Brigitte Gabriel, born Hanan Qahwaji, claims ACT for America was launched as a response to the 9/11 attacks and “educates citizens and elected officials to impact policy involving national security and defeating terrorism.” 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 hate speech demonizing Muslims.
ACT for America is listed as an anti-Muslim hate group because it pushes wild anti-Muslim conspiracy theories, denigrates American Muslims and sows fear about Islam in the United States.
Gabriel has said that any practicing Muslim “cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States.” In a 2011 appearance on CNN, Gabriel said: “America has been infiltrated on all levels by radicals who wish to harm America. They have infiltrated us at the CIA, at the FBI, at the Pentagon, at the State Department. They’re being radicalized in radical mosques, in our cities and communities within the United States.”
In their own words
“Unless the West wakes up to the fact that their culture and way of life is eroding through immigration from the Islamic world, the values of the Islamic world will soon overtake us.” – Brigitte Gabriel, RISE: In Defense of Judeo-Christian Values and Freedom, 2018
“A massive wave of third-world immigration has been engulfing America for half a century, yet all American citizens hear about from the ‘lamestream’ media is what a racist, intolerant country we live in. If we don’t openly accept millions of individuals who have no desire to embrace the language, culture, and values that made America the greatest country in the history of the world, we must be racists.” – ACT for America 2018 press release for Brigitte Gabriel’s book RISE: In Defense of Judeo-Christian Values and Freedom
“Europe will no longer be Europe by 2050. Europe has already become Eurabia. Europe is Eurabia right now.” – Brigitte Gabriel on Breitbart News, Sept. 26, 2015
“They are people from Libya, Tunisia, Eritrea, Egypt, the Horn of Africa. ...They are people trying to suck off of the people from the West. They know they can get a free ticket for money. They are not coming here to build empires and become great businessmen and entrepreneurs. They are coming here to get the free checks from you and me who work very hard to pay our taxes.” – Brigitte Gabriel on Breitbart News, Sept. 26, 2015
“The radicals are estimated to be between 15 to 25 percent according to all intelligence services around the world. That leaves 75 percent of them peaceful people. But when you look at 15 to 25 percent of the world Muslim population you’re looking at 180 to 300 million people dedicated to the destruction of Western civilization.” – Brigitte Gabriel making a wildly inaccurate claim during a Heritage Foundation panel, 2014
“America has been infiltrated on all levels by radicals who wish to harm America. 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.” – Brigitte Gabriel on CNN, 2011
“Islam has created and unleashed an uncontrollable wave of hatred and rage on the world, and we must brace ourselves for the consequences. Going forward we must realize that the portent behind the terrorist attacks is the purest form of what the Prophet Mohammed created. It’s not radical Islam. It’s what Islam is at its core.” – Brigitte Gabriel, They Must Be Stopped, 2008.
“Practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah … who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day – this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.” – Brigitte Gabriel during a course at the Department of Defense’s Joint Forces Staff College, 2007
“I began to realize that the Arab Muslim world, because of its religion and culture, is a natural threat to civilized people of the world, particularly Western civilization.” – Brigitte Gabriel, Because They Hate, 2006.
ACT for America first took shape in the form of a group called American Congress for Truth, which had three unpaid officers including Gabriel in 2004, according to Politico. American Congress for Truth was replaced with ACT for America in 2007.
Before she started ACT, Gabriel, a Lebanese Christian who became an American citizen, found her place among a cottage industry of disinformation peddlers that appeared after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Among the U.S.’s “War on Terror,” figures such as Gabriel were able to tap into an audience filled with fear and uncertainty to spread bigotry about Muslims and Islam. Brigitte Gabriel is a pseudonym for Brigitte Tudor aka Hanan Qahwaji.
Gabriel was able to build a brand for herself by leveraging her story of growing up during Lebanese civil war. She often cites this as being her 9/11 and that she is committed to preventing such a conflict happening in her adopted country of the United States. Her first book Because They Hate: A Survivor of Islamic Terror Warns America, published in 2006, is centered on this issue.
