What is ACT for America?
ACT for America is a national political organization. In 2023, they claimed 1,000,000 members and 414,464 “dedicated activists.” In 2017 ACT was considered the nation’s largest grassroots anti-Muslim group. The group claims hundreds of chapters under its umbrella and during the Trump administration “boasted a ‘direct line’ to the White House” and other American lawmakers.
In 2023, their claimed recent legislative victories were focused on voter suppression bills. While ACT for America asserts it also counters the purported threat of “China, Iran, or domestic threats of radical insurrectionists such as ANTIFA,” it is active in spreading anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric.
Originating as the American Congress for Truth in the aftermath of 9/11, the group engages in efforts to promote and pass anti-Muslim laws. ACT for America aligns itself with public officials with anti-Muslim sentiments and maintains “strong ties to the Christian Right and militia groups.” This has included using the Oathkeepers, a group involved in the January 6th attack on the U.S. Capitol, as event security. They hosted white supremacists from Identity Evropa at rallies across the nation in 2017.
ACT for America has held annual conferences in the past, predominately in Washington D.C. Many of these conferences featured prominent Republican politicians who have promoted anti-Muslim policies and rhetoric. Notably, in 2010, former U.S. Representative Peter King, known for his controversial stance on the presence of mosques in America and leading congressional hearings on the “radicalization of Muslims,” received ACT’s “Patriot Award.”
Other speakers have included Senator Ted Cruz and retired Lt. General Mike Flynn. Former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn – who previously called Islam ‘a cancer’ and said to be ‘at war with Islam’ – served as a board member for ACT For America. Sen. Cruz live-streamed his participation in ACT for America’s Capitol Hill National Security Legislative Briefing, where he promoted the “Civilization Jihad” conspiracy to take over America. Sen. Cruz was later awarded the organization’s “National Security Eagle Award.”
ACT has actively been involved in campaigns aimed at passing anti-Muslim legislation. In 2010, ACT invested $60,000 to generate 600,000 robocalls as part of a statewide radio campaign in support of an Oklahoma constitutional amendment to ban state courts from considering “Sharia,” potentially nullifying marriage contracts and wills that invokes an individual’s Islamic faith. The amendment passed but was later ruled unconstitutional by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals.
On June 10, 2017, ACT organized “The March against Sharia,” a series of rallies held in 20 cities across the United States. Organizers of the rallies tried to shift the organization’s messaging of ‘Islam being a cancer’ to a purported notion of bringing ‘to light a series of crimes perpetrated in the U.S… committed in the name of Sharia.’ This effort failed both at the rallies, which ended up attracting a number of white supremacists and anti-government militias, during and after June 10.
Leaders of ACT rallies across the United States made their anti-Muslim goals known.
Stephanie Potts, who supported the ACT rally in Denver, said, ““But [the left] have never picked up a Quran and they don’t understand that Islam is not about multiculturalism.”
At the Harrisburg, Penn. ACT rally Vanguard America spokesperson Francisco Rivera told reporters, “I don’t believe in having Muslims in the United States. Their culture is incompatible with ours.” Vangaurd America is reported to be a neo-Nazi group. The group participated in the white supremacist Unite the Right in Charlotteville. James Alex Fields who later murdered Heather Heyer, who was protesting against the white supremacists, was pictured holding a Vanguard America symbol during the rally.
In Kansas City, ACT rally supporter Robert Burns told the Kansas City Star, “Stop pretending Islam is a religion; it’s a political movement.” He added, “I want the Qur’an banned. I want the mosques closed. That’s where this stuff is taught, in the mosques.”
Internal documents obtained by Al Jazeera’s investigative team revealed a coordinated campaign by ACT For America to spy on Muslims at educational institutions. A 129-page document from ACT For America stoked fear about Muslims and encourages members to “select a few [university] courses/professors that would have a likelihood of presenting biased viewