Competing protests took place in several cities across the United States Saturday between groups saying they are protesting Sharia and groups saying they are protesting discrimination against Muslims.
The “anti-Sharia” protesters were organized by a group called ACT for America, a President Donald Trump-aligned organization that says it protects free speech and defends traditional American values.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, says ACT is the nation’s largest anti-Muslim group.
According to a Washington Post report, about three dozen ACT protesters, some dressed in fatigues and carrying American flags, gathered in downtown New York City.
Pax Hart, who organized the Manhattan rally, told a reporter that if someone feels unsafe walking around in a Muslim headscarf, “try being a conservative on a college campus.”
Among the people gathered at the anti-Sharia protest were Trump supporters; self-identified “Oath Keepers,” an anti-government group; and tidily dressed young men who identified themselves as members of the “alt-right,” a white nationalist movement.
Across the street, a few hundred people gathered with banners reading “Fascists out of NYC.”
Police officers and barricades stood between the two groups.
More than 20 cities
Similar faceoffs took place in more than 20 cities across the nation: Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Chicago, Illinois; Austin, Texas; and San Bernardino, California, where in 2015 a husband and wife inspired by Islamic State killed 14 people and wounded 22 others in a shooting spree.
“There are radicals out there,” an ACT for America supporter in San Bernardino, Denise Zamora, told a local television reporter. “People are saying that we’re against Muslims. No, Muslims are attacking other Muslims, and we’re bringing in these refugees that have the same ideologies.”
So far, no violence has been reported at any of the demonstrations. But the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted that ACT for America rallies tend to attract a broad range of far-right extremists and anti-government activists.
The group canceled a rally scheduled for Saturday in Batesville, Arkansas, after it was revealed that the organizer was a prominent neo-Nazi, Billy Roper.
In San Bernardino, police spokeswoman Eileen Hards told a reporter, “There’s an anti-Trump, a pro-Trump, anti-extremists, so there are a variety of messages here.
“There are so many messages going on that I’m not sure who’s who,” Hards added.