A group that claims Islamic Sharia law is a threat to American values will hold a demonstration at Seattle City Hall on Saturday, prompting plans for a large counter-demonstration. Police say free speech will be tolerated but that violence will not.
Supporters of an organization considered a hate group by local Muslims will gather in Seattle on Saturday as part of a national “March Against Sharia,” prompting promises of a large counter-demonstration by opponents and an expected heavy police presence.
The “March Against Sharia,” which has been moved several times but settled at City Hall Plaza at 10 a.m., is sponsored by ACT for America, a Virginia-based nonprofit that claims to educate Americans to national-security threats posed by Islam.
The demonstration is one of more than 25 ACT for America is sponsoring across the country, purportedly to raise awareness of the practices of genital mutilation and cutting of young girls and women, which the organization attributes to the practice of Sharia law by faithful Muslims. Sharia is the religious law forming part of the Islamic tradition as found in the Quran and the teachings of the prophet Muhammed.
The organization’s founder, Bridgette Gabriel, has said the group supports President Donald Trump in fighting a “radical leftist Islamic coalition” that poses a threat to America’s “Judeo-Christan values.”
ACT for America spokeswoman Sandy Frazier has said that genital mutilations, so-called “honor killings,” and “violence toward women and members of the LGBTQ community” by Islam is the reason for the demonstration.
The Southern Poverty Law Center describes ACT for America as the “largest grass roots anti-Muslim group in America,” claiming more than 525,000 members and 1,000 chapters.
The Seattle rally — billed as a march but permitted by the city only as a demonstration — is expected to be bolstered by ACT for America supporters from Portland.
A planned anti-Sharia march there was canceled at the urging of Mayor Ted Wheeler after two men were fatally stabbed and a third injured on a MAX transit train May 26. The victims had come to the aid of two teenage girls as a man yelled anti-Muslim taunts. One of the girls was wearing traditional Muslim dress.
The suspected attacker, Jeremy Christian, has been charged in the killings.
“ACT for America opposes no peaceful practice of any religious faith. In fact, we stand steadfast with the right of every American to their faith. This includes peaceful Islam. The elements that make up much of Sharia law, however, are not about religion, but oppression,” said Brian Glicklich, an ACT for America spokesman.
He said his organization rejects violence and prejudice.
Arsakan Bukhari, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in Washington, an Islamic civil-rights organization, said the hate speech spewed by Christian on the train is the same sort of rhetoric found on ACT for America’s web and social-media sites.
“When we see these kinds of crimes, where Muslims are being assaulted and attacked, we find these same words and slurs that are used by ACT for America,” Bukhari said. “These things they say about Muslim women and children has caused real harm.”
Bukhari said CAIR will sponsor an “Ask a Muslim” booth at the ACT for America rally to answer any questions and dispel myths “in hopes that we might have some communications.”
In the days leading up to the demonstration, rabbis and clergy from several Seattle-area churches and synagogues came forward to the Islamic community, and a group calling itself Seattle Stands With Our Muslim Neighbors obtained a permit for a counter-demonstration starting at 9 a.m. at Occidental Park a few blocks from City Hall.
Organizers plan to march to City Hall plaza and confront the anti-Sharia demonstrators. A route for that march had not been determined as of Thursday.
Given what happened in Portland when a recent pro-Trump “free speech” demonstration devolved into violence and resulted in 14 arrests, the Seattle Police Department said that it will have “the necessary staffing and equipment available” to ensure peace is kept.
Sgt. Sean Whitcomb said free speech will be tolerated but that violence will not.
“We have a few of these every year when the point- and counterpoint demonstrations can raise concerns,” Whitcomb said. “What I will say is that we do have a staffing plan and the resources in place to ensure that everyone can be heard safely.”