On 10 June 2017, ACT for America — a group that describes itself as "the NRA of national security" is to hold rallies against what it calls "radical Islam" in 28 cities in the United States. The "March Against Sharia" has prompted concerns among Muslim communities due to the involvement of far-right groups and some of the past pronouncements of ACT for America leaders.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has labelled ACT for America (AforA) an "extremist group", the organization was founded in 2007. Its founder, chairman and president, Brigitte Gabriel, is a Lebanon-born Christian and naturalized U.S. citizen. Her biography on the AforA web site describes her as "one of the leading terrorism experts in the world," but does not list any educational qualifications.
In a 2006 book, Gabriel wrote that she has a one-year business administration degree from a YWCA in Marjayoun, Lebanon. She later became a journalist, working for the U.S. evangelist Pat Robertson's Middle East Television network, according to a 2011 report from the The New York Times:
She found refuge in Israel and then moved to the United States, only to find that the Islamic radicals who had terrorized her in Lebanon, she said, were now bent on taking over America.
"America has been infiltrated on all levels by radicals who wish to harm America," she said. "They have infiltrated us at the C.I.A., at the F.B.I., at the Pentagon, at the State Department. They are being radicalized in radical mosques in our cities and communities within the United States."
The AforA web site says, somewhat vaguely:
Ms. Gabriel was knighted in Europe in 2016 for her international work on fighting terrorism and standing up for Western Values.
Some research reveals that she was invested as a Knight of the Order of Malta, a Catholic religious order, in October 2016. Gabriel is also understood to have changed her birth name, and has used a number of aliases in the past.
ACT for America, a 501 (c) 3 tax-exempt non-profit registered in Virginia Beach, claims to have 525,000 members and 1,000 volunteer groups across the U.S. In its file on the group, the Southern Poverty Law Center calls AforA "the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America" and an "extremist group."
Throughout its existence, ACT has stayed true to its mission by working to advance anti-Muslim legislation at the local and federal level while flooding the American public with wild hate speech demonizing Muslims.
However, the group is often careful to deny allegations of racism or Islamophobia, and has publicly distanced itself from troubling associations. AforA's policy statement reads, in part:
ACT for America has never, and will never, tolerate any bias, discrimination, or violence against anyone, based on their religion, gender, race, or political persuasion. Freedom to practice one's religion in peace is afforded to each of us by the U.S. Constitution and we will continue to defend it vigorously...
...We have always been proud to stand shoulder to shoulder with peaceful Western Muslims as well as peaceful Muslims worldwide, who both recognize this threat and have taken bold actions to confront it.
As a result, anyone who traffics in prejudice, or advocates violence in any way towards our moderate Muslim allies does not speak on behalf of ACT for America. Should our organization find out that such beliefs have been propagated by one of our members or anyone claiming to be associated with ACT for America, this organization reserves the right to terminate any relationship, whether actual or apparent, with such person, group or entity and disavow any apparent endorsement of such person, group or entity or such contrary beliefs.
In April 2017, the group ended its association with Roy White, an Air Force veteran who had been President of the San Antonio, Texas chapter of AforA, after he allegedly planned to hold workshops that would train attendees in how to "shut down" mosques.
The evidence that White actually did this is doubtful, but it illustrates the group's readiness to, at times, cut ties with controversial members or supporters.
In the days leading up to the June 2017 "March Against Sharia", AforA cancelled a rally in Arkansas, after it emerged that its organizer was Billy Roper, a prominent white supremacist. And yet, Brigitte Gabriel herself has repeatedly blurred the lines between opposing violent Muslim extremism, in particular, and Islam, in general. At a 2007 conference held by Christians United For Israel, Gabriel said the Arab world was characterized by "evil" and "barbarism":
The difference, my friends, between Israel and the Arabic world, is a difference between civilization and barbarism. It's a difference between goodness and evil.
And this is what we're witnessing in the Arabic world — they have no soul, they are dead-set on killing and destruction.
In a 2008 book, Gabriel questioned the bona fides of Muslim civic groups such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council, calling them "pseudo-moderate groups." Supporters of Act for America often equate extremist fundamentalist Islam with devout Islam, claiming that radical Muslim terrorists are "good Muslims", because they devoutly practice the teachings of Islam, a position that is fiercely disputed by moderate Muslims and scholars.
In an August 2016 discussion (which starts at around 21:25 in the linked video) about Khizr Khan (the father of U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan, who was killed in action in Iraq in 2004 and posthumously received the Purple Heart) Gabriel claimed Khan was "lying either way" by presenting himself as a practicing Muslim who honors the U.S. Constitution:
A practising Muslim cannot, with good conscience, hold the [U.S.] Constitution and say that he abides by the Constitution and lives by the Constitution, because according to Sharia law — which every devout Muslim follows — the Constitution is a man-made law and it cannot be followed.
Gabriel is also reported to have said that a "practising Muslim.. .cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States", although we were unable to find the the original source for that quote.
Friends in high places
Act for America counts among its supporters a number of high-profile political figures. New York Congressman Peter King, in particular, has taken part in the "Act for America Show" on YouTube, and Senator Ted Cruz has spoken at their annual Legislative Briefing in Washington D.C. Former national security adviser Mike Flynn has been a member of the group's Board of Advisors, and Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson is scheduled to speak at AfA's annual conference in October 2017. In March 2017, Gabriel was invited to the White House for a meeting with a member of the Trump administration's "legislative staff."
We asked Act for America several questions relating to this article, but did not receive a response.