Far-right groups converged on the grounds of the State Capitol in Raleigh for an anti-sharia law rally, part of a nationwide string of events hosted by the anti-Muslim organization ACT for America, on Saturday.
The national organizers had attempted to distance the rallies from overt white supremacy. Two days earlier, the national organization issued a statement disavowing the “March Against Sharia” in Bentonville, Ark. organized by neo-Nazi Billy Roper, saying they cancelled the event “when we became aware that the organizer is associated with white supremacist groups.” Noting that the event might still take place, ACT for America said Roper’s rally was not sanctioned, supported or endorsed by ACT for America, adding that the organization stands opposed to attacks or intimidation based on race, religion or sexual orientation.
“There are no KKK here, there are no Nazis here,” said Peter Boykin, president of Gays for Trump and the local coordinator for the Raleigh anti-sharia rally. Despite his disavowal of extremism, Boykin publicly thanked Identity Evropa, a group founded last year that openly espouses white supremacy, after members in matching white dress shirts punctuated speeches with chants of, “Sharia-free USA” and “We will not be silenced.”
Boykin’s thank-you list also included Oath Keepers, a militia comprised of military veterans and retired law enforcement personnel that mobilized its members to provide security for the event, along with the III Percenters and other patriot militias, Bikers for Trump, Knights Templar, Soldiers of Odin and Proud Boys.
Proud Boys was founded by Vice Media co-founder Gavin McInnes, who left the media outfit in 2008. The group calls itself a fraternal organization; its Facebook page identifies its values and beliefs as “minimal government, maximum freedom, anti-political correctness, anti-racial guilt, pro-gun rights, anti-drug war, closed borders, anti-masturbation, venerating entrepreneurs, venerating housewives, and reinstating a spirit of Western chauvinism during an age of globalism and multiculturalism.” After the rally, a dozen young men underwent an initiation ritual to join the Proud Boys in a public parking lot near the Capitol as clusters of Oath Keepers and III Percenter militia members milled around their vehicles nearby.
Although exact counts were difficult to gauge with some of the patriot militia groups staking out positions a block or so away from the rally as informal security details, the 50 or so people gathered for the anti-sharia event were outnumbered by counter-protesters by a factor of five to six. While ACT for America held its rally on the south side of the State Capitol, counter-protesters gathered at Halifax Mall near the state General Assembly complex for an event billed as “United Against Islamophobia & Racism.” Around noon, some 250 counter-protesters, including Muslims and other people of faith, anarchists and communists, converged at the southeast corner of the Capitol grounds. Yelling at the top of their lungs, the counter-protesters drowned out the speaker at the anti-sharia rally, while facing patriot militia members outfitted in biker and military dress holding American flags. Within minutes, Raleigh and Capitol police moved the counter-protesters across the street. Lane “Gunny” Reynolds, state coordinator of the North Carolina Oath Keepers urged people in the anti-sharia group to avoid confrontation, imploring, “Let law enforcement do their job.”
Speakers at the anti-sharia rally took aim at liberal pieties, the news media and what they consider political correctness.
“No, President Obama, Islamic radical didn’t blow up my home or bring down the World Trade Center because of global warming,” said Boykin, the coordinator of the Raleigh event. “They did so because they want their sharia law to be the new law of the world and we are standing in their way. 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 murders of homosexuals and anyone who does not abide by its barbaric code.
“It’s time to take a stand,” Boykin continued. “It’s time to tell the open-border zealots that we will not be silenced by their intimidation tactics and clichéd cries of Islamophobia. It’s time to tell the mainstream media that we aren’t buying their fake-news propaganda.”
The Council on American Islamic Relations, which describes itself as the country’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, decried the anti-sharia rallies in advance. “ACT for America is a hate group, period,” said Corey Saylor, director of the council’s Department to Monitor and Combat Islamophobia. “We encourage all Americans who value religious freedom and reject bigotry to take part in peaceful and lawful local activities challenging these hate rallies.”
Many critics contend that rhetoric against sharia falsely conflates a set of guidelines Muslims follow for living a faithful life with civil law and wildly exaggerate the likelihood of its imposition as a means of whipping up fear and hatred of Muslims.
