Protests organized by an anti-Muslim organization with close ties to the Trump administration kicked off in various U.S. cities on Saturday, with speakers railing against “Islamic exceptionalism” and the left. The demonstrations, dubbed the “March Against Sharia,” were organized by the ACT for America lobbying group—described as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The rallies aim to sound the alarm over what organizers describe as the Islamification of the U.S. and kowtowing to Muslim refugees. Critics of the group, many of whom turned out to stage counter protests, warn that the marches are encouraging intolerance at a time when racial tensions are already high.
In New York City, ACT’s march kicked off with a speech from Pat Hart, one of the event’s organizers, who lashed out at counter protesters across the street and labeled them “idiots” for trying to shut down the rally, the Washington Post reported. “We're here protecting their rights, and they're trying to shut us down! It's insane!” Hart said. He advised those who feel fearful “walking around in a hijab” to “try being a conservative on a college campus.” “They're gonna blast a nonexistent rape culture, but they're not going to criticize Islam!” he said, vowing not to “yield to Islamic exceptionalism.” Separate events were scheduled in Texas, California, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania, among other places. Although counter protesters showed up to all the events, there were no immediate reports of violence. The marches were said to have been inspired by the Pulse Nightclub attack, which left 49 people dead on June 12, 2016. ACT has framed the attack as proof that Islam is a threat to the country.