A man displaying a Crusade flag marches at the San Bernardino ACT for America anti-Islam and Sharia Law protests in San Bernardino on June 10. Martin Lopez/HIGHLANDER

SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. — On Saturday, June 10, the non-profit ACT for America, a national security organization that seeks to recruit, train and mobilize “citizens community by community … to keep this nation safe,” held an anti-Sharia law and anti-Islam protest down the street from the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, the site of a deadly terror attack in 2015 that killed 14 people and wounded 22 at the hands of an Islamic extremist and his wife. In response to this protest, a group of dissenters held a “United for Love” rally. Protesters against Islam and Sharia law numbered around 300 while anti-Trump protesters numbered between 80-100.

Sharia law, while differing depending on the Islamic legal school, consists of Islamic jurisprudence that is particularly derived from the Quran, the holy text in Islam, and the Hadith, the sayings of the Prophet Mohammed.

The protest was held at the intersection of South Waterman Avenue and East Orange Show Road. San Bernardino police officers were stationed at each corner of the intersection, drawing the ire of some anti-Trump dissenters as they felt disproportionately targeted by the police shouting, “why are you looking at us and not them?”

The protest was set to start at 10 a.m., however, there was already a crowd of over a hundred people gathered, on both sides, by 9:40 a.m. As the protest began, both sides occupied two corners of the intersection opposite one another. The anti-Sharia protest was based primarily down the street from the regional center with the dissenters being based, primarily, by a Shell gas station.

A Trump supporter and a dissenting woman argue about Sharia law.     Martin Lopez/HIGHLANDER

The side protesting Sharia law had some people holding signs that denounced Islam and labeled Sharia law as being barbaric while others held United States flags. There was also a small memorial that displayed the pictures of the victims of the San Bernardino shooting on December 2, 2015 at the Inland Regional Center. The mostly Trump supporters yelled various things like, “It’s not about hate, it’s about life” and, “Hey hey, ho ho, Sharia law has got to go” as others declared, “Islam is dead” and that “there is no freedom with Islam.”

The dissenters held signs calling for tolerance and love with some signs calling for President Trump and Vice-President Pence to resign and another sign reading, “Fuck Your Fascist Nazi Shit.” Some members of the anti-Sharia law demonstrators wore red “Make America Great Again” hats while a few others wore ski masks emblazoned with skulls. Some dissenters wore bandanas over their mouths while a few others wore Arab kuffiyehs, and one individual was waving an anti-fascism (ANTIFA) flag. Dissenting demonstrators shouted several different chants including, “No ban, no wall; the Trump regime must fall” and, “Our refugees are under attack, what do we do? Stand up, fight back.”

On the dissenters’ side, a woman was passing out a copy of Red Flag, a communist newspaper published by the International Communist Workers’ Party, along with a flyer titled, “Defeat Racist-Fascist Capitalism by Fighting for a Communist World.” The flyer denounced ACT for America and capitalism while calling for the masses to organize behind communism. The flyer was written in both English and Spanish.

Crystal Keshawarz, the media coordinator for the dissenters, told the Highlander, “In 2017, in the United States, it doesn’t behoove us to allow fascism and ideologies that are lethal to the lives of American people and lethal to the lives of every human being who lives in this land … we’re here to show hatred that the power of love overcomes it every time.”

A man who had recently purchased flowers looks on at the protests.   Martin Lopez/HIGHLANDER

Then, at 10:12 a.m., members of the anti-Sharia protest crossed the street and confronted the dissenters. As the anti-Sharia protesters crossed the street, both sides yelled at each other, which escalated the tension. Soon after the anti-Sharia protesters arrived at the dissenters side of the street, a fight ensued which resulted in a police response to break up the fight. According to police spokeswoman Eileen Hards who spoke to CBS News, no arrests were made.

Upon speaking to some of those against Sharia law, one Riverside local, who preferred to remain anonymous, explained, “we are against jihad on American culture, that is what we stand against,” attributing Sharia law to extremist jihad. When asked if he believed there was a difference between “extremist” Muslims in IS (Islamic State Group) and a “moderate” Muslim in the U.S., he claimed they were the same, saying, “Islam at it’s core … the true believers, that really read the Quran … they’re here to kill you (Americans).” He went on to say that Islam is an “ideology that is un-American.”

Robin Burbridge, a San Bernardino local, expressed fears that Sharia law was being incorporated in the U.S. legal system. “There is a lot of honor killing in America, there is a lot of FGM (female genital mutilation) in America, and they’re (Muslims) pushing (for Sharia law), like in Deerborne (Michigan).” Burbridge, a born-again Christian, went on to say that she was shocked when she researched Islam after 9/11 and that people need to do the research for themselves. She went on to say that if Muslims truly understood Sharia, they “would be shocked too.” Burbridge also hopes Trump will follow through with “extreme vetting” because she does not “want to look like Europe.”

Kambree Nelson, a resident of the Inland Empire who claimed she was a political moderate waving an LGBTQ rainbow flag, said “How they (Muslims) treat homosexuals and gays, and families is just absolutely wrong. And we are a country that’s supposed to protect the people and not allow an ideology to come in and hurt women and children and think it is OK to murder gays.” She also explained that she believed Sharia law had been “accepted into the religion, in the beginning, was it the religion? No, it was not that.”

On the other side of the street, UCR ethnic studies graduate student Loubna Katami explained that the counter-protest was about every identity, “we are out here to talk about multiple intersecting forms of oppression and freedom for black communities, indigenous communities, and a lot of this is centered around stopping fear-mongering and hate of Muslims in the United States.” Katami explained that she felt the fear of Islam among the protesters was because of “a very long U.S. imperialist presence in the Middle East … and the way the U.S. sold their imperialist project was by creating fear about Muslims.”

A UCR alumna, who asked to remain anonymous, was concerned that the anti-Sharia protesters “advocated for genocidal policies” and were trying to “raise up group violence against minorities … so I think that it’s better to not let them march and get that energy together.” She attributed most of this to the Three Percenters, a right-wing group whom she says “advocate(s) overthrowing the U.S. government and in their writings online, they say genocide explicitly, that they want to kill all of the Jews and Muslims” in the United States.

Val, who only gave her first name, a member of the Freedom Socialist Party, believed it was “insensitive and bigoted” for the protest to be down the street from the site of the 2015 attacks.

By: Evan Ismail, SSW and Nicholas Frakes, SW