Abigail Hauslohner and Justin Wm. Moyer, Washington Post, June 10, 2017
Anti-Muslim activists hoisted American flags and delivered fiery speeches in rallies across the country Saturday, facing off against crowds of counter-demonstrators in several cities and exposing the visceral rage that has come to define America’s political extremes.
ACT for America, a lobbyist organization with close ties to the Trump administration, organized nationwide marches to oppose Islamic law, which the group says is a threat to U.S. society.
At least two white supremacist groups also joined the rallies.
In New York, a dozen members of Identity Evropa, which seeks a whites-only state, came to support the ACT rally, wearing tucked-in dress shirts, sunglasses and slicked-down side-parts. In Harrisburg, Pa., a group that has claimed credit for white nationalist posters on college campuses, said they wanted Muslims out of the United States entirely.
“I don’t believe in having Muslims in the United States,” said Francisco Rivera, a spokesman for Vanguard America. “Their culture is incompatible with ours.”
Protesters on both sides blamed each other for the divisions on display Saturday, as anger surged through the crowds.
In New York, the cacophony from counter-demonstrators made it nearly impossible for them to hear their opponents’ speeches. But many seemed to have already made up their minds.
“They’re Nazis,” said Krish Bhatt, a Barnard College student who held a sign identifying themself [sic] as a trans Muslim.
Organized in part to memorialize the anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, the multi-city demonstrations aimed to raise awareness of what ACT sees as the negative effects of Muslim immigration to the United States.
In rallies in San Bernardino, Calif., New York and Seattle, columns of police moved in multiple times to separate rival protest groups as they shouted expletives at each other. In New York, masked anarchists tried on multiple occasions to get past the police cordon into ACT for America’s rally, prompting one arrest, as ACT’s speakers blasted the counterprotest as violent “idiots,” “liars” and “Marxists,” from a stage adorned with the American flag.
ACT protesters in San Bernardino yelled profanities as they rushed a group of counterprotesters shortly before fists began to fly. That rally had a few hundred supporters in a city affected by a 2015 terrorist attack that left 14 dead. In Seattle, police arrested two people and used pepper spray to end a scuffle between opposing sides.
Earlier in the day, In front of the capitol building in Harrisburg, anti-fascist protesters — wearing all black and balaclavas — played drums and cowbells, chanting “no hate, no Nazis.” Separated by a police barricade, the anti-sharia protesters, some of whom were also masked and carried handguns, sang “America the Beautiful.”
“This is a march against sharia, not Muslims,” said Moore, of Washington County, Pa., who works in the oil and gas industry. “We are not affiliated with any extremist groups. . . . Sharia is a barbaric system that the Islamic State is trying to impose in our country.”
Timmy Wylie, a spokesman for East Shore Antifa, said the group showed up to shut down the anti-sharia march because they say it is a march against Muslims. He grew up in the Harrisburg area and said citizens should instead focus on the region’s struggling economy.
“There’s a lot of people without two nickels to scrape together, but we still take care of each other,” he said before the march.