Islam in America: How the Resistance Is Standing Up to Anti-Muslim Speakers in America's Heartland

A demonstrator holds a "resist" sign during an anti-Donald Trump travel ban protest in Philadelphia on January 29. Protesters from the progressive group Indivisible Rapid City, which says it seeks to resist President Trump, demonstrated outside an anti-Muslim event on June 15. REUTERS/Charles Mostoller

Demonstrators gathered on both sides of a South Dakota street Thursday night, one side protesting against what they saw as an anti-Muslim event, the other showing support—the latest in a series of conflicts over Islam in the sparsely populated state.

Sponsored by the local Republican Party, the event that sparked the demonstrations focused on "the threat of the global Islamic movement."

South Dakotans gathered outside the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City, with those protesting the event waving signs that read, "No hate, no fear, Muslims are welcome here," and "Rapid City Is Love."

On the other side of the street, demonstrators in favor of the event waved American flags and signs that read, "Indivisible Supports Christian Persecution," referencing Indivisible Rapid City, a local progressive group that spoke out against the event and says on its website that it aims to resist President Trump.

The event was titled "Understanding the Threat: Strategic and Operating Training & Consulting on the Threat of the Global Islamic Movement" and featured John Guandolo and Chris Gaubetz. Guandolo is the founder of an organization called Understanding the Threat, which says it is the only group training politicians, law enforcement and citizens about the threat of jihadi networks in communities around the nation. Progressive and Muslim groups call Guandolo an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist.

In arguing their sides before the event, both raised the shooting Wednesday that targeted Republican members of Congress.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations called on the local Republican Party to drop its sponsorship of the event. "Following yesterday's terror attack on members of Congress and their staff in Virginia, it is more important than ever to repudiate the promotion of conspiracy theories and bigotry targeting any segment of our society," CAIR Government Affairs Director Robert McCaw said in a statement.

The Rapid City chapter of ACT for America, which co-sponsored the event, referenced the shooting in its explanation of why it barred reporters. "By likening Act for America to the KKK, the media has endangered our attendees … and by referencing the [Southern Poverty Law Center] whose hate speech has been tied to domestic terrorism incidents as recently as June 14 of 2017 – the shooting of Congressman Steve Scalise," reads a statement from ACT posted on the Indivisible Facebook page.

The conflict is the latest over events and speakers involving Islam, the world's second-largest religion.

A small group of protesters gathered outside a Rapid City hotel on May 6 to demonstrate against another ACT for America event, this one attended by the South Dakota attorney general and a Republican candidate for governor, according to the Rapid City Journal. "The nicer the West shows itself, there's a percentage of Muslims that view that niceness as weakness. And they take that as an invitation to attack," speaker William Federer, a Christian author and radio personality, told the audience, according to the newspaper.

And in Sioux Falls on April 9, a man named Ehab Jaber walked into an anti-Islam event, "Sabotaging America: Islam's March Toward Supremacy," and held up a Quran until he was told to leave, according to the Argus Leader. A Facebook Live video showed Jaber, who was charged with making terrorist threats, flashing guns in his car and repeating the phrase "Be scared," according to the newspaper.