Members of Congress and advisers to GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump spoke at a conference hosted by the anti-Muslim “extremist” organization known as ACT for America during its annual gathering this week in Washington, D.C.
Among those who spoke at the event were Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX), Republican Reps. Mike Pompeo (KS), Pete Roskam (IL), Lou Barletta (PA), Marsha Blackburn (TN), Jeff Duncan (SC), Brian Babin (TX), Scott Perry (PA), Louie Gohmert (TX), and Peter King (NY), according to the Center for New Community, an organization that monitors and works to counteract organized bigotry.
The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) has deemed ACT for America a hate group. ACT for America boasts “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America, claiming 280,000 members and over 1,000 chapters,” and works “to advance anti-Muslim legislation at the local and federal level while flooding the American public with wild hate speech demonizing Muslims,” according to the SPLC’s profile of the group.
Those views took center stage Tuesday during the first day of ACT’s conference, when the group’s founder and president, Brigitte Gabriel, pushed the false claim that “most experts agree that more than 20 percent of Muslims are radicals” in urging supporters to speak out against the federal government taking in refugees from predominantly Muslim countries.
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ACT for America had not released the names of the members of Congress slated to attend the event prior to conference, reportedly citing security issues.
That decision reflected that the group is “being exposed for its anti-Muslim bigotry and xenophobia,” said Mohammad Khan, campaign manager at MPower Change, an organization that bills itself as “an online organizing platform to build grassroots power of American Muslims.”
The Center for New Community and MPower Change launched a petition before the conference urging elected officials to reject invitations from ACT for America to participate in the event.
“ACT for America is a recognized hate group. We call on our lawmakers to boycott their meeting on Capitol Hill in September and denounce their bigoted, dangerous agenda,” the petition said.“If elected leaders do not denounce ACT’s dangerous rhetoric, they are not only implicitly endorsing anti-Muslim bigotry, but also a vision for this country that denies fairness and equality to us all.”
Though more than 11,300 people signed the petition, GOP legislators still seemingly ignored the calls to boycott the event.
Khan said in a statement to Rewire that the number of federal officials who participate in the ACT for America gathering dwindled from the previous year.
“Only ten members of Congress addressed ACT for America’s convention this year, compared to 15 last year,” Khan said. “As we continue to build awareness among elected officials and the public about their dangerous agenda, only politicians with the most radical anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant views, such as Louie Gohmert and Ted Cruz, will continue to be willing to associate themselves with this recognized hate group.”
The ability of ACT for America to gain the attention of lawmakers demonstrates the sort of power the group would have to influence policy on the federal level.
“ACT for America’s presence on Capitol Hill demonstrates the persistence of anti-Muslim hate and the willingness of some lawmakers to align with it,” Lindsay Schubiner, senior program manager at the Center for New Community, said in a statement to Rewire.
The organization also has “a major lobbying operation,” said Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, during a Thursday interview. Potok pointed to legislation on ACT for America’s website “that they are pushing with national legislators.”
The group is “seeding these completely false and utterly defamatory claims about Muslims in the minds of legislators who have the capacity to do Muslims real harm,” added Potok. “I think it’s a poisonous mix to see elected national legislators with people who make these kinds of inflammatory accusations without any basis at all.”
Advisers to Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump also made an appearance at the ACT event.
Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, an adviser to both Trump as well as ACT for America, and Pete Hoekstra, who identified himself as a national security adviser to Trump and a surrogate for the candidate, spoke over the course of the two-day conference.
Flynn has called Islam a “cancer.”
“[Trump] is a man who proposes to ban the entry to this country of an entire major faith, 1.6 billion people. So, you know, I don’t think it’s much of a surprise. We’ve seen this from the beginning of the Trump campaign right up to the present moment,” Potok said.