An “anti-Sharia” rally planned to be held in Portland—which critics say is a thinly veiled attack on Muslim Americans in general—has been canceled and will be merged with one planned for Seattle instead, organizers say. The decision to move the rally comes after a fatal triple stabbing committed by a man yelling anti-Muslim slurs on a Portland MAX train spurred debate over what kind of speech should be permissible in public spaces.
Writing on Facebook, Scott Ryer Presler with the anti-Muslim group ACT For America, says the rally has been moved due to Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler’s comments about hate speech not being protected by the First Amendment (FYI, it is) and that the rally’s permit should be revoked. Presler is listed as a co-organizer of the rally along with Vancouver, Washington, resident Joey Gibson. Gibson is also helping to organize a Portland “free speech” rally on June 4—that one has not been moved, though Wheeler has also criticized it.
The Facebook post reads, in part:
Due to Mayor Wheeler’s inflammatory comments and what we feel is an incitement of violence, he has shamefully endangered every scheduled participant. Consequently, in order to ensure the safety of those who had planned on attending, we have taken the decision to cancel the Portland March Against Sharia.
Despite our desire to proceed, we cannot allow innocent Americans to be harmed by radical and violent anti-American zealots that Mayor Wheeler’s comments have no doubt incited.
All planned participants may join us in Seattle, instead…
Arsalan Bukhari, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations in Washington, says his group is aware of the rally, and said that outreach efforts are planned to counter information about Muslims being expressed by ACT for America.
“Mostly pastors and veterans who just want to be there and show who they know their Muslim neighbors to be,” Bukhari says. “Basically to educated rather than argue with people who are there.”
Bukhari says CAIR-WA does not question ACT for America’s right to rally in Seattle—“Anyone can practice free speech, you can have a KKK rally in downtown with a permit,” he notes—but he says it is important to remember the real-life effect anti-Muslim rhetoric has on people’s lives.
“When we see hate crimes happening—when Muslims are being attacked—we see the same words, same slurs, uttered by attackers that ACT for America is known to use,” he says. “That’s the real-life concern.”
The Seattle March Against Sharia is one of more that 20 planed across the country on June 1o.
According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, ACT For America is “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America,” with 280,000 members. Its founder, Brigitte Tudor, has been quoted as saying a “practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.”
The Seattle March Against Sharia is scheduled to take place at 10 a.m. at Westlake Park*.
*The organizers of the event state that the location of the rally is Westlake Center. However, as was pointed out to us, Westlake Center is a privately owned mall. GGP, which manages Westlake Center, says that it does not “support, condone, or authorize” the rally. It’s likely that the rally is actually occurring at Westlake Park, a public plaza, but we’re working to confirm.
This post has been updated.