Anti-Muslim Bikers Target Islamberg, New York for ‘National Security’
The hamlet has been the focus of far-right conspiracy theories that it’s a terrorist enclave. The paranoia got so bad that a man was convicted of planning to burn down the town.
A group of anti-Muslim bikers and their allies on the far-right will parade by the New York hamlet of Islamberg on Saturday, the latest outgrowth of right-wing conspiracy theory fixations on the small Muslim community.
For the third year in a row, a group organized by “American Bikers United Against Jihad” will drive by Islamberg, a town of roughly 200 in New York’s Catskill Mountains, in what they’ve dubbed a “Ride for National Security.” The ride is expected to draw an assortment of right-wing activists, many of whom have been drawn by online hoaxes that portray Islamberg as a terrorist training camp.
The ride’s organizers insist that they don’t intend to break the law. But internal documents posted on a Facebook page for the ride and published by the Southern Poverty Law Center show activists posting anti-Muslim memes, including one that proposes they play “cowboys & Muslims.”
In its event description, the ride is described as an attempt to prevent the residents of Islamberg from imposing Sharia law on the country.
"We aren’t going to let them turn this country into a SHITHOLE,” the description reads, using President Trump’s term for non-white countries in Africa and the Caribbean.
Police said they will provide security around Islamberg during the ride.
For years, Islamberg has been accused in right-wing media of serving as a terrorist sleeper cell or weapons depot — paranoia that ultimately culminated in a foiled plot massacre whom?.
In 2017, for example, hoax news websites pushed the false claim that Trump had ordered a raid on Islamberg that discovered a weapons cache intended for a massive terrorist plot. One site claimed the agents conducting the raid had discovered “America’s WORST nightmare.”
Attempts to get more information or an “inside look” at Islamberg have also become frequent topics for right-wing media outlets. In 2015, InfoWars attempted to gain access to the community, even flying nearby with a drone to see inside.
Much of the focus on Islamberg has been fueled by connections between a group it’s affiliated with, The Muslims of America, and a Pakistani group called Jama’at al-Fuqra that was tied to violence and other crimes in the 1980s.
The Muslims of America and the organizers of the “National Security” ride didn’t respond to requests for comment.
There’s no proof that the current residents of Islamberg are engaged in any crimes or terrorism. A 2008 counter-terrorism analysis from West Point, for example, noted that there’s no proof Islamberg is part of a network of “covert paramilitary training compounds.’ An Associated Press reporter who visited Islamberg in 2017 described it as more “more country road than backwoods bunker.”
Still, Islamberg has become a popular target for anti-Muslim figures. While most of that vitriol has been limited to the internet or the annual security ride, it took a dangerous step towards violence in 2015, when Tennessee man Robert Doggart began trying to put together a hit squad to burn down Islamberg and shoot its residents.
Doggart, who said he wanted to attack Islamberg to “get the attention of the American people,” attempted to assemble a team of “20 expert gunners” who could shoot Islamberg residents and burn down the community’s mosque.
“We will be cruel to them,” Doggart said at one point in the planning stages, according to court records.
Doggart was convicted and sentenced to almost 20 years in prison in 2017.
While it’s unclear who will attend the Islamberg ride, previous rides have drawn in groups and personalities from across the far-right. Past rides have drawn in militia-type groups like the III%ers, while the 2017 riders included a bullet-proof vest-wearing member of the Proud Boys, the rowdy group of “Western chauvinists” created by Vice co-founder Gavin McInnes.
Despite the fervor on the online fringe about Islamberg, the actual number of riders going by Islamberg tends to be on the small side. In 2016, for example, the Islamberg riders were outnumbered by hundreds of counter-protesters.