I have bad news, good news, and better news.
The bad news: ACT for America is an anti-Muslim group with a worrisome number of victories that have a real impact on Muslim Americans, Muslim immigrants, and those who would welcome them as our neighbors. The group claims 750,000 members and chapters all across the country, though those numbers may be unreliable, given the organization’s history of exaggerating its number of chapters. It also takes credit for a dozen federal and even more state-level bills aimed to curtailing immigration, “securing” the border, and outlawing “sharia law,” a bogeyman they use to scare up support for anti-Muslim policies. The organization, which bills itself as an “grassroots” national security non-profit, organized a multi-city “March Against Sharia” event this past June. ACT for America operates as if its main concerns are women’s rights (which is just a way to gin up outrage at Muslim-majority nations, not an actual effort to protect women’s rights any way that might offend the many conservative Christians who participate in this group), “standing with Israel” (also a direct appeal to conservative Christians and Jewish people), and national security (that is, anti-immigration).
Leaders in ACT for America might pretend to be nice, respectable citizens (In Jonesboro, Arkansas, where the local chapter is quite active, many members are current or retired pastors and lawyers. A prominent local Tea Party politician is also a member.), but they are part of an organization with explicitly racist and violent views. Just one example: the June rally in Arkansas was led by Billy Roper, a former history teacher and one of Arkansas’ more ambitious white supremacists.
In other words, you don’t have to dig very deep beneath ACT for America’s veneer of respectability (Folks who attend conservative churches: See if your church is getting propaganda from this group, please.) to find white supremacists calling for genocide against non-whites of any religion.
Embolded by the Trump administration’s anti-Muslim policies, they’d planned nationwide rallies for September 9.
The good news: The rallies got cancelled. Or, rather, moved to online rallies. The only sad part about this is that it’s always good to see just who in your community would show up to protest the settlement of war refugees in your town so you can be sure to boycott their business.
The better news: They bailed because they saw the counterprotest in Boston. They saw how pathetic the 50-100 white supremacists looked against 15,000K people who won’t accept hate–and they saw that white people, in particular, won’t stand for it. In their comments in Breithbart (No, I’m not linking to it), ACT for America, like their white supremacists president, put neo-Nazis, neo-Confederates, and other white supremacists in the same category as antifascist protestors and said that, by golly, things were just too dangerous–even though the Boston counter protests were remarkably peaceful. But don’t let them lie to you: they aren’t afraid of neo-Nazis and defenders of slavery. They put those folks to work leading the organization! They are afraid of the humiliation of counter protest.
Counterprotests work. For folks wondering if we shouldn’t just ignore protestors, if depriving them of an audience would shut them up–nope.
I’ve shared this story elsewhere, but it’s worth retelling. I learned it from working in hate studies for years now. It comes from insights from a former hate group recruiter who shared it.
You want to recruit in a town. You go in and do a little damage–paint a swastika on the synagogue, for example. If, the next day, the only people cleaning it up are the Jews in town, you stay and recruit. If, the next day, the whole town is there–more people than you can count, more people than could ever be useful in cleaning it up, and they are of every faith and they are happy to be pulling together and they are loud in their proclamation that this won’t stand in their town… then you move on. There’s no reason wasting your time there.
This is how we have to treat hate. We keep it running. When a flyer goes it, you take it down–loudly and repeatedly. When ACT for America makes a reservation for a meeting at a local restaurant, you start a boycott of the restaurant until they deny the group meeting space. When the campus Republican club invites a speaker with ties to white supremacy to campus, you fill up every parking space on campus and the five surrounding blocks hours in advance, and you meet them with on the sidewalk with signs and sousaphones and professional clowns and whatever else the spirit moves you to greet them with–but you let them know that you are watching them and that you are collecting their license plates numbers and calling their bosses to let them know that white supremacists work there and that you’ll be sharing this information on the company’s Yelp page. Call their mama and their grandma too. Make them understand that hate won’t take root on your watch. They’d best just move along.
Above, a photo from the Boston counter protest to white supremacy this past week. A counterprotestor stands behind a sign that says “Keep Your Country Nice and Clean” and includes an image of a figure tossing a swastika into the garbage can.