ACT! for America/Brigitte Gabriel
Established in 2007, ACT For America is a self-designated1 “national security organization...focused on educating, engaging, and mobilizing citizens and elected officials to impact legislative outcomes to protect America.” Claiming over 750,000 members nationwide, ACT employs an extensive grassroots network to organize rallies and advance its legislative agenda in cities and jurisdictions across the country. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) designates2 ACT as an anti-Muslim hate group.
ACT has structured its mission around the preservation of national security and is devoted to raising awareness about seemingly innocuous issues,3 such as empowering women and protecting children, energy independence, and preserving the Constitution. Beneath this benevolent, pro-democratic façade, however, is a concerted effort to promote anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry throughout the public sphere—in our communities, our school systems, and at every level of our government.
ACT and its members support policies that target Arab Americans and American Muslims, malign Islam, and reject refugee and immigrant rights. These efforts not only undercut the American ideals that ACT purportedly defends, but contradict its official policy statement4 against discrimination as well. Furthermore, a number of ACT’s rallies have been the site of violence and a portion of its members have direct ties to militant anti-government groups and white supremacists. ACT For America has had a noxious influence on our people and institutions. ACT’s legislative agenda, grassroots mobilizing, and its leadership propagate intolerance and foment hate.
Brigitte Gabriel, also known as Brigitte Tudor, is the founder, president, and treasurer of ACT For America, a registered 501(c)(4) organization. Gabriel established5 ACT in 2007 as a grassroots network “dedicated to the prevention of terrorism.” Calling itself “the NRA of national security,” ACT has effectively lobbied at the state and federal level and experienced a significant increase in membership over the last five years. Gabriel’s influence and platform have only grown in this time, both in the public forum and within our government. Today, Gabriel enjoys a “direct line"6 to President Trump himself.
In February 2016, Gabriel administered7 a national security briefing to then-presidential candidate Trump at his Mar-A-Lago Resort.
Gabriel attended8 a meeting at the White House in March 2017. The topic of that meeting was not disclosed.
Gabriel allegedly dined9 at Mar-A-Lago with President Trump in April 2017, the night he ordered an airstrike against a Syrian military base.
On October 1, 2017, Gabriel hosted an exclusive cocktail party10 with top-donors at Trump International Hotel in Washington, DC. The party was organized in conjunction with ACT For America’s annual conference. Only registrants who had purchased a $10,000 ticket were eligible for the event.
The litany of Gabriel’s anti-Arab and anti-Muslim statements is both extensive and well documented. The accompanying video to this brief highlights some of her most egregious claims. Research from the Southern Poverty Law Center11 and the Center for American Progress12 may provide further insight into Gabriel and her organization.
Labeling Brigitte Gabriel a bigot is not enough to effectively decode hate. It is important to examine the impact of ACT For America—with respect to its anti-Arab and anti-Muslim activism, in addition to its ties to white supremacist and violent extremist groups—in order to counteract its efforts and uphold our values.
Anti-Arab and Anti-Muslim Activism
ACT For America has successfully lobbied discriminatory legislation through government relations work on Capitol Hill and grassroots activism across the country. To date, ACT credits itself with aiding the passage13 of 84 bills in 32 different states “to protect this great nation,” along with 12 bills at the federal level.14
Anti-Muslim bias in textbooks: In 2014, the Texas State Board of Education approved15 new history books that denigrated Islam and featured negative portrayals of Muslims. That same year, Florida passed legislation16 giving individual school boards complete autonomy over textbook selection amidst concerns about “pro-Islam bias"17 in state-approved books. This notion of state-sponsored Islamic indoctrination originated from ACT and affiliated groups. In 2013, ACT For America Education, Inc., also known as American Congress For Truth, published a 200-page report18 entitled “Education or Indoctrination?” The report concluded that certain textbooks featured dishonest or inaccurate depictions of Islam amounting to religious indoctrination. ACT mailed the report19 to over 70,000 state and local school board members nationwide.