Gabriel has been known to simplify the war as a conflict between Muslims and Christians. Scholars and historians have disputed this, including Yvonne Haddad, a Syrian Arab-Christian and Georgetown University historian who has lived in Lebanon. In an interview with Buzzfeed in 2016, Haddad said, “her narrative is not historically accurate.” Nathan Lean, author of The Islamophobia Industry, points out that Gabriel blames Hezbollah for declaring war on Lebanon’s Christians in 1975, but the organization was not founded until seven years later in 1982.
In 2008, Gabriel published her second book, They Must Be Stopped: Why We Must Defeat Radical Islam and How We Can Do It. “In the Muslim world, extreme is mainstream,” Gabriel wrote in the introduction. She later writes: “It is not yet politically correct to talk about a religious war. But this is exactly what we are facing: a religious war declared by devout Muslims.”
Both books helped Gabriel situate herself as a “terrorism expert” despite their being steeped in anti-Islam commentary and her having a penchant for stoking anti-Muslim animus.
In 2007, Gabriel gave a lecture to the Defense Department’s Joint Forces Staff College as part of a course on Islam. She reportedly told U.S. military and national security personnel that Muslims should be prohibited from serving in public office on the basis of their faith, stating, “If a Muslim who has – who is – a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day – this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.”
The New York Times said of Gabriel in a 2011 article: “She presents a portrait of Islam so thoroughly bent on destruction and domination that it is unrecognizable to those who study or practice the religion. She has found a receptive audience among Americans who are legitimately worried about the spread of terrorism.”
Gabriel dreamed of starting a national organization focused on so-called national security. She recruited Guy Rodgers to help. The fledgling ACT hired Rodgers as its first executive director in 2007. The move was a strategic one. Rodgers previously worked as a national field director for Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition. (Gabriel once worked for Robertson’s Christian television network).
As Nathan Lean writes, “Realizing the success of the Christian Coalition’s targeted ‘voter guide,’ Rodgers applied a similar strategy with ACT. He crafted a systematic campaign to build local groups of activists who, fearful of another September 11th, vowed to help him block the inroads of Muslim influence in America.”
Rodgers claims credit for increasing ACT’s base, boasting on his LinkedIn account that he achieved 50% growth for the organization in the first four years.
In 2010, as the number of ACT chapters and members increased, the organization announced its first “National Conference and Legislative Briefing” which took place in Washington, D.C. The conference brought together Islamophobic speakers, ACT chapter activists, and national lawmakers to discuss concerns with Islam and Muslims under the guise of protecting national security. ACT would continue to hold similar events in subsequent years.
The legislative briefing segment of the conference was another indication of ACT’s budding ties with elected officials, with many of them taking time out of their schedules to talk to ACT members about pressing national security topics. At the 2010 conference, ACT presented its “Patriot Award” to then-U.S. Rep. Peter King of New York. King once said that there were “too many mosques in this country ” and later questioned the loyalty of Muslim Americans in the time of war.
When presenting King with the award, Gabriel indicated how much ACT prizes its relationships with elected officials and how critical they are to advancing ACT’s agenda. Gabriel told King, “I cannot tell you how much we appreciate you and how much we are dedicated to make your work on Capitol Hill easier by mobilizing the people and the public, especially in your state, to support you.” King responded, “I want you to know, as I said before, how much I appreciate the work that ACT for America does for our country. Because we are engaged in a brutal war against a brutal enemy, the enemy of Islamic terrorism and so many people in our country choose to look the other way, so many people in our country choose to ignore it, so many people choose to be politically correct.”
Lawmakers were not the only feature of the conferences. During ACT’s 2013 conference, John Guandolo, a former FBI agent turned anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist, unveiled a new website tailored to law enforcement called the Thin Blue Line Project. The website was supposed to be a one-stop internet resource for information concerning the perceived threat of Muslim infiltration and terrorism in the country. One of the more disturbing components of webtool was its “Radicalization Map Locator,” listing the addresses of almost every Muslim Student Association (MSA) in the country as well as a number of mosques and Islamic institutions – all listed as suspected national security concerns. The Thin Blue Line website has since become defunct.
