Around 50 protesters showed up Saturday at the Texas Capitol as part of a nationwide “March against Sharia” organized by ACT for America — an Islamophobic hate group, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.
About 300 counter-protesters, many of them masked “anti-fascist” activists, surrounded the group, some wielding sticks, axe handles and shields. They attempted to drown out the other side with chants of “no Muslim ban on stolen land” and “anti-Muslim bigots, out, out out!.”
After about four hours, the Sharia protesters dispersed without giving speeches or marching, as originally planned. Riot police formed a line between the two groups, and no arrests were made.
At a press conference at the governor’s mansion, faith leaders, activists and Austin Mayor Steve Adler addressed a calmer gathering. Adler carried a sign reading “Muslims are welcome in my town,” while the group collected donations for a homeless shelter.
Mohamed-Umer Esmail, an Austin imam, called ACT for America’s rhetoric “irrational fearmongering.”
“We are here to demonstrate our love,” Esmail said. “And make it clear we are not here to impose Sharia law on anyone. Rather, Muslims have been following the Constitution since the days of the slave trade.”
Jaquita Wilson, a black woman with the Georgetown-based racial justice group Courageous Conversations, said she was “terrified” to be there Saturday, “because 300 yards away are people who normally attack folks like me.”
“I’m terrified, but I’m here,” Wilson said. “This is not just about the Muslim community, and if you think it is, you’re somewhere taking a nap.”
Outside the Capitol, the Sharia protesters held signs reading “Say ‘no’ to homophobic refugees,” “Sharia enslaves women” and “Drain the swamp.” One waved a large Confederate flag.
ACT for America had advertised that Lauren Morris, a self-described survivor of female genital mutilation, would speak at the demonstration. But Morris, an Austin woman, told the Observer she couldn’t give a speech because the counter-protesters were too loud.
The Observer pressed for details about her story, but she would only say it was done “by a doctor” who she believes was carrying out Sharia law. She said she did not file a police report.
“We have a problem with female genital mutilation in the United States,” said Morris. “And one of the problems we have is that the foreign cultures coming in don’t know they can’t do that to their kids; they don’t know they can’t rape, that they can’t beat their women. … We have Sharia law being set up all over the country.”
A man wearing a chainmail helmet said he came out to protest because he hoped to live in Scotland some day and “wanted it to be mostly Scotch [sic]” when he got there.
One protester, who only wanted to be identified as Patrick, was dressed in pro-Trump regalia and said he’d decided to attend after seeing news stories about Sharia law, including one about a Michigan doctor charged with female genital mutilation.
“We’re good people,” said Patrick, who emphasized that he was the son of European immigrants. “We’re just out here against Sharia law. We just don’t want to see law that negatively impacts people.”
Meanwhile, the counter-protesters held large signs with pictures of the two men who recently died in Portland defending Muslim women from harassment. When the Sharia protesters finally left quietly without having marched, a group of mostly masked counter-protesters rushed to take the space where they had stood.
They celebrated with chants of “What happened to your march?” and “Whose streets? Our streets.”