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It was a weekend of protests across the country. Hundreds of LGBT marches celebrated gay pride, marked today's one year anniversary of the massacre at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, and pushed back on a president who campaigned as gay-friendly but has not shown those colors in the White House. Big marches all over. Meanwhile there were some two dozen marches by right wing groups against the Muslim code of Sharia and protesters against those protesters.
For more on the anti-Sharia protests, we talked today on our show with Abigail Hauslohner, a national reporter for the Washington Post. These are highlights from the conversation, lightly edited:
Host Tom Ashbrook: Who came out for these anti-Sharia protests? Who organized them in the first place?
Abigail Hauslohner: Well the protests were organized by a group called ACT for America. They're a, formerly a real fringe group that has operated on sort of the far-right for about 10 years now. They've helped launch a number of bills in statehouses across the country to combat what they say is the growing threat of Sharia law. They've also tried to fight back against refugees and immigration to the United States, and they're very supportive of Trump. So they organized this rally as a march against Sharia with the idea that Islamic law is encroaching on U.S. society.
Host Tom Ashbrook: And the turnout at the rallies — how many were there? Where were they largest and what was the turnout like? Who came?
Abigail Hauslohner: Well it was pretty, it was pretty small. You saw in cities across the country it was only a couple dozen in most places. In San Bernardino, California, which is where we saw the 2015 terrorist attack — that saw the largest crowd of about 200 people. But for the most part they were outnumbered and they were outnumbered by rival protests, as you mentioned, by people who ranged from so-called anti-fascist groups, anarchists, to labor organizers and interfaith activists.
Host Tom Ashbrook: What exactly is driving this? Is there anywhere in this country that Sharia law is actively in place or is this a real situation or is it fiction?
Abigail Hauslohner: Well that's obviously the center of the debate and these rallies and counter-rallies. You know, there is no evidence that Sharia law is in place in any part of the country. You know what Sharia is — and a lot of a lot of these arguments are centered around or sort of rooted in a general lack of understanding on all sides in the U.S. about what Sharia really is. It's a very broad code of essentially guidelines for how Muslims are meant to live their lives and includes — it governs everything from divorce to marriage to what to eat, how to bury the dead. And what is often seized upon by groups such as ACT for America are what we know as the really extreme forms of punishment that are outlined in Sharia, and those can include stoning, executions for various crimes. Now Muslim leaders say that there is a wider range of interpretation for Sharia, and you know most Muslims are certainly law abiding citizens, and do not subscribe to the ideas of executions or simply acting outside of U.S. law. But that's not what ACT for America says. ACT for America says that, in fact the numbers of Muslims in the United States and particularly refugees and immigrants are trying to bring Sharia law in its worst forms into United States and impose it in place of U.S. law.
"You know, there is no evidence that Sharia law is in place in any part of the country."Abigail Hauslohner
Host Tom Ashbrook: That's not happening anywhere. I don't know who speaks up even for that. Is this an ideology? Is it an anti-Muslim movement at heart? What's driving the ACT for America crowd?
Abigail Hauslohner: Well civil rights organizations certainly claim that it is an anti Muslim movement. ACT for America, it tends to focus on something like anti-Sharia, but they also make sweeping statements about Islam and the dangers of Islam. The leader of ACT for America frequently says that all practicing Muslims actually embrace Sharia. So it's indicative of I think where sentiments towards Muslims are in this country right now, and I think it shows there's been this growing popularity of ideas that were one time considered fringe and largely dismissed by mainstream politics and by the vast majority of Americans, and those ideas are starting to find their way into the mainstream and you're hearing a lot of myths, a lot of false claims being propagated more and more by ordinary Americans.
Host Tom Ashbrook: Well is that true? I mean when you look at what happened this weekend, as you say pretty small turnout at a lot of these, much larger turnouts for the many of the equality marches. Does it look like this is really taking hold? I mean what do you take away from what actually transpired this weekend around the country?
Abigail Hauslohner: Well I think if we're to look exclusively at these marches and counter-marches, we would certainly come away with the conclusion that, no, the vast majority of Americans are embracing tolerance and do not think that Muslims pose the sort of existential threat to America. But one thing that I noticed — I cover Islam in America, I travel around the country regularly, I talk to Muslims, but I also talk to people who are suspicious of or are afraid of Muslims. And one thing that I noticed increasingly is that people often mention some of the talking points that I hear from ACT for America and that you see on Breitbart News for example — claims about Sharia, claims that refugees are you know carrying out acts of rape across the country, claims that we know not to be true. I hear quite often from people when I travel.
Host Tom Ashbrook: Does ACT for America see President Trump in their corner? Is he a guiding light for them?
Abigail Hauslohner: Absolutely. The founder of ACT for America, Brigitte Gabriel, regularly trumpets her group's ties to Trump. She tweeted earlier this year that she had a meeting at the White House, which we know should have been like a small meeting with an aide.
This segment aired on June 12, 2017.