Rallies against Islamic law draw counter-protests across US

Counter demonstrators opposing a group who gathered across the street to protest against Islamic law, hold signs Saturday in New York. In more than two dozen cities across the United States, the group organizing the rallies, ACT for America, is speaking out against Shariah law, saying it is incompatible with Western democracy. (AP photo)

By GENE JOHNSON

Associated Press

SEATTLE — Demonstrators at small but raucous gatherings around the country Saturday raised the specter that extremist interpretations of Islamic law might somehow spread across the U.S., but many of the rallies drew even more boisterous counter-protests by people who called such fears unfounded.

Hundreds of counter-protesters marched through downtown Seattle, banging drums, cymbals and cowbells behind a large sign saying “Seattle stands with our Muslim neighbors.” Participants chanted “No hate, no fear, Muslims are welcome here” on their way to City Hall, where dozens of anti-Shariah protesters rallied.

A phalanx of bicycle police officers kept the sides separated during the sanctioned events, but authorities said a large fight broke out after the gatherings concluded. Police used tear gas to disperse rowdy demonstrators and arrested three people for obstructing law enforcement.

In front of the Trump building in downtown Chicago, about 30 people demonstrated against Islamic law and in favor of President Donald Trump, shouting slogans and holding signs that read “Ban Sharia” and “Sharia abuses women.” About twice as many counter-protesters marshaled across the street.

A similar scene played out in a park near a New York courthouse, where counter-protesters sounded air-horns and banged pots and pans in an effort to silence an anti-Shariah rally. In St. Paul, Minnesota, state troopers arrested about a half-dozen people when scuffles broke out at the close of competing demonstrations at the state Capitol.

“The theme of today is drowning out racism,” said New York counter-protester Tony Murphy, standing next to demonstrators with colorful earplugs. “The more racists get a platform, the more people get attacked.”

The rallies, held in more than two dozen U.S. cities, were organized by ACT for America, which claims Islamic law is incompatible with Western democracy.

The organization said it opposes discrimination and supports the rights of those subject to Shariah. However, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, calls it the largest American anti-Muslim group.

“I don’t believe Islam can peacefully co-exist with the Constitution,” said Seattle anti-Shariah demonstrator Aaron Bassford, 29. “We need unity in this country under no ideology and no banner except the Constitution of the United States of America.”