Anti-sharia protesters rally at site of San Bernardino terrorist attack

More than 200 anti-sharia protesters faced off with counter-demonstrators Saturday at the site of the San Bernardino terrorist attack as part of a nationwide “March Against Sharia” event sponsored by the conservative group Act for America.

Protesters chanted “USA!” and waved signs that read, “Islam is not American,” “No Sharia, no polygamy” and “No more terrorist attacks.” Many held American or Gadsden flags and wore pro-Trump merchandise.

Sharia encompasses a set of moral principles and general religious law that can influence the legal systems of Muslim-majority countries.

The protest took place near the Inland Regional Center, a nonprofit that serves people with developmental disabilities, where a Pakistani American couple fatally shot 14 people in 2015. The attack was cited by President Trump as one reason for his controversial travel restriction policy, which seeks to temporarily ban refugees and immigrants from six Muslim-majority nations.

Demonstrators added their own signs to a memorial for the San Bernardino attack victims, including one that read “Sharia = death 4 LGBTQ” — a nod to the 2016 mass shooting inside a gay nightclub in Orlando.

Anti-sharia rallies around the U.S. denounce Islam while stoking concerns among Muslim groups »

Protesters faced off against about 100 anti-Trump demonstrators during the rally. Things heated up when counter-protesters packed up to leave just before 1 p.m. As they headed to their cars, anti-sharia protesters smashed in the rear window of one vehicle as the driver pulled away, then hit a second as it drove off.

Sirens blared and police vehicles pulled to the scene as counter-protesters linked arms, standing side by side on the street.

One anti-sharia demonstrator said: “Glad we ran into each other in a place like this. We can form a wall too, communist scum.” As fellow demonstrators began lining up next to him, police on horseback interjected, telling the group to move back across the street.

Three pro-Trump demonstrators were arrested on suspicion of vandalism, said San Bernardino Police Department spokeswoman Eileen Hards.

One counter-protester was Crystal Keshawarz, a human rights advocate and founding member of Qal’bu Maryam Women’s Mosque in Berkeley. Keshawarz, who lives in Corona, said their goal was not to outdo the anti-sharia protesters, but to make their presence known.

“If their ideas were righteous, they wouldn’t have to employ acts of injustice to prove their point,” she said.

After Keshawarz and the other counter-protesters left, the scene quieted somewhat.

The “March Against Sharia” rally was one of several demonstrations held in more than 20 cities across the country, including New York, Chicago, Boston, Dallas and Atlanta. On its website, Act for America, which sponsored the rally, calls itself “the NRA of national security.”

A statement posted on Act for America’s website says: “Our nation is built on the freedom of religion — a pillar of our democracy — which we must always respect, protect, and honor. However, many aspects of Sharia law run contrary to basic human rights and are completely incompatible with our laws and our democratic values.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center has called Act for America an anti-Muslim hate group. The center noted that the organization’s protests are attracting a host of anti-government and far-right extremists. This week, the group canceled its Batesville, Ark., rally after the law center revealed that neo-Nazi Billy Roper was the main organizer.

“Any event held by this individual is not sanctioned by Act for America, and is not supported or endorsed by Act for America in any manner,” the group said in a statement. “We regret any confusion that this individual’s actions may cause, and are working with our counsel to demand he cease and desist promotion of his event in a way that will confuse it as being sanction or approved by us.”

In response to Saturday’s rallies, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community’s Los Angeles East Chapter, the largest organized Muslim community in San Bernardino County, is holding an interfaith event later in the day. It is scheduled for 7 p.m. at Baitul Hameed Mosque and expected to draw more than 700 guests. Rep. Norma Torres (D-Pomona) is the scheduled guest speaker.

“We seek to build bridges and educate our community about true Islam, and even invite those who will be attending the anti-Muslim rallies to visit us and understand our message of peace and tolerance,” said Ahsan M. Khan, a spokesperson for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community.

andrea.castillo@latimes.com

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UPDATES:

6 p.m.: This story has been updated with more from police and demonstrators.

2:25 p.m.: This story was updated with more details about the demonstration.

This story was originally posted at 11:30 a.m.

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