The anti-Islam sentiment that has crept into the mainstream political dialogue in recent weeks may hit a boiling point this weekend, as planned protests outside mosques and Islamic centers across the nation coincide with the commemoration of the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March in Washington, D.C.
A Facebook page called “Global Rally for Humanity” appeared in August urging “patriots” to organize protests at their local mosques on Friday and Saturday. “Global Rally for Humanity” appears to have ties to John Ritzheimer, who rose to prominence among anti-Muslim activists when he organized a protest and “Draw Mohammad” contest in May in Phoenix. Known for his bizarre antics, he recently attracted the attention of U.S. Capitol Police when he vowed in an open letter to arrest Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) over her support for the Iranian nuclear deal.
It’s unclear whether Ritzheimer himself organized the event. He said in a Facebook video posted Aug. 9 that he and others were “planning a global rally to protest against radical Islam,” citing contacts in Canada, Australia and Europe. He also encouraged interested protesters to bring their weapons.
“We’re not going to make you travel,” he said in the video. “If you’ve got a mosque in your city, a mosque in your state, you go there. You voice your opinion there.”
But in a video posted just two days later, Ritzheimer shrugged off responsibility for the event.
“Regardless of what the lying media has already put out there telling you that this was all my mastermind, no, I can’t take credit for such a wonderful rally,” he said in a video posted Aug. 11. “But I support it 100 percent.”
Both of those videos were shared on the Global Rally for Humanity’s Facebook page.
The Center for the New Community, an organization that tracks nativist movements, compiled a map of at least 20 cities across the country where Global Rally for Humanity protests were being organized:
It’s unclear how many people actually will turn out for the events. A protest in Huntsville, Alabama lists 25 planned attendees; a rally in Murfreesboro, Tennessee lists 33 planned attendees. The Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in particular has been a lightning rod in recent years as some local residents fought an ultimately unsuccessful legal battle to try to shut it down. It’s also been a frequent target for hate crimes.
The largest protest appears to be in Ritzheimer’s home base of Phoenix, where 98 people are listed as planning to attend.
Still, the Council on American-Islamic Relations released a statement Monday urging Muslim leaders to take extra precautions ahead of the planned demonstrations. The statement noted that protesters may be armed.
“Many of these planned rallies may not take place, or they may consist of only a handful of people shouting slurs at worshipers,” the statement read. “But given the recent endorsement of Islamophobia by national public figures, it would only be prudent for mosque and community leaders to prepare for any eventuality.”
In recent weeks, Islam indeed has been a point of contention in the Republican presidential primary race. Retired neurosurgeon Dr. Ben Carson came under fire for suggesting the Constitution and Islam were incompatible when he said that he didn’t believe a Muslim would be fit to serve as President. Weeks before Carson made those comments, Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump was criticized for refusing to correct a man who said President Barack Obama was a Muslim and not an American.
But while CAIR is concerned about violence against Islamic institutions this weekend, it appears the U.S. Capitol Police are concerned about potential violence stemming from a Saturday rally on the National Mall organized by the Nation Of Islam.
The Nation of Islam, led by the controversial Louis Farrakhan, is holding a “Justice or Else!” rally to mark the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, a civil rights demonstration that drew hundreds of thousands of people to the National Mall. Farrakhan also organized the 1995 Million Man March.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday on a newsletter distributed last month via email from the Capitol Police’s intelligence office to some 1,800 officers. The newsletter warned that “given today’s negative racial climate and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement there are legitimate concerns that the second march may not be as peaceful.”
The newsletter’s language was harshest when referring to Farrakhan, who the letter said has been described as “incendiary, antagonistic, confrontational” and a “race-baiter,” according to the report. The newsletter also cited a YouTube promo video for the “Justice or Else!” rally in which it said Farrakhan appeared to “appeal to black men to seek revenge for alleged injustices by killing whites.”
Capitol Police Chief Kim Dine told The Washington Post in a statement that the newsletter “does not reflect the viewpoint or values of the United States Capitol Police, nor was it intended to provide instruction or guidance to our employees.”
The “Justice or Else!” rally’s national organizer, Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, declined to comment to the newspaper on the newsletter. But Mohammad assured the Post that the rally would be peaceful.
“We stand on our track record,” he said, as quoted by the Post. “At the Million Man March there were no incidents. At the Million Family March, there were no incidents. We have a track record of mobilizing large numbers of people with no incident. We look forward to a peaceful gathering on Saturday.”