ACT’s legislative priorities: Stoking Sharia hysteria and more
One of ACT’s main tactics is to push anti-Muslim legislation both at the federal and local levels. In 2008, ACT began a campaign called Stop Shariah Now. According to the now-defunct Stop Shariah Now website, the project aimed “to inform and educate the public about what Shariah is, how it is creeping into American society and compromising our constitutional freedom of speech, press, religion and equality what we can do to stop it.” In an interview with the Center for American Progress, then-ACT staffer Chris Slick detailed how ACT worked closely with Frank Gaffney, head of the anti-Muslim think tank Center for Security Policy to push anti-Sharia legislation at the state level.
Anti-Sharia laws, often billed as American Laws for American Courts, were drafted by anti-Muslim figure and Center for Security Policy general counsel, David Yerushalmi, who equates Sharia with Islamic extremism and advocates criminalizing virtually any practice compliant with Sharia. Sharia is a set of religious principles and practices akin to halakha for many religiously observant Jews.
Legal experts call such anti-Sharia measures superfluous because there is no mechanism by which any foreign criminal or civil code can trump U.S. laws. By the summer of 2013, however, anti-foreign law measures had passed in Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Arizona, Tennessee, South Dakota, North Carolina, Louisiana and Kansas. Since 2010, there have been at least 201 anti-Sharia laws introduced in 43 states.
At the federal level, ACT identifies national security bills, which it deems “high priority legislation” and requests that its members encourage elected officials to support them.
ACT’s 2015 conference listed no fewer than 15 elected federal officials as speakers, with part of the event taking place at the Capitol. Despite its hateful rhetoric toward Muslims, ACT’s efforts to build relationships with elected officials have been effective – both on a federal and state level.
Fixating on textbooks
ACT has been at the forefront of stoking anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. One that ACT built a campaign around is the idea that public school textbooks and curriculum are proselytizing for Islam. Anti-Muslim groups often assert that exposing students to Islam or teaching about it in a balanced way is Islamic propaganda.
In 2012, ACT’s education arm released a lengthy report titled, “Education or Indoctrination? The Treatment of Islam in 6th through 12th Grade American Textbooks.” The report claimed to examine 38 textbooks for how Islam was depicted and concluded:
Perhaps the greatest disservice done to students is the net effect of the accumulation of these errors the creation of a faulty historical narrative that not only misrepresents Islam but creates an inaccurate comparison between Islam, Christianity and Judaism, and between the Muslim world and the West. Regardless of the issue — slavery, conquest and imperialism, the Crusades, the Arab-Israeli conflict, to name a few — Islam and the Muslim world are not generally held to the same rigor of historical analysis that the textbooks apply to Christianity, Judaism and the West.
The report recommended that ACT activists take the textbook fight to their local school boards, with some heeding the call.
Larry Houck, the founder of ACT’s Birmingham, Alabama chapter, tried to remove 11 textbooks from state schools due to their alleged bias in favor of Islam. He was ultimately unsuccessful. In January 2014, the Alabama school board voted 5-2 to approve the textbooks. Houck wrote a letter to the board claiming the books "proselytize for Islam."
Roy White, the former head of the ACT chapter in San Antonio, Texas, led ACT’s textbook efforts. White’s Truth in Textbooks operation merged under the ACT umbrella in 2015 and he expanded the operation to California. White was removed as an ACT chapter leader in 2017 following allegations that he advertised a chapter meeting where activists would learn how to “shut down mosques” in their area. White’s firing caused a significant backlash, as he was a popular leader. Many ACT members saw nothing wrong with the allegations leveled against him. He subsequently created Truth in Textbooks, a non-profit organization seeking to continue his efforts, and has hosted two “trainings.”
ACT went into panic mode and sent out a not-so-subtle warning to its activists in an attempt to save face. “In no way, does our organization advocate, or tolerate bigotry, or threats of violence toward anyone, especially because of which God they may choose to worship” and following it up with, “To be clear: any ACT for America member that propagates such ideas antithetical to the values of our organization will have their membership revoked immediately” the warning, in the form of an email read.