Anti-Muslim legislation: 13 states have passed legislation20 prohibiting the legal application of foreign law in their judicial systems, something the U.S. Constitution already precludes. Many of these bills draw from a specific model text, “American Laws in American Courts,” which was drafted by a leading proponent of the anti-Sharia movement, the lawyer and political activist, David Yerushalmi.21 Yerushalmi has waged an attack on religious freedom rife with anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry. Furthermore, his model legislation seeks to address a non-issue in American courts. ACT For America and affiliated groups have been instrumental in pushing states to adopt this legislation.
ACT For America is currently in the process of driving “key legislation” at both the state and federal level. Among ACT's priority issues is the suspension and restriction22 of refugee admissions to the U.S.
Beyond its legislative work, ACT For America is committed to re-writing23 FBI training manuals on counterterrorism. In 2012, the FBI purged24 hundreds of counterterrorism documents and training materials that were found to exhibit an overt anti-Muslim bias. Gabriel criticized25 this reform, and President Obama, for “insert(ing) political correctness into our counterterrorism strategy."
Ties to White Supremacists and Violent Extremist Groups
ACT For America has recruited a number of militant anti-government groups to provide security at its rallies. On June 10, 2017, ACT organized a nationwide “March Against Sharia,” with marches taking place26 in about two dozen cities and 20 states. According to NPR,27 among those in attendance were anti-government paramilitary groups such as the Three Percenters,28 Proud Boys,29 and Oath Keepers.30 According to an online call to action31 from its founder Stewart Rhodes, the Oath Keepers received a direct request from ACT For America leadership to defend event organizers against the threat of “Islamacist [sic]” terrorism. While ACT encouraged members to come armed, they recommended32 that anyone providing security carry concealed weapons and defer from wearing camouflage clothing.
Militia members attended the rallies dressed in full tactical gear and brandishing semi-automatic weapons. The SPLC-run blog, Hate Watch, provided live updates and photos33 from March Against Sharia rallies across the country.
In addition to anti-government militias, the marches on June 10 also attracted a number of people affiliated with white supremacist and anti-Semitic groups. According to the Washington Post,34
In New York, a dozen members of Identity Evropa,35 which seeks a whites-only state, came to support the ACT rally, wearing tucked-in dress shirts, sunglasses and slicked-down side-parts. In Harrisburg, Pa., a group that has claimed credit for white nationalist posters on college campuses, said they wanted Muslims out of the United States entirely.
“I don’t believe in having Muslims in the United States,” said Francisco Rivera, a spokesman for Vanguard America. “Their culture is incompatible with ours.”
In preparation for the June 10 rallies, Vanguard America circulated flyers with overt anti-Muslim messaging, emblazoned with the words, “Imagine a Muslim Free America.”
Both groups were in attendance at the “Unite the Right” rallies in Charlottesville, VA on August 12, 2017. James Alex Fields, the driver of the car that struck and killed36 Heather Heyer and injured dozens more, was pictured in uniform with other Vanguard members earlier that day. [Left, AP/Alan Goffinski]
There is a considerable precedent for anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry on the part of many groups present at Charlottesville and those discussed above. Before ACT for America cancelled the events, hate group experts anticipated that its September 9th “America First” rallies would draw a surge37 of militant anti-government groups, white supremacists, and other violent extremists. According to the SPLC,
What attracts white nationalist groups to ACT is the group’s vehemently anti-Muslim views. While ACT warns about Sharia law replacing the Constitution and how Europe is being overrun by Muslims, the rallying cry for the racists who descended on Charlottesville was, “You will not replace us!”
Attendees were also recorded38 chanting, “Jews will not replace us!”
While ACT For America continues to advance a discriminatory legislative agenda, the threat of violence and discord on the ground at ACT-sponsored events continues to swell. Approaching a million members, ACT’s collective image is dependent upon the constituent makeup of its myriad chapters. While the promulgation of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim bigotry is a unifying thread, some individuals who identify as members or allies will be more inclined to aggravation and violence than others. At a time when political discourse has risen to a state of heightened volatility and content travels faster, and further, than ever before, it is now imperative to hold those who propagate hate accountable, to decode, and counteract.