Alt-Right ‘America First’ Rallies Move Online After Boston ‘Free Speech’ Protest Is Overrun

Sixty-seven planned rallies in 36 states that were meant to attract members of the so-called alt-right and other racist groups are moving online after a “free speech” rally on Saturday in Boston attended by white supremacists was drowned out by demonstrators.

“ACT for America is deeply saddened that in today’s divisive climate, citizens cannot peacefully express their opinion without risk of physical harm from terror groups domestic and international,” reads a statement from the anti-Islamic group behind the rallies, which were meant to begin September 9.

Instead, a “Day of ACTion” will “be conducted through online and other media,” ACT said, but it did not detail what shape that would take.

RTS18LC1 A demonstrator holds a U.S. flag in front of white supremacy flags and banners as self-proclaimed white nationalists and members of the "alt-right" gather for what they called a “Freedom of Speech” rally at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., June 25. Jim Bourg/Reuters

The group accuses extremist “individuals and groups” inspired by the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) as well as anti-fascists, neo-Nazis and the KKK of creating “security issues” at similar free speech events this month.

“In recent weeks, extremist and radical organizations in the United States and abroad have overrun peaceful events in order to advance their own agendas, and in many cases, violence has been the result,” the group said. Protests against neo-Nazis were held in Germany last week.

Tens of thousands of anti-racist demonstrators also marched in Boston Saturday, dwarfing the number of alt-right members who gathered to express their views in Boston Common. The “alt-right” label was coined by white nationalist Richard Spencer and acts as an umbrella term for white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and misogynists.

The counterprotest was largely peaceful and followed a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that turned violent the week before. In Charlottesville, one counterprotester was killed and 19 others injured when police said a right-wing activist drove his car into a group of pedestrians. Anti-fascist groups in Charlottesville also pepper-sprayed and beat white supremacists.

Related: U.S. authorities consider shutting down hard-right rallies after Charlottesville

The ACT for America statement was first given to the hard-right website Breitbart. The site’s executive chairman, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon, has called the outlet a “platform for the alt-right.”

Two hate group watchdogs, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and Anti-Defamation League (ADL), identify ACT for America as the largest anti-Muslim group in the U.S. “ACT propagates the hateful conspiracy theory that Muslims are infiltrating U.S. institutions in order to impose Sharia law,” according to the ADL.

In June, ACT organized simultaneous “March Against Shariah” events throughout the U.S. that attracted armed militia groups, white nationalists and other members of the alt-right, including the “Blood and soil” fascist group Vanguard America and white nationalists Identity Evropa.

Shariah law in Europe and North America refers mainly to an Islamic family law court system set up for religious adherents that can be used to mediate and settle disputes. Many hard-right Americans see the system as encroaching on the traditional European court system’s jurisdiction. Since 2010, 15 anti-Sharia bills have been passed in various states. A total of 42 have been tabled across the U.S.

“ACT for America’s membership is patriotic citizens whose only goal is to celebrate America’s values and peacefully express their views regarding national security,” according to group, which claims to have 750,000 members.

In 2007, the group’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, said at the Department of Defense’s Joint Forces Staff College that any “practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Koran to be the word of Allah...who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day—this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.” She has made a number of other anti-Islamic statements.

Despite these statements, ACT says that “any organizations or individuals advocating violence or hatred toward anyone based on race, religion, or affiliation are not welcome at ACT for America events, or in the organization.”

The group’s online day of action is planned for September 9.

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