ACT for America, the largest anti-Muslim organization in the U.S., raises the curtain today on its seventh annual national conference, talking place at the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia.
ACT’s conference, which brings together dedicated activists, anti-Muslim leaders and nativist politicians, comes at a time when ACT is in crisis-response mode.
Civil rights activists have criticized Marriott heavily for allowing a hate group to use its facilities, with media reports in major outlets including the Washington Post and The New York Times prompting a response from the Marriott CEO.
Brigitte Gabriel, ACT’s founder, did not take kindly to the Marriott protests, defending her organization by tweeting that they have Muslim members, and that a speaker at the 2016 conference is a practicing Muslim. The speaker she referred to is Raheel Raza, a woman who works for another anti-Muslim hate group, the Clarion Project. Raza’s views certainly resonate with the ACT constituents. In 2014, Raza published an open letter to all Canadians on her website. The letter called for all mosques in Canada to be shut for three months in order to scrutinize the Imams’ past sermons and demanded a moratorium on immigration from Muslim countries “’til matters settle down.”
Last month ACT had planned to host over 60 anti-Muslim rallies around the country, dubbed “America First” events. But following Charlottesville’s Unite the Right, ACT cancelled its events as civil rights organizations such as the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Center for New Community pointed out that ACT’s events would likely attract white nationalist and neo-Nazi groups, as they did at ACT’s smaller “March Against Sharia” rallies in June. ACT instead held a “day of action” on September 9, which was nothing more than a three-hour live stream filled with gaffes.
After negative publicity in 2017, ACT is tightening its ranks. This became apparent in August when ACT sent an email to chapter leaders telling them to not talk to any media, as well as a letter which links to ACT’s hastily-created policy statement which claims a zero tolerance stance when it comes to racists in its ranks. ACT released the policy statement after SPLC exposed the fact that a longtime neo-Nazi, Billy Roper,was organizing its Batesville, Arkansas March Against Sharia event. As SPLC and others have pointed out here, here, here and here, ACT simply cannot distance itself from white nationalist groups.
A look at the speaker list for the 2017 conference indicates that ACT is also attempting to tone down the anti-Muslim rhetoric.
Katrina Pierson’s appearance at the ACT conference is an indication of the close ties the organization has to the Trump administration. Pierson served as a spokesperson for the Trump campaign during the 2016 race. Gabriel will also be giving a private tour of Trump’s D.C. hotel to those attending the conference who donate $10,000 to the organization. Gabriel visited the White House earlier in 2017 to present officials with a petition supporting Trump’s Muslim ban. She also dined at his Mar-a-Lago resort at the same time Trump was there entertaining the Chinese president.
The keynote speaker at ACT’s gathering is Brent Bozell, head of the right-wing Media Research Center. Bozell is better known for bashing LGBT persons, which doesn’t mesh well with ACT’s pro-LGBT stance, however some of ACT’s greatest allies are some of the vilest anti-LGBT organizations in the country, such as the Family Research Council (FRC).
For the second year in a row, ACT has chosen not to reveal which legislators will be participating. Part of the conference is a legislative briefing at the Capitol where politicians discuss pressing national security issues with ACT conference-goers. Last year Kansas Rep. Mike Pompeo sponsored the briefing for ACT, now he is the director of the CIA. Rep. Steve King and Rep. Lou Barletta, two men with deep ties to nativist groups submitted videos for ACT’s recent day of action. It is unclear if they, or any Trump administration officials will attend.
What is clear is that ACT members will be descending on Capitol Hill after the legislative briefing to meet with their elected officials armed with anti-Muslim talking points from the organization.