Opposing and attempting to dismantle refugee resettlement programs has been a strategy of ACT over the years. The anti-Muslim network has sought to halt such programs since many of those displaced are from Muslim majority countries.
In 2011, ACT helped pass anti-refugee legislation in Tennessee giving the state the option to weigh the economic costs of resettling refugees. In 2015, when Syrian refugee relocation was at its height, ACT launched a working group to push back against the federal resettlement program and “ensure that this broken system is fixed, and that potential terrorists are kept on the outside looking in.” In a 2015 email to supporters, ACT announced plans to expand the effort to as many states as possible. “We are happy to announce that we will soon be working to see similar, enhanced, legislation of this nature introduced and passed in all 50 state legislatures,” it read.
To bolster its anti-refugee efforts, ACT also began cultivating a relationship with Ann Corcoran, who runs the hate blogsite Refugee Resettlement Watch. Gabriel invited Corcoran to speak at ACT’s 2015 national conference where one of the main topics was opposition to Syrian refugees. Before the conference, Gabriel wrote about how “thrilled” she was to have Corcoran speaking at the event.
ACT has supported legislative efforts to ban refugees, such as Rep. Brian Babin’s 2015 Resettlement Accountability National Security Act, which sought a moratorium on resettlement initiatives. Babin has appeared at ACT’s national conferences.
ACT’s ties to anti-LGBTQ hate groups
ACT’s first foray into the anti-LGBTQ movement dates back to 1984 when Gabriel first served as an anchor for Pat Robertson’s Middle East Television. Since then, she has been a regular guest on the radio shows of anti-LGBTQ figures such as Sandy Rios. Rios is a radio host with the anti-LGBTQ hate group American Family Association, which also has a lengthy history of demonizing Muslims and immigrants.
In 2015, Gabriel spoke about the “Threat of Radical Islam” at the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council’s Watchman at the Wall conference, an event that routinely attracts some of the most prominent anti-LGBTQ figures.
Gabriel has also spoken at the Values Voter Summit, including in 2017 and 2018. Values Voter Summit is organized by the Family Research Council and its action arm.
ACT operates a network of semi-autonomous chapters across the country. While the chapters take directives from the national ACT organization, they are encouraged to add disclaimers that they do not necessarily represent or speak for ACT for America as a whole. ACT has claimed to have one million members and over 1,000 chapters, though how they count or classifies each is unknown. However, the group has activated its chapter network to lobby lawmakers and support ACT in other endeavors.
ACT chapters have sometimes promoted bigoted rhetoric that the national organization has had to reign in or distance themselves from. On Feb. 16, 2017, North Carolina ACT member Robert Goodwill was recorded by a Triad City Beat reporter in a conversation with a man who argued that all Muslims in America should be killed. Goodwill’s response to the repeated calls to murder Muslims was “we’re not there yet.”
In March 2017, ACT was in the headlines again its Central Oklahoma chapter’s logo appeared on a questionnaire distributed to Muslim constituents by anti-Muslim Rep. John Bennett’s staff. One of the questions asked was, “Do you beat your wife?”
Two years later, in March 2019, Brenda Arthur, who headed the Charleston, West Virginia, ACT chapter, organized an anti-Muslim display as part of the West Virginia Republican Party Day.
Arthur had a table featuring a poster of the World Trade Center on fire with the caption: “'Never forget' – You said.” It was juxtaposed with an image of Rep. Omar with another caption that read, “I am the proof you have forgotten.” The poster was next to another sign featuring ACT’s logo. Arthur is also seen wearing an ACT for America T-shirt.
ACT for America’s national office attempted to distance themselves from the display. The group issued a statement saying, “This was NOT an ACT for America display” and adding that anyone claiming to be with ACT was “doing so without the permission and approval” from the national organization. The group previously called Arthur “one of our most influential activists.” She has since stepped away.
