Earlier this month, organizers planned approximately 20 anti-Islam rallies across the U.S., putting Muslims, mosques, local government, and law enforcement officials on high alert, USA Today reported. Community leaders nationwide urged Muslim citizens to take precautions in anticipation the demonstrations could turn violent.
According to Heidi Beirich, who serves as director of the Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, the rallies represent a new level of anti-Islam sentiment in the United States.
"We've never had this many events targeting mosques in this kind of national way. This is widespread in a way that these things have not been before."Organized by the deceptively-named Global Rally for Humanity, the demonstrations are a sharp underscore of the growing anti-Islam sentiment in the U.S., which Beirich says has been driven by the refugee crisis in Europe and racist rhetoric on the campaign trail.
The organization asks supporters to create a Facebook page for each protest, which asks supporters to gather in front of "every mosque in the country." Although the Facebook page does not list a specific contact, the Center for New Community in Chicago named organizer Jon Ritzheimer as the main architect of the protests.
Ritzheimer already staged a heavily armed protest in May of this year outside of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix and said he hoped to see similar events happen nationwide.
Still, the protests were largely billed as open carry events, with participants encouraged to come bearing firearms, prompting Rev. John C. Dorhauer of the United Church of Christ (UCC) to issue a call for congregations to stand up next to Muslims and show their support of religious freedom.
"I want to say as clearly as I can, and in no uncertain terms, that the United Church of Christ stands in full solidarity with people of the Muslim faith. Their contribution to peace, to humanity and to the goodness of all is to be celebrated. The United Church of Christ deplores the narrow-mindedness that fails to see this and seeks instead to engender fear, hatred and anxiety."The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil-rights organization, also reported that the anti-Islam hate rallies did not realize the turnout they had hoped for. Instead, CAIR says interfaith partners turned out at mosques nationwide to show their support during the rallies for the Muslim community, which has been predictably shaken by the wave of anti-Islamic sentiment.
"We are pleased that what was planned as a campaign of hate and marginalization turned instead into a show of support for the American Muslim community and for religious inclusion."Despite these efforts by a variety of civil rights and faith-based organizations, officials at the Council on American-Islamic Relations encourage Muslims to request a police presence at mosques where protests are planned in an effort to deter violence. Also, more than a dozen other Muslim organizations announced a voter registration campaign in early October and aim to sign up at least 20,000 new voters by the Super Tuesday presidential primaries March 1 of 2016.
"The voter-registration events will take place at mosques and Islamic community centers nationwide and will be open to the non-Muslim public."Although there were originally more than three-dozen anti-Islam rallies planned, several were cancelled and others reportedly saw restricted access to their Facebook pages. Regardless of the less than impressive turnout at the events, however, Ibrahim Mumin, who serves as director of community relations for the Masjid Muhammad mosque told USA Today that the Muslim community feels threatened by the protests.
"In one of their emails, they said they were going to bring 3,000 people to Washington D.C., in front of our mosque, and they instructed them to bring their weapons. We consider that kind of a threat."[Photo by Peter Macdiarmid / Getty Images]