Nativism Watch

Trying to shake criticism, ACT! for America targets civil rights and religious groups

Kalia Abiade • Mar 11, 2016
Brigitte Gabriel (left) is the founder and president of the anti-Muslim grassroots organization ACT! for America. She is shown here at the Stop Iran Rally in Washington, D.C., on September 9, 2015.
Brigitte Gabriel (left) is the founder and president of the anti-Muslim grassroots organization ACT! for America. She is shown here at the Stop Iran Rally in Washington, D.C., on September 9, 2015.

The largest and arguably most influential anti-Muslim grassroots organization in the United States appears to be preparing a report-card-style list of what it’s calling “Anti-American Hate Groups.” Because that’s exactly what we need in these trying times: an anti-Muslim activist group telling us who’s “anti-American.”

ACT! for America, which claims to have more than 300,000 members, is calling out an assortment of groups who, ACT! leaders claim, are “damaging to our national defense and/or American culture and values.”

ACT!’s founder and president, Brigitte Gabriel, is an anti-Muslim demagogue who has said “every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim.”

Screen shot 2016-03-10 at 2.03.33 PM

Screen shot draft content for ACT! for America’s “Anti-American Hate Group” list (accessed March 10, 2016).

Due to what we can only assume is a ridiculous oversight on their part, a draft version of ACT!’s “anti-American” list appeared on their website this week and confirmed what we already knew: ACT! is grasping at straws to shed their reputation as hatemongers. This feeble attempt to vilify civil rights groups and service organizations might be laughable if not for ACT!’s troubling track record when it comes to anti-Muslim bigotry and action. This is a group that published the home addresses of Muslim community leaders and activists and whose president called “every practicing Muslim a radical Muslim.”

It might be tempting to dismiss ACT!’s pathetic attempts to inoculate themselves against criticism as just that—pathetic. The truth is this group should not be underestimated. ACT! has proven it can drive public policy, has the ear of elected officials and candidates, and is often showcased on cable news.

So, what do we know about this report-card-style list?

Screenshot of ACT! for America's "Anti-American Hate Group" report card (accessed on March 10, 2016).

Screenshot of ACT! for America’s “Anti-American Hate Group” report card (accessed on March 10, 2016).

We first heard about this list at last week’s Conservative Political Action Conference.

And, everyone gets an F minus (at least for now).

One chart includes placeholder text (think: Lorem ipsum dolor…) and bizarre graphic icons that serve as a sort of key as to why we are supposed to be afraid of each of these groups. These include a dark man, in a half-zip sweater, wielding a knife, dangerously close to an airplane; a lit bomb with a dollar sign engraved on it; a hammer and sickle imposed on a red map of the United States; and a yellow crescent moon imposed on the scales of justice; among others. If you hover over an icon, a short description tells you what you’re looking at: For example, the jail bars indicate the organization wants to close Guantanamo, which ACT! deems “anti-American.”

Screen shots of some of the icons ACT! for America is using to identify its so-called anti-American groups (Captured March 10, 2016).

Screen shots of some of the icons ACT! for America is using to identify its so-called anti-American groups (Captured March 10, 2016).

(We’re telling you, we can’t make this stuff up.)

One section, currently titled “Hate: America’s Enemy Within,” captures the way ACT! argues that the threats to our country’s national security are as much about culture as actual violence:

“With the continued attacks we face, not only in physical terms, but also on our culture, free speech, and values it is more important now than ever that we pay, in full, the price of freedom by being vigilant against such threats. As such, ACT for America has compiled a true list of hate groups operating within our nation.”

This move by ACT! can be seen as retaliatory, as it comes just weeks after the Southern Poverty Law Center called ACT! a hate group for its role in driving this current, feverish climate of anti-Muslim hate. The groups included on the list signal that ACT!’s leaders are further embracing the far-right and expanding their scope to include more targets of an already divisive advocacy agenda.

As expected, ACT!’s preliminary list includes groups that primarily serve Muslim communities. But the organization’s list, as of March 10, also includes regular targets of far-right derision including Black Lives Matter, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Service Employees International Union, American Civil Liberties Union, and Southern Poverty Law Center, among other groups. For good measure, ACT! was sure to include the Ku Klux Klan and Westboro Baptist Church—perhaps to inoculate itself from claims of going after only progressive and/or Muslim-serving organizations. But that shield is thin and quite transparent.

ACT!’s targeting comes at a time when many activists and community leaders are already facing undue scrutiny from government agencies like the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI and facing threats of physical violence from would-be and actual vigilantes. This list is just one more example of how explicit anti-Muslim bigotry is sometimes driving and often intertwined with other attacks on human rights and civil liberties.

Who is ACT! for America?

To help put this report card in context, and highlight how disingenuous it is for ACT! to describe civil rights and community organizations as “hate groups,” here are a few things you should know about ACT! for America and its founder Brigitte Gabriel:

1. ACT! for America claims to be a national security advocacy organization that “provides American citizens with a means to be a collective voice for the democratic values of Western Civilization, and against the threat of radical Islam.” However, ACT!’s founder and president, Brigitte Gabriel, is an anti-Muslim demagogue who has said “every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim.” She’s also claimed that a “practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.”

2. ACT! for America has an extreme anti-Muslim agenda, but it is not a fringe organization. The group hosted more than a dozen members of Congress at its national conference last year and works closely with state lawmakers to push anti-Muslim and anti-refugee policy. The group has successfully pushed for anti-Muslim legislation in at least 10 states and its members actively work to block the construction of new mosques. Gabriel is also a regular guest on cable news programs.

3. ACT! for America is a non-partisan 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, so it hasn’t officially endorsed any candidates for office. However, Gabriel proudly stands with politicians who have been responsible for the most explicitly racist and vile campaign rhetoric we’ve seen in recent memory. As for the notorious politician who infamously called to ban all Muslims, Gabriel suggested his leadership style harkens back to the “type of leaders we used to have which made America great.” 

4. ACT! for America has a history of collaborating with the Center for Security Policy, an anti-Muslim think tank. Both groups have been driving much of the toxic anti-Muslim rhetoric that has marred this election season. This includes the call to ban Muslims from entering the United States, which was based on the dubious findings of a CSP poll.

5. ACT! for America’s policy agenda includes state-level anti-Muslim bills that restrict religious freedom, textbook campaigns that aim to wipe any positive mentions of Muslims throughout World History, law enforcement trainings infused with anti-Muslim bias, and a robust campaign to restrict refugee rights and defund resettlement agencies based on anti-Muslim arguments.

6. ACT! for America has resorted to extreme, potentially threatening measures to advance their bigoted agenda. The group’s Thin Blue Line Project is billed as a resource for law enforcement officials and includes a “Radicalization Locator Map,” which publishes the home addresses of Muslim community leaders and civil rights group staff members as well as the locations of Muslim Student Associations across the country. This is just another example of their disregard for safety in this time of increased hate violence and harassment against Muslims in the United States.

Imagine2050 staff contributed to this report.

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