Arthur is not the only one to express dissatisfaction with ACT. In 2017 and 2018, chapter members in Idaho, Montana and Maine left ACT, citing disapproval of the national leadership. In 2018, the Treasure Valley, Idaho, chapter leadership announced plans to dissolve and form a new group, G416 Patriots of Idaho. The chapter sent around an email stating: “The national leadership of this organization is losing focus on what was the original mission – to increase the awareness of Islam and its threat to our country and our culture. … We do believe that some of their recent activities such as ‘Back the Blue,’ ‘Stop Sanctuary Cities,’ and ‘Build the Wall,’ are important and need tobe [sic] done – but that was not why many of us became members.”
The chapter also noted the national office’s “continuous requests for donations have turned off many of our members.”
ACT deleted its map of chapters from its website in March 2017. While boasting at the time of having 1,000 chapters, the map itself contained fewer than 500 before it was taken down. SPLC research indicated that in fact about one-tenth of the 500 or so ACT chapters on the original map were actually active.
ACT and the Trump administration
ACT saw an ally in Donald Trump when he was elected president in 2016. Not only had candidate Trump advocated policies that align with ACT’s agenda like banning Muslims, but he would also go on to stack his administration with allies to the Islamophobic group. In a Nov. 29, 2016, email to supporters, the group wrote of having “a direct line to President-elect Trump through our allies such as General Michael Flynn, Walid Phares, and Rep. Mike Pompeo.”
In a follow-up email from Gabriel on Dec. 13, 2016, she wrote ACT “is immeasurably optimistic about the future” and that her group "has played a fundamental role in shaping his views and suggested policies with respect to radical Islam.” Some of the “inside baseball” items ACT recommended to the incoming Congress and Trump administration included, “Eliminate the Federal Refugee Resettlement program” and “Launch a series of congressional briefings on essential topics related to radical Islam.”
Michael Flynn served as an advisor to ACT’s board of directors and would later be appointed Trump’s national security advisor. Flynn characterized Islam as “a cancer” during a 2016 tour promoting his book, The Field of Fight: How We Can Win the Global War Against Radical Islam and Its Allies. Local ACT chapters organized a number of stops on his speaking tour. In September of 2016, Flynn was also the keynote speaker at ACT’s national conference in Washington, D.C.
Mike Pompeo, who would serve as Trump’s CIA director and secretary of state, previously appeared at ACT’s conference in Washington, D.C. He received the group’s "National Security Eagle Award” in 2016. That same year he reserved the auditorium for ACT to have their legislative briefing on Capitol Hill. Pompeo previously addressed ACT’s national conference in 2013 and 2015.
In 2017, with allies in the administration, Gabriel herself visited the White House to deliver a petition in support of President Trump’s Muslim ban. During ACT’s annual conference in 2018 Gabriel bragged about her influence in the White House, telling attendees she works “very closely with the office of the President” on talking points and issues.
“I actually want you to know we have a standing meeting at the White House once a week,” Gabriel said to applause. “We have a president that likes us, President Trump.” Details about these meetings and what entailed have not been confirmed. On Feb. 18, 2020, Gabriel posted pictures of herself at the White House on Instagram with the caption: “Having fun fighting for our country at the White House.” She is seen wearing a badge that reads, “appointment.”
In 2019, ACT sought to hold a fundraising gala at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago, with tickets starting at $1,500. The gathering was billed as a "National Security Dinner Gala” and advertised special political and legislative guests had been invited. After SPLC broke the story and other news media outlets reported on it, the Trump Organization reneged and canceled the event. “This event will absolutely not be taking place at Mar-a-Lago,” a representative for the Trump Organization said in a statement.
March Against Sharia
In June 2017, ACT planned a series of nationwide rallies billed as the “March Against Sharia.” Rallies were planned in approximately 28 cities and 20 and was mainly organized by then-ACT staffer Scott Presler. The private Facebook page used to organize the events was full of extreme anti-Muslim and white nationalist rhetoric.
SPLC broke the news that longtime neo-Nazi Billy Roper was organizing ACT’s rally scheduled in Batesville, Arkansas, on June 6. Roper promoted the event on Stormfront, the neo-Nazi message board founded by former Klan leader Don Black. Roper wrote, “Yes, we are the organizers for the March Against Sharia rally in Batesville, Arkansas, this coming Saturday, June 10th, at noon, at the RiverSide Park at the main concert stage. I will be giving a speech on the progress of Arkansas' state anti-Sharia law, and discussing Muslim immigration in general.” In response, ACT dropped Roper and put a disclaimer on its website.
