Following the horrific white supremacist attacks in Charlottesville, VA, last weekend, the anti-Muslim group ACT for America is attempting to distance itself from these views before ACT’s own racist rallies occur across the country on September 9th. But even a cursory look at the organizers of the upcoming “America First” ACT rallies reveals that they share the abhorrent beliefs of those who organized and participated in the deadly “Unite the Right” event in Charlottesville.
On September 9th, ACT will be rallying in support of the Trump administration’s draconian, nativist policies, including the Muslim ban and a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. ACT may not admit it, but the upcoming rallies are strikingly similar in motivation to the Charlottesville demonstration, which resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer after a white supremacist plowed his car into a group a of counter-protesters. Following the Charlottesville attack, ACT is laughably attempting to inoculate itself from any criticism should its rallies attract similar displays from white nationalist or neo-Nazis figures.
In a press release issued on August 14th, ACT stated that it “has advised participants of their zero-tolerance policy for hate and intolerance” and that “advocating violence or hatred towards anyone based on race, religion, or affiliation” would not be accepted at any rally. That sentiment coming from ACT is farcical. ACT is one of the most active anti-Muslim organizations operating today. Its founder and president Brigitte Gabriel has previously described Muslims as a “natural threat to civilized people of the world.”
ACT has previously welcomed demonstrators who adhere to white nationalist and other racist ideas. In June, the group held a nationwide “March Against Sharia” in a similar format to its upcoming rallies on September 9. The June rallies attracted a plethora of American far-right factions under the umbrella of anti-Muslim bigotry. Similar to the “Unite the Right’ event in Charlottesville, white nationalist “alt-right” provocateurs, neo-Nazi skinheads, and anti-government militias were welcome at ACT’s “March Against Sharia.”
Several of the organizers of September’s events indicate ACT is already flouting its own “zero-tolerance policy.”
The “America First” rally scheduled to take place in New York City is being organized by right-wing commentator and white nationalist sympathizer Pax Hart. The event’s Facebook page lists Hart as one of the main organizers. Hart is a contributor to Proud Boy Magazine, a publication associated with the chauvinistic white nationalist “alt-right” group Proud Boys. In an article published in June, Hart claimed he sympathized with the views of white nationalist Richard Spencer. In it, he writes he doesn’t “ascribe to the ‘neo-Nazi boogeyman’ persona that’s been attributed to Richard in the media.” This is despite Spencer leading supporters in a Nazi salute hailing President-elect Trump last November.
Hart added: “Mass third-world immigration to America? Richards [sic] and I are on the same page: I’m still waiting for my wall; shut down the refugee program; round up DREAMers and revocation of birthright citizenship should be retroactive.”
Spencer was one of the leading voices fomenting bigotry at the “Unite the Right” rally.
Hart also organized ACT’s “March Against Sharia” in New York City’s Foley Square, the same place September 9’s rally is scheduled to take place.
One of the co-organizers for ACT’s event in Houston, Texas, is an individual using the name Benjamin Knight. Like Hart, Knight’s actions directly contradict ACT’s disingenuous behavioral standards.
On his Facebook page, Knight recently posted images and videos mocking the protesters who were plowed into during the Charlottesville rally. Knight’s page is awash with bigotry. Along with being a supporter of ACT’s Houston chapter, he also ‘likes’ a number of neo-Confederate groups and pages displaying white power symbols.
Again, both Hart and Knight have been approved by ACT and listed on its official event pages as organizers for their respective rallies.
Of course, by billing its rallies as “America First,” ACT has already chosen to elevate a phrase associated with bigotry. The legacy of “America First” sentiment in the U.S. is inseparable from the America First Committee, an isolationist World War II-era organization whose membership included significant numbers of fascist and Nazi sympathizers.
In ACT’s press release, Gabriel said she feels “sorrow” for the hate-driven violence that killed Heather Heyer. Yet Gabriel is well aware that her organization has attracted individuals who harbor the same bigoted views, betraying the artifice of her sentiment.
Even if ACT tries to save face by giving some of its racist “America First” organizers the boot in the coming days and weeks, the bigotry of the “America First” rallies is evident–just as it was in Charlottesville.