“We’ve been dealing with this issue for many years now, certainly post-9/11, but now use the herring of sharia law — that’s what this is, we are not now nor are we in the future under a threat of sharia law — but they [ACT] use this as a red herring to stimulate hate towards the Muslim population here in the United States,” said US Rep. Joe Crowley, a Democrat from New York who chairs of the House Democratic Caucus earlier this week.
Laila Nur, a singer-songwriter from Durham who attended the United Against Islamophobia & Racism in Raleigh, said she goes back and forth on her identity as a Muslim.
“It’s something I’ve taken more pride in recently with so much anti-Muslim hate,” she said. “It blows people’s minds to see a black, queer woman who is Muslim.”
Nur said she views ACT for America’s rhetoric about human rights, including female genital mutilation, domestic violence and gay rights, as a cover for and anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant agenda.
“We’re against genital mutilation, mass incarceration, dropping bombs on villages all the way,” she said. “Many times, you see white supremacist groups caping for women to mask their agenda of white nationalism. It’s like the invasion of Iraq when they said, ‘We’re protecting women.’ See what happens when you mix white nationalism with patriotism in a climate that’s hostile to brown folks. They’re using us to push a white nationalist agenda.”
ACT for America promotes a view that the United States is at risk of being subverted by an insidious agenda to impose sharia law by Muslims who present themselves as moderate and assimilated. Robert Goodwill, who identified himself as a member of ACT for America, attended a meeting in Kernersville in February at which participants excitedly discussed local mosques and Muslim politicians. Another man, Frank del Valle, told people at the meeting that he wanted to start killing Muslims.
“Political correctness is being thrown away,” Goodwill said at the meeting. “A lot of people are meeting like this. We’re making progress in the right direction…. We need to talk about how we can get things done peacefully. Be ready for the worst.”
“I am beyond that point,” del Valle replied. “I’m ready to start taking people out.”
“I can understand that,” Goodwill said. “But we’re not there yet.”
Scott Presler, the national coordinator of the anti-sharia rallies, said Goodwill was not involved in today’s events.
Orry W. Von Diez, who attended the rally with Identity Evropa, accused opponents of being communists who support sharia law and favor “the oppression of Western civilization.”
“We will not stand for this type of oppression,” Von Diez said. “We will not stand by while our women are draped in scarves, while our children are mutilated and while our men are emasculated before our very people. This is not what our Western civilization is all about. This is not what the West was founded on. This is not what America was founded on, and we will not stand for this.”
Lane Reynolds, the state coordinator of the North Carolina Oath Keepers, expressed disappointment in the relatively low turnout at the rally.
“It is a crying shame that there is not a million people here on this ground right now,” he said. “When I was in the Marine Corps for 20 years one of the things the Marine Corps made sure to teach us was to know our enemy. Guess what people? Go read the Koran for yourself. This is not a joke. Go read the Koran. See what’s in it. The Koran, itself teaches hate. It’s in there. So I call out anybody that sees me on video or anything else: It is evil. I’ll say it and I’ll say it again: Radical Islam is evil, and it’s here on our ground today.”
While many speakers expressed the idea that sharia as a religious law is incompatible with the US Constitution, Alan Hoyle, a North Carolina Oath Keeper and former candidate for sheriff in Lincoln County, insisted that Christianity should have primacy in American government.
“The country was founded on the word of God,” he said. “It’s all through our country. It’s on the monuments. It’s on everything else showing the Holy Bible. It shows the Ten Commandments. That’s where our country is founded. That’s what’s in our Constitution through the Bill of Rights — come from the word of God. Why do we have these problems today in America? It’s because we’ve let go of the one true and living God.”
Peter Boykin told the group to not be discouraged that they were outnumbered.
“Don’t get surprised about the crowds,” he said. “When people want to try to combine and they want to compare us with the evil side, like the March for Women and things like that, look we have so many veterans, disabled people, people who work, people who work out on farms and can’t make it. And a lot of people have fear. And sadly they have fear of terrorism.”