An ACT for America chapter leader made national headlines last week for a display at the West Virginia Capitol that appeared to equate Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn. with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
Brenda Arthur, who heads the Charleston, West Virginia, ACT chapter, organized the anti-Muslim display as part of West Virginia Republican Party Day at the state legislature on March 1.
A poster at Arthur’s table featured a picture 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.
Brenda Arthur is far from unknown to ACT. The national office has touted its affiliation with her and showered the West Virginia chapter leader in accolades.
In an email sent by ACT’s founder and chairman Brigitte Gabriel on March 20, 2018, she called Arthur “one of our most influential activists.” Arthur also had a page dedicated to her on ACT national’s website last year. The page, which has been removed, includes an interview with Arthur that includes an anecdote about how she got involved with the group.
I remember how people were in a state of disbelief after 9/11; they could not believe how this terrorist attack happened in the United States. I saw Brigitte Gabriel on television several times and donated to her organization, ACT for America, which passes legislation to fight against the spread of terrorism.
She recalls contacting ACT’s national office, who reportedly provided her with a cache of information about the refugee resettlement program. “It was at that moment that I made the decision to officially become a member of ACT for America,” Arthur said.
The page concludes with a note from ACT that reads, “Like many ACT for America Chapter Presidents, Brenda is making a difference in her community.”
As reported by the Charleston Gazette-Mail, Arthur said she represented ACT when she presented before the state’s House Homeland Security Committee in 2017. Arthur has been active in opposing the state’s refugee resettlement program. Arthur tried to clarify her poster in an op-ed on March 5, calling it an act of “peaceful protest.”
Gabriel is a well-known anti-Muslim figure and continues to influence the anti-Muslim movement. For years, Gabriel has peddled hateful and divisive rhetoric about Muslims and Islam. As a result, ACT’s ranks have swelled with anti-Muslim activists.
In Gabriel’s 2008 book They Must Be Stopped, Gabriel claims that “terrorist attacks” are the “purest form” of Islam. “It’s not radical Islam,” she writes. “It’s what Islam is at its core.”
In the same book, she claims “radicals” are “drinking their Islam straight.” She continues, “the holy book they read is like a bartender who keeps refilling their glasses, reinforcing and motivating them toward greater atrocities, to be committed while in their religious stupor.”
In her 2006 book Because They Hate, she writes, “It is Islam that declared perpetual war on the non-Muslim world. Unless Islam declares peace, Western civilization must defend itself, or disappear.”
Gabriel has encouraged eyeing Muslim lawmakers and public officials with suspicion. In a 2007 video produced by the nativist group NumbersUSA, Gabriel called to “scrutinize any Muslim running for [public] office.” She expands on this idea in They Must Be Stopped, writing, “Devout Muslims are employing American democratic institutions in their campaign to destroy us.”
Gabriel said in 2007 that a “practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Quran, cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.”
A recent report by The Young Turks revealed that a high-ranking official at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security has ties to ACT for America through his spouse. John Barsa, a DHS staffer who served on President Trump’s transition team and is nominated for a position at the United States Agency for International Development, is married to Lisa Piraneo, ACT’s director of government relations.
This past September, at ACT’s annual conference, Gabriel bragged about her influence in the Trump administration, claiming to have standing weekly meetings at the White House.
Last week’s display received bipartisan condemnation from both local and national lawmakers. West Virginia Republican Party Chair Melody Potter claimed the sign was not approved by her party and that the state GOP does “not approve, condone or support hate speech.”
West Virginia Democratic Delegate Mike Pushkin said of the display: “It’s ugly; it’s hateful; and there’s absolutely no place for it in American politics.”
Screenshot from Twitter