim and Bigoted Nationalism

Behind this recent spate of Islamophobic rallies is ACT for America, a 501(c)(4) that is registered with the IRS in Virginia Beach, Virginia and lists a Washington D.C. address on its website.

Reporting assets of more than $1.4 million in 2015 IRS documents, ACT for America touts itself as seeking to “ESTABLISH A MEANS FOR ALL AMERICAN CITIZENS TO PROVIDE A COLLECTIVE VOICE (I) FOR THE DEMOCRATIC VALUES OF WESTERN CIVILIZATION AND (II) AGAINST THE THREATs to our National security” (caps in original).

Locally, the event was organized by Anthony Parish, an occasional speaker for the South Park Missionary Baptist Church in Seattle. Parish listed the church’s phone number as a contact for a city-issued permit for the anti-Muslim event.

A cursory look at ACT for America’s rhetoric and ideas makes clear that its anti-sharia banter is a barely-veiled mask for attacking Muslims writ large. ACT for America chair Brigitte Gabriel has made this clear, writing that “we must realize that the portent behind the terrorist attacks is the purest form of what the Prophet Mohammed created. It’s not radical Islam. It’s what Islam is at its core.”

The dominant theme of speakers at weekend’s events was anti-sharia, speakers repeating that sharia law is committed to the oppression of women, female genital mutilation, honor killings, forced marriage, and terrorism. Sharia, they assert, is inherently oppressive and must be stopped from “taking over” America. Speakers took turns citing violent acts by some Muslims to prove that all of Sharia is at odds with America.

In the real world, Sharia is a based on interpretations of the Koran and Hadith, or sayings and actions of Mohammed. Like the Talmudic tradition in Judaism and the Catholic canon, it is an elaboration on foundational texts. Also similarly, the Bible, Koran, and their subsequent elaborations contain ideas at odds with modern ethical standards, including passages that have been used by some Muslims, Jews, and Christians to justify religious bigotry and violence. The vast majority of adherents of all of these faiths, however, are not violent and many draw on the prophetic words in these ancient texts to inform their commitment to equal rights and justice for all people. The Constitution’s First Amendment bans all forms of theocracy, a critical aspect of religious freedom and civil rights in the United States.

ACT for America’s anti-sharia focus, however, presents little more than a lesson in Bigotry 101. It is common among bigots, for instance, to hold all members of a target group accountable for the actions of one or a small group of its members – i.e., the nightly news shows a violent action by an African-American, therefore all African-Americans are violent. The equivalent here would hold, for instance, that a passage from the Bible, Torah, or Koran is violent; or a particular government, group or individual has used such text to justify violence; therefore all Jews, Christians or Muslims are violent.

Such a logic was on display in this sign held by a Three Percenter at the Seattle “March Against Sharia”:

Three Percenter and Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Here a violent passage from the Koran is used to impugn all of Islam as at odds with peace. The same could be done with the Bible.[1]

ACT for America’s focus on Sharia specifically, and chillingly, recalls the manner in which the German Nazis and neo-Nazis used the Talmud to defame and demonize Jews. For instance, this passage from a 1943 Nazi Party tract used for internal education and later published by the German Wehrmacht (Army):

“[Alfred] Rosenberg compellingly argues that Jewry does not display a great part of what is to use normal life. One cannot speak of morality in the European sense….the Talmud has an abundance of doctrines that enable us to understand what the Jew thinks about Gentiles…”

Likewise, neo-Nazi David Duke: “In rejecting Jesus Christ and the love and tolerance he preached, Judaism proceeded on its path of chauvinism. It culminated in the pages of the Talmud, an encyclopedic exposition of Jewish law and custom, compiled by hundreds of rabbis over the centuries… In it they finally codified their most chauvinistic tendencies.”

Anthony Parish echoed such a theme, declaring,

“What is sharia law? This is not just a code that Muslims live by. It is a legal system that intends to govern Muslims and non-Muslims alike. It encourages a man to beat and rape his wife as he wishes. It encourages the genital mutilation of young girls. It encourages a father to kill his daughter if he feels she has dishonored Islam. It encourages the murder of homosexuals and anyone who does not abide by its barbaric code.”

While absent Nazism’s crass biological determinism, the logic here is that because some violent passages can be found in the Sharia/Talmud, all those who use it in their religious practice are committed to violence. Again, the same could be said of the Bible. Such an approach constitutes the very definition of bigotry, vilifying all who draw on sharia as a threat and ignoring that the overwhelming majority of sharia-practicing Muslims are just people, non-violent people.

ACT for America’s anti-Muslim bigotry is inseparable from its articulation of a Christian-centered national identity. The feigned threat from sharia is cast as an existential threat to the American nation. Several speakers at the June 10 Seattle event stressed their Christian religion and posed sharia, and by extension Islam, as at odds with American values and law. The coupling of American nationalism to anti-Muslim bigotry creates an environment in which some people of color can join with whites in this movement. While some people of color were present, the crowd was overwhelmingly white.

Anti-Muslim Bigotry and Far-Right Coalition Building

The event displayed the nature of the coalition coming together around this troubling version of American nationalism. Reading a message from ACT for America leader Brigitte Gabriel, event organizer Anthony Parish declared,

“Thank you all for coming out today to stand with fellow Americans against sharia law and for human rights. We want to thank the patriotic security teams who volunteer their time to make sure we can peacefully assemble in safety.   Special thanks go out to our local police department, United Patriots, Proud Boys, Oath Keepers, Three Percenters, Bikers for Trump, Mainstream Patriots, American Civil Defense, Sons of Thunder, Soldiers of Odin, the Knights Templar, (unclear) Lightfoot Militia, and Two Million Bikers.”

Gabriel’s accolades demonstrate the coming together of militia organizations like Oath Keepers and Three Percenters with more recent groups comprised mostly of young, white men dedicated to confronting anti-fascists in the street in pursuit of Donald Trump’s America. Armed Oath Keepers and Three Percenters played a more formal security role at the event, while Proud Boys were present in the crowd and in confrontations after the main rally with anti-fascists.

Joey Gibson, organizer of a June 4th “Free Speech” rally in Portland, and currently organizing a June 15th event targeting Evergreen State College in Olympia, Washington, was seen mingling with Proud Boys. Despite promoting the “March Against Sharia” in the lead-up to the event, Gibson did not speak and later stressed on Facebook that he was not an organizer of the event.

Others in the audience included and individual in the audience wearing an emblem of Anti-Communist Action and young men sporting the emblem of Kek, the mythical “national” symbol used to signal involvement in the alt-right and mock the “political correctness” of the left. This symbol bears a striking resemblance to the swastika flag of the German Nazis and has been bandied by the likes of neo-Nazi Andrew Anglin along with more strictly reactionary alt-righters.



[1] Just two examples include Deuteronomy 17:12: Anyone who shows contempt for the judge or for the priest who stands ministering there to the LORD your God is to be put to death. You must purge the evil from Israel; and Mathew 10:34: “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.” Many more could be listed.

Chuck Tanner

Author Chuck Tanner

Chuck Tanner is an Advisory Board member and researcher for the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. He lives in Washington State where he researches and works to counter white nationalism and the anti-Indian and other far right social movements.

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