Anti-Muslim Speaking Circuit Runs Through Rural Minn.

SCTimes, April 20, 2016

One hour into a presentation on the perceived threat posed by Muslim immigrants, St. Cloud car salesman and anti-immigration activist Ron Branstner ramps up his pitch.

The United Nations, he begins, sends Muslim refugees to the United States and to such cities as St. Cloud, “to divide and conquer, get rid of our Constitution, get rid of our way of life and implement it with another way of life called. . . .”

Branstner pauses for effect, and a few people in the crowd of 100 shout the answer: “sharia law!”

The speaker nods. “Sharia law.”

Branstner’s radical message made up of broad anti-Muslim themes mixed with fears about immigration and the cost of helping refugees is increasingly finding a receptive audience, especially in places where new immigrants are changing the face of the community.

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From Mankato to Mountain Iron, speakers such as Usama Dakdok, A.J. Kern, Brigitte Gabriel, Cynthia Khan, Jeffrey Baumann and Clare Lopez are showing up in churches, restaurants, VFWs and community centers to address crowds and air concerns about immigrants, the Qur’an and what they see as a threat to the U.S. Constitution.

Some portray Muslims as practicing a hateful religion, some say Muslims are practically duty-bound to destroy Christians. Others maintain that Muslims are working to someday take control of the United States.

The speeches, which sometimes draw several hundred people, often blend verses pulled from the Qur’an and items plucked from the news to paint an alarming image of Islam, a religion practiced by some 3.3 million Americans, about 1 percent of the population.

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Meanwhile, groups like ACT! for America, which has a Minnesota chapter, have gone so far as to push for an end to Muslim immigration.

The local chapter recently sponsored speeches by Lopez, the vice president of an organization known for pushing conspiracy theories and someone Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz has said would be on his foreign policy team.

This month, Lopez told a St. Cloud radio audience that Muslims have turned parts of Minneapolis into “no-go” zones, where Minneapolis police fear to enter. Minneapolis officials said there is no substance to the claim.

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