However, the nationwide rallies of June 10, 2017, attracted a swath of white nationalists and neo-Nazis to the events. At the New York City march, Richard Rivera, a spokesperson for Vanguard America, a neo-Nazi group, attended and spoke to media, telling The Washington Post, “I don’t believe in having Muslims in the United States. Their culture is incompatible with ours.” Members associated with the white nationalist hate group Identity Evropa also attended various ACT rallies that day. Identity Evropa’s regional coordinator Jason Richardson spoke at the Indianapolis March Against Sharia.
In Orlando, members affiliated with Identity Evropa held up a large banner calling to “End Islamic Immigration” while listening to antisemite Augustus Sol Invictus and others speak. Nathan Damigo, the founder and former head of Identity Evropa, attended the Roseville, California, rally. In Atlanta, the III% Security Force provided “security” for the ACT rally. The III% Security Force, run by Chris Hill, has participated in numerous anti-Muslim demonstrations including organizing an armed protest against the construction of a mosque, which Hill said would lead to a “future ISIS training group.”
Continuing ACT’s mission
On Sept. 11, 2018, Gabriel published her third book, titled RISE: In Defense of Judeo-Christian Values and Freedom. In one chapter, titled “Replacement Civilization,” Gabriel writes, “Unless the West wakes up to the fact that their culture and way of life is eroding through immigration from the Islamic world, the values of the Islamic world will soon overtake us.”
She notes in the book that “all cultures are not equal” and “In the West we celebrate life. In the Islamic world they celebrate death.” Gabriel embarked on a multi-city tour to promote the book.
In March 2018, ACT circulated an email claiming progressive advocates are striving for the “total destruction of the Judeo-Christian values that Western civilization was built upon.” After U.K.-based, anti-Muslim provocateur Tommy Robinson was originally found guilty of contempt of court in May 2018 and sentenced to 13 months in prison, Gabriel penned an article calling the decision a “direct result of cultural suicide and a rejection of western Judeo-Christian values.”
While ACT remains a core group pushing Islamophobia, they have expanded their messaging and activism to broader conservative causes. In 2018, ACT’s activism was scattershot. In March of that year, the group launched a law-enforcement appreciation initiative called “Back the Blue.”
ACT increased its focus on undocumented immigrants in 2018, specifically ramping up anti-sanctuary city rhetoric and support for nativist-leaning legislation.
In 2020, ACT joined other far-right groups in fearmongering about China and the coronavirus.
Gabriel and her group came to the defense of Trump for his xenophobic remarks about China, while ramping up their anti-China rhetoric on social media.
“China must pay for the Americans killed by this virus!” Gabriel tweeted in March 2020. In another tweet that same day, she wrote that the U.S. can no longer rely on China. “The days of unregulated globalism are over – the America First agenda has to come first!”
ACT also tweeted in March 2020: “The term ‘Chinese Virus’ is NOT racist! This virus comes from China!”
In 2021, ACT joined other right-wing actors in stoking fear and alarmism about critical race theory in schools. In a June 15, 2021, email, the group claimed critical race theory “is POISON and has NO PLACE in our country!”
ACT and Gabriel have also sought to bolster their political connections. In early October 2021, Gabriel was pictured with controversial right-wing Reps. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., and Lauren Boebert, R-Colo., at an invite-only radio and networking event in Washington, D.C., hosted by the anti-immigrant hate group Federation for American Immigration Reform. In an ACT email on Oct. 5, 2021, Gabriel wrote the event was a space “where subject matter experts like me were chosen and invited to discuss the disaster at the border and demand that our elected officials take action.”
In May 2021, SPLC reported on leaked documents appearing to show Gabriel and other Islamophobic figures as being members of the secretive right-wing coalition Council for National Policy. For 40 years, Council for National Policy has brought together influential right-wing leaders, political operatives, conservative media figures, members of the religious right, free-market fundamentalists and donors.