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ACT’s Anti-Muslim Message Fertile Ground for Oath Keepers

The image from nationwide rallies this past weekend seems quite clear: The country’s largest anti-Muslim organization with close ties to the Trump Administration, ACT! for America, is welding its bonds with armed militia and Patriot groups, including Oath Keepers.

The image from nationwide rallies this past weekend seems quite clear: The country’s largest anti-Muslim organization with close ties to the Trump Administration, ACT! for America, is welding its bonds with armed militia and Patriot groups, including Oath Keepers.

Formed in 2009, Oath Keepers is a loosely knit band of former police officers and military veterans who believe their armed presence will save the United States from a broad-array of conspiracies.

Stewart Rhodes, its founder and president, is a Yale-educated attorney, who was disbarred for not being licensed to practice in Arizona. 

In April 2014, Rhodes and a contingent of Oath Keepers showed up at the Nevada ranch of Cliven Bundy and were part of an armed standoff with federal agents attempting to round up Bundy's cattle for non-payment of grazing fees.

Later that year, Oath Keepers showed up in Ferguson, Missouri, during racial unrest there in the weeks following the death of Michael Brown on Aug. 9, 2014. Members of the group stood armed on the roofs of white-owned business, proclaiming they were protecting life and property. Oath Keepers, usually armed, also have shown up at other antigovernment disputes, including the

2015 standoff at the Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon. There, Oath Keepers and other militia-style Patriots said they were defending the mine operators who had failed to file an operations plan with the Bureau of Land Management.

The Oath Keepers declared "victory" when a judge issued an order stopping the BLM from taking action against the mine operators.

In latest turn, Rhodes issued a “call to action” last week after, he claims, ACT! for America, a hate group, asked for armed protection at events Saturday in more than two dozen cities in 19 states.

ACT! asked the Oath Keepers for “security” help, even though the anti-Muslim organization calls itself the National Rifle Assocation “of national security” and the nation’s “largest non-profit, non-partisan, grassfoots organization with 500,000 members and 1,000 volunteer groups.”

An informal survey of the ACT rallies in 28 cities showed a presence of either Oath Keepers, members of III Percent militia groups and other state-based militias or members of a pro-Trump, fight-club-mentality startup called the Proud Boys.

The Council on American Islamic Relations said the so-called “anti-Sharia law” rallies, with Oath Keepers doing guard duty, were nothing more than anti-Islamic bigotry.

 CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, said the anti-Islam rallies  — posturing the notion that Islamic Sharia law religious tenets are about to swamp America — were  greatly overshadowed by counter-demonstrators.

 “The anti-Islam rallies were a bust,” CAIR’s executive director Ibrahim Hooper told the Washington Post.

“We’ve seen a tremendous rise in the level of anti-Muslim bigotry in our society — and against minorities of all kinds — but we’ve also seen a tremendous rise in support,” Hooper said.

Oath Keepers and other militia and Patriot groups were center-stage in most of the 28 cities where anti-Sharia rallies were held.

Missing the action, it seems, was ACT’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, also known as Brigitte Tudor, a staunch supporter of Donald Trump. The president’s embattled former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, now under FBI investigation, and current adviser Walid Phares,  are both advisers to ACT’s board.

While Gabriel claims she’s anti-sharia, not anti-Muslim, many speakers at Saturday’s rallies blasted Islam as the number one enemy facing the United States.

In the run-up to Saturday, Rhodes urged his Oath Keepers to make ACT’s anti-Muslim rallies a top priority. “I also call on all Oath Keepers … to reach out to other local patriotic groups and invite them to participate as well.,” Rhodes said. He answered the “call to action” himself, showing up at a rally in Dallas.

But there in Texas and in most other cities there was little or no violence and, mostly, ACT demonstrators were greatly outnumbered by opposing demonstrators including antifa activists. There were a handful of arrests in Seattle, St. Paul and San Bernadino. 

