By: Lessa Leigh
Today I met a militia member named “Squirrel.” I’m glad I did.
As a nom du guerre, Squirrel is as good as any, and at least he provided some levity to an event that was fearful and vitriolic at best. There are rarely counter-protestors when I cover protests, and those few that I have seen have made their philosophy clear, such as the anti-choice people in front of Planned Parenthood.
When the editor and publisher of The Rust Belt Tribune (where I’m an editor/writer), Jaimes Campbell, told me about the Anti-Sharia protest, I thought we were defending a mosque and that I’d be a counter-protester. Then I went to the website of ACT for America, the people behind the protest, and got curious. They seemed like suburban white folks afraid of boogeymen, not the white nationalists I had expected. Jaimes explained that the rally location was planned for the Indiana Statehouse, and that’s when journalistic curiosity took over. Who would be there and why?
We arrived to find that the counter-protesters had taken up a defensive position on the lawn above the sidewalk and were holding large sheets with slogans such as “Our Freedom Is Dependent On Freedom For All!” and “Refugees Welcome. Racists Go Home!” The protest itself was on the sidewalk, where they had set up video and speakers broadcasting YouTube speeches from the ACT for America founder, Brigitte Gabriel. Various middle-class white people, mostly middle-aged, stood around holding signs against “Sharia Law” and “Feminism.” Behind them were members of various militias, including the Indiana Security Force 3%. Behind the militia and surrounding them were members of the Indianapolis PD.
I was able to interview the lone Muslim-American counter-protestor, a woman named Cory. She wanted to reassure the protestors that there was no reason for fear from any party. She also believed that the ACT for America website used “dog whistles” as talking points, and that the organizers hoped that hate groups show up in support. Finally, she poignantly observed, “This isn’t race war. This is class war, and they’re not better off as poor white Americans without an education than a black person with a good one is.”
Unable to get any of the white suburbanites to agree to an interview, I moved on to the militia members. Shannon, who identified himself as a commanding officer of the Indiana Security Force 3% militia, made it clear that he was here to protect the First Amendment rights of all participants in the rally. While he expected trouble from the counter-protesters, he did not begrudge them their right to speak. I asked him how he felt about Muslims in this country, and he said that the Constitution granted them the right to be here, but as a Christian, he finds “the Muslim religion to be a cult, not a religion. It preaches hate and death to anyone who isn’t a Muslim.”
I moved on to Squirrel, who was in overall charge of the Indiana Security Force 3%. He agreed that he was there to defend everyone’s First Amendment rights, but he also felt that Sharia Law had no place in this country. He said, “We don’t kill people just for the heck of it because they believe something we don’t.” A noble sentiment, though history provides numerous examples where we have done exactly that. “If you don’t stand with the Constitution, you don’t belong in the United States” was another point with which I adamantly agreed. When Squirrel was asked to give examples of where Sharia Law existed already in America, he was unable to answer, but he knows it is here because, he says, there exist Muslim “no-go zones” already in this country. When I asked him if he was personally anti-Muslim or anti-Muslim Extremist, he said, “I’m anti getting my head cut off.” I hear you, sir.
What I felt more than anything was the invisible divide of people not hearing each other. I’m sure the counter-protesters also defend the First Amendment rights of Americans to speak freely against their government. I’m sure no one wants anyone’s head cut off. However, we’re divided to the point where we can’t even speak to each other and explain reasonable positions. Had I been able to talk to the organizers of the rally, I would have emphasized the points Cory made: Sharia Law isn’t going to take over our country, and we wouldn’t accept it for anyone. Had I been able to talk to the other counter-protesters, I would have emphasized that the Anti-Sharia supporters love this country as much as anyone, but they’re fueled by fear of the other and the unknown.
I wish I could say that we’re stronger together, but Abraham Lincoln said it best: “A house divided cannot stand.”