An anti-Muslim hate group that claims to have close ties to the White House is hosting its annual gala at President Donald Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort, with tickets starting at $1,500.
ACT for America is going in a new direction with the Mar-a-Lago event in Palm Beach, Florida. The group has traditionally held its annual conference, including a gala, around Sept. 11 in the Washington, D.C., area. This year's ticket prices represent about a 400 percent increase over previous years, which ranged from $250 to $350.
The group is advertising the Nov. 7 gathering at Mar-a-Lago as a "National Security Dinner Gala" in which special political and legislative guests have been invited.
ACT appears to be experiencing somewhat of a brand shift as it tries maintain its anti-Muslim base while seeking a broader audience. On top of its anti-Muslim message, the group supports Trump’s border wall and his wish to abolish birthright citizenship, which guarantees citizenship to anyone born in the United States.
ACT founder and Chairman Brigitte Gabriel’s quest for mainstream acceptance by supporting broader Trump administration policies has caused a rift between the national organization and some of its chapters. Members of at least four ACT chapters have defected in the last three years after citing disapproval of national leadership as well as the organization’s direction.
Gabriel takes pride in pointing out ACT’s connections to the Trump administration. At the group’s national conference last year, she touted having a weekly “standing meeting” at the White House. “We have a president that likes us, President Trump,” she said. Details about the meetings are unknown.
In a December 2016 email to supporters, the group bragged about having a “direct line” to Trump via allies such as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who spoke at ACT’s conference in 2016 as a U.S. congressman from Kansas, and former national security adviser Mike Flynn. Flynn previously was on ACT’s board of advisers.
In 2017, Gabriel reportedly met with White House staffer Paul Teller to deliver a petition in support of Trump’s Muslim ban.
ACT for America did not respond to a voicemail left by Hatewatch for a comment about the upcoming gala.
ACT conferences have typically lasted two to three days and have included a legislative briefing. They provide a place for ACT members to network and hear from anti-Muslim speakers. Sen. Ted Cruz and Reps. Louie Gohmert, Steve King and Brian Babin have spoken at past conferences. In 2017, Gabriel offered to give high-paying sponsors a private tour of the Trump International Hotel in Washington.
This year, leaders of the Freedom Caucus, an organization of congressional Republicans, will be honored at the Mar-a-Lago event. Right-wing author and firebrand Michelle Malkin will be the keynote speaker.
Trump still owns and profits from Mar-a-Lago but has said he is not involved in the day-to-day operations. An employee of Mar-a-Lago directed Hatewatch to the Trump Organization for a comment about the gala. A representative for the Trump Organization did not respond to a voicemail left by Hatewatch.
ACT’s 2018 conference took place at a Hyatt in Arlington, Virginia, resulting in the hotel chain later enacting a policy barring hate groups from using its facilities for events. The change came after a petition with nearly 100,000 signatures, including those from civil rights groups, faith leaders and consumers.
This year’s decision to hold the group’s gala at Mar-a-Lago should come as no surprise to those who follow Gabriel on social media. The ACT leader showcases her visits to the Florida resort on Twitter and Instagram. In February 2016, Gabriel posted a picture on Twitter with then-candidate Trump at Mar-a-Lago while she reportedly was there giving a “national security briefing.” She told the Christian Broadcasting Network in 2017 that she attended a dinner at the club on the eve of a U.S. airstrike in Syria.
The move to Mar-a-Lago signals Gabriel’s devotion to Trump and her desire appeal to donors with deeper pockets. In a Sept. 27 email to previous ACT conference attendees, Gabriel said the gala will include an update on the group’s expansion plans.
“We look forward to seeing you at Mar-a-Lago, the president’s crown jewel and winter home,” she said in the email.
Michael Edison Hayden contributed to this report.
Photo by Bill Gozansky/Alamy Stock Photo