NEW YORK - Dozens of protestors, many of them wearing “Make America Great Again” baseball caps, gathered in downtown Manhattan on Saturday to denounce what they call the threat of sharia law in the United States. The rally was one of 29 similar protests taking place in major cities across the country. In New York, the event attracted a small but eclectic crowd, which included supporters of President Donald Trump, so-called "alt-right" white nationalists, conservative Jews and gays and a right-wing militia which vowed to protect the participants.
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Members of Identity Evropa, a white supremacist organization identified with the alt-right, came to the rally in pressed T-shirts and haircuts that made them look like look-alikes of the prominent white nationalist Richard Spencer. The group's speaker, who identified himself as Matt, said he recently participated in the torch march in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Spencer and others protested the removal of the statue of the Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee. He said he supports Spencer and has worked with him in the past. Identity Evropa is “a fraternity and political activity for Europeans of non-Semitic heritage," he said. "We are all over the U.S., and we are growing rapidly since Trump’s election... We are for men and women who want to assert their white European identities and advocate for that.”
Janine Gregory came to the rally from Staten Island with friends who are members of the Oath Keepers, a right-wing militia that pledged to protect the rally. “They took an oath to protect the constitution, and once you take this oath, you are an Oath Keeper for life,” she explained. She held a poster that read, "Constitution - Yes, Sharia Law - Never."
“Sharia is creeping into America, and sharia all around the world should be exposed for what it is – and that is slavery and oppression," she said. "We just arrested two doctors who performed female genital mutilation on children in America. They just arrested two, I believe it was in Boston, but how many more are there in America?" Gregory also lamented the rise of honor killings in the country. "Family members killing their own daughters. It happens all over America,” she said. When asked whether the rally was anti-Muslim, she admitted that it was. "Well, it is. You can’t get away from it," she added.
Chadwick Moore, an openly gay journalist, also spoke at the event. After thanking “all the Islamophobes” for attending, he described his disenchantment with leftist thinking after last year's attack on the gay nightclub Pulse in Orlando, Florida. He rallied against what he said was the liberal media's attempts to hide the fact that the assailant, Omar Mateen, was an Islamic terrorist, not simply a closeted gay man. “There is no Islamophobia in America. Give me a break, it does not exist,” said Moore as he went on to warn against the dangers that Islam poses to gays. “Under political Islam, not only would they not bake me a cake,” he said, referring to anti-gay establishments that turn down LGBT customers. “It would be a question of whether to throw us from the rooftop or stone us.”
Laura Loomer, a contributor to the right-wing Canadian web platform Rebel Media, took the stage wearing a Star of David. She condemned “liberals who align themselves with sharia law” and read parts of the sharia that are discriminatory or violent toward women, such as “Under sharia Law, women can be beaten.” “There is no such thing as rape culture," she said. "You want to see rape culture? Travel to where ISIS is raping Yazidi girls."
The event was organized by Act for America, which is described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the biggest anti-Muslim organization in the country. ACT’s president, Brigitte Gabriel, a vocal critic of Islam, is a strong supporter of Trump's so-called Muslim ban and has boasted of a close relationship with the president.
As promotion for the rally, Gabriel has published an article called “War on Girls” in right-wing Breitbart News last week. In it, she presented the event as urgent action needed to protect Muslim girls and women in the U.S. from honor killings. She cited a case of a Palestinian girl killed by her parents in 1989 as an example of sharia law being practiced in the United States.
“When two parents murder their daughter in the most gruesome fashion, as precious as Tina was, they are assigned honor in the Islamic world,” wrote Gabriel. “We must do more to ensure that we are not importing, or fostering religious practices in the name of political correctness. We must be vigilant of acts of honor violence in our communities and report all such incidents to the proper authorities. We must convince our children to advise us if their friends become victims of honor violence. It is too late to answer Tina’s cries for help, but it is not too late to eliminate honor violence.”
The reason for the urgency cited in the article was the raised profile of the Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour, the executive director of the Arab American Association of New York and one of the organizers of the Women’s March on Washington in January.
“Radical Islamist and mainstream media darling Linda Sarsour has explicitly expressed a desire to implement Sharia in the U.S, a policy that would not only justify, but encourage, what happened to Tina,” wrote Gabriel.
At the rally, speakers were interrupted with cries of “that will show Sarsour.” Several brought an obscene drawing of Sarsour and displayed it for those in attendance.
A middle-aged couple arrived holding an Israeli flag, and another protestor wore an Israel Defense Forces T-shirt (although he said that as an American Jew from New York City, he did not serve in the Israeli army). He explained that he came to the rally because of Sarsour’s invitation to speak at the commencement of the City University of New York's School of Public Health. “That was a taxpayer-funded thing, it was a commencement address meant for all CUNY students, it's not right. She is pro-sharia, she is at the very least an Islamist apologist, she has said horrible things about people who are trying to protect ex-Muslims like Ayaan Hirsi Ali. It is a shame to me that taxpayers' money, people who would never in a million years want their money to support sharia, their money is going to her."
A group of Jews also joined a counter-demonstration across the street, among them representatives from groups like Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Muslim-Jewish Antifa.