On the fringes at some locales, capitalizing on the anti-Muslim fear-mongering, there were white nationalist and supremacists, including neo-Nazi Billy Roper. He held court at his own anti-Sharia rally in Batesville, Arkansas, after getting disinvited from being a host at an ACT-sponsored rally, thanks to an investigative report last week by this news blog.

Undeterred by being booted by ACT honchos, and piggy-backing on the anti-Islam theme, Roper posed at his rally on Saturday, holding a sign that said, “Diversity=White Genocide,”  implying  that racial separation, not Islam, is his message.

Racists also crept into ACT rallies elsewhere.

In Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, a group called Vanguard America said it wants all Muslims removed from the United States, according to media reports.

Meanwhile, in Roseville, California, white nationalist Nathan Damigo, the founder of Identity Evropa, used the anti-Sharia rally there to garner attention for his racist organization. A reported dozen members of the same organization, which seeks a whites-only state,  showed up at a rally New York City

The white supremacists, it appears, weren’t going to be excluded from the anti-Islam demonstrations or let the gun-toting Oath Keepers capture all the chest-pounding bravado. 

With the less-than-subtle suggestion that local police couldn’t possibly keep the peace without “volunteer security” from Oath Keepers, Rhodes’ organization called upon support from its allies, Bikers for Trump, Two Million Bikers, American Civil Defense, various Three Percenter organizations, The Proud Boys, and other Patriots who volunteered at the anti-Sharia rallies.

 “Expect to work with them as a ‘combined arms’ effort, just as we have successfully done numerous times now at free speech rallies and marches across the nation, such as in Berkeley, California, Boston, Massachusetts, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania and Portland, Oregon,” Rhodes said.

Rhodes said his Oath Keepers — mostly with law enforcement and military backgrounds — were there to protect ACT rally speakers “who feared for their safety because they had taken a hard stance against Sharia law and specifically against female genital mutilation, honor killings, persecution of homosexuals, and so forth.”

Of course, the ACT-sponsored rallies gave Oath Keepers another chance to wave its banner on the national stage, recruit new members and — perhaps most importantly — solicit funds from guilty-feeling sympathesizers would couldn’t show up at any of the rallies.

“Remember, nearly anyone can help in some way, regardless of your age or physical limitations,” Rhodes said on the organization’s web site, pleading,  “If you cannot make it to help us with security, please donate to help us cover the costs of this nationwide operation.”

It clearly seemed like a renewed image-making campaign for Oath Keepers.

Rhodes urged his Oath Keepers to leave their camo-clothing at home and to not wear all-black gear, “which is what Antifa tends to wear.” He also told his followers to “not wear masks … [or] brown shirts to help avoid giving the leftist media an easy way to attack us all as somehow being fascists just because of the color of our clothing.” 

Adding a bit of drama, he told he followers to “wear body armor” and even be ready for suicide bombers, radical jihadists and active shooters using vehicles as weapons.

None of those events occurred, but Rhodes undoubtedly will claim that’s only because of the unmatched protection provided by his Oath Keepers.

Sam Jackson, a doctoral candidate studying the Patriot and militia movements at Syracuse University, watched the anti-Sharia demonstrators and counter-demonstrators scream at each other, but generally avoid contact, at Saturday’s rally in that New York city.

“This seems to be another way for the Patriot-militia movement to depict the nation as under some sort of existential threat that requires a paramilitary force,” he said of the role that Oath Keepers attempted to fulfill. 

Oath Keepers, he said, “describe a situation where the government is not up to the task of defending the nation from radical leftists or jihadist terrorists, and that, somehow, armed citizens can improve security.”

 “While Oath Keepers call for ‘quiet professionals who are level headed, calm under pressure, and competent,’ video footage reveals that some of their members act in ways that encourage violence rather than preventing it,” Jackson said.

“It is provocative, to say the least, to have civilians dressed up in tactical gear with long rifles who claim to be defending free speech.”

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