A counterprotest to show support for Muslims drew a much larger crowd than the demonstration sponsored by ACT for America, a group claiming that Islamic Sharia law -- which is not in effect in the United States -- is a threat to American values.
Supporters of an organization labeled an anti-Muslim hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center gathered Saturday in downtown Seattle as part of a national “March Against Sharia,” but were outnumbered by counterprotesters who used horns, whistles and chants to drown out their message.
The counterprotest, called “Seattle Stands With Our Muslim Neighbors,” drew a few hundred people to target the much-publicized demonstration sponsored by ACT for America. That group claims Islamic Sharia law — which is not in effect in the United States — is a threat to American values. Sharia is religious law found in the Quran, and some Muslim-majority countries use Sharia law in their legal systems.
After the events were largely over, Seattle police doused a crowd with pepper spray to break up a fight in Occidental Square. Officers arrested three people — a woman and two men — for investigation of obstructing law enforcement.
The anti-Sharia demonstration at City Hall Plaza was one of more than 25 events ACT for America had planned across the country Saturday, purportedly to raise awareness of the genital mutilation and cutting of young girls and women, practices the organization attributes to Sharia law.
The counterdemonstration started an hour before the March Against Sharia. Demonstrators met at Occidental Square, then walked to the anti-Sharia event. Sponsored by the Faith Action Network, The Church Council of Greater Seattle and Neighbors In Faith, it included pastors, ministers and imams, and Christians, Jews, Muslims and atheists.
At City Hall Plaza, the counterprotesters stood in front of the building, separated from the ACT for America speakers by barricades and a row of Seattle police officers in riot gear. A group of protesters in black sweatshirts and jeans, their faces covered with bandannas and ski masks, joined the protest and amped up the noise, banging pots and pans and blowing into plastic vuvuzela horns. A red and black anarchist flag could be seen among the signs.
Dan Dagen, a welder from Seattle, came to show support for ACT for America. He said parts of the Muslim tradition threaten free speech.
“It’s just not compatible with American values,” he said.
Several times during the two-hour protest, people allied with ACT for America — many wearing red “Make America Great Again” hats — waded into the crowd, and both groups began arguing. Officers darted into the crowd and used their bicycles to push people back and separate them.
Around 12:30 p.m., after demonstrators had marched back to Occidental Square and the crowd was starting to disperse, fights broke out and police started using pepper spray.
Tim Phillips, lead pastor of Seattle First Baptist Church, said he came to march with the counterprotest group “to stand with our Muslim brothers and sisters.”
“For those who are misguided in their understanding and malevolent in their intent, there are those of us in the faith community who are committed to get in their way, to stand with our Muslim sisters and brothers against any excuse for violence and hatred,” he said.
He said he did not agree with ACT’s message linking Islam with “a regressive view of the world. I know from my own experience that is not true.”
Imam Jamal Rahman, of the Interfaith Community Sanctuary, addressed the counterprotesters at Occidental Square before the march to City Hall began.
”My friends, we must not allow fear, anger or false information to manipulate our minds,” he told the crowd. “Your presence here really inspires me to become a better Muslim, to become a more developed and complete human being. You inspire me to understand that we are all interconnected.”
Su Docekal, a member of the Freedom Socialist Party, called the counterprotest group “an ad hoc coalition that came together. It’s really a diverse group — Muslim, Jewish, Christian, feminists, socialists, housing activists. We all agree it was important to come together with a show of solidarity for the Muslim community.”
Correction: The original post had an incorrect spelling for Imam Jamal Rahman.
Staff reporters Kara Carlson and Maya Sweedler contributed to this report.