ACT for America describes itself as “the NRA of national security” and a non-partisan, national security organization dedicated to fighting terrorism. However, in practice it is the largest anti-Muslim organization in the United States, claiming to have over 750,000 members.
ACT was founded in 2007 by Brigitte Gabriel, born Hanan Qahwaji, a Christian Lebanese immigrant who moved to the United States in 1989. Raised in Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War during the 70s and 80s, she portrays the conflict as purely between Christians and Muslims and blames the latter for its outbreak and atrocities.
She has written that “the Arab Muslim world, because of its religion and culture, is a natural threat to civilized people of the world” and claimed in a New York Times article: “America has been infiltrated on all levels by radicals who wish to harm America… They have infiltrated us at the CIA, at the FBI, at the Pentagon, at the State Department.”
This fervent anti-Muslim sentiment underpins ACT’s actions and agenda. ACT has lobbied federal, state and local governments for various measures that portray Muslims and Islam as a threat to American society.
One of ACT’s most well-known efforts is its American Laws for American Courts (ALAC) campaign, pushing state legislation that prohibits state courts from applying “foreign” (i.e., Sharia) law. Thirteen states have currently passed such laws, and 30 other states have had similarly modeled bills introduced in the last several years. Legal experts such as Steven D. Schwinn of The John Marshall Law School have observed that these laws are not only discriminatory, but unnecessary thanks to the Constitution’s Establishment Clause, “a solution in search of a problem.”
Another major target of ACT is the education sector. On multiple occasions, ACT has targeted American Muslim educators, claiming them to be affiliated with terrorist groups, despite the lack of any substantive evidence. In addition, ACT has sought to replace textbooks it claims have a bias towards Islam. ACT has also sought to demonize Islam and Muslims via efforts against female genital mutilation, though UNICEF studies observe that FGM is a long-standing cultural practice mainly limited to Central Africa and crosses all religious lines, Christian or Muslim.
ACT seeks to halt the acceptance of refugees, primarily but not limited to those seeking refuge from Syria or other Middle Eastern nations via federal, state, and local legislation. It has multiple high profile bills pending in the U.S. Congress.
But what some consider ACT’s most frightening project is the Thin Blue Line project, conceptualized in 2013 by former FBI agent and anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist John Guandolo. Under the veneer of a tool for law enforcement, at the Thin Blue Line’s core is the “Radicalization Locator,” an interactive map that indicates “potential targets for law enforcement.” Yet these “targets” sole criterion appear to be links to Islam, ranging from Muslim Student Associations, mosques, organizations like the Council on American-Islamic Relations and even the personal homes of Muslim community leaders.
While ACT has attempted to distance itself from association with neonazi groups or other assertions of racial/religious bigotry, it has strong ties to the Christian Right and militia groups. ACT’s first executive director was Guy Rodgers, a former field director of Pat Robertson’s Christian Coalition and Gabriel herself previously worked for Robertson’s television network. The Oath Keepers and Three Percenters have appeared at local ACT chapter rallies in the Pacific Northwest to provide security. Multiple ACT rallies in 2017 were also organized or attended by White nationalist individuals and groups.
Unfortunately, ACT’s influence has strengthened following the 2016 presidential election. Strong supporters of Donald Trump, former national security adviser and retired general Michael Flynn is an adviser to the ACT board of directors (and keynote speaker at the 2016 ACT national conference) and CIA director Mike Pompeo has addressed and sponsored past ACT national conferences and other events at the Capitol. The group has also boasted of having “a direct line” to the Trump administration and Brigitte Gabriel has met with administration officials at both Trump’s Florida golf club and the White House.
As such, ACT for America is moving ahead briskly. Its 10th anniversary annual conference is scheduled at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia on Sept. 4-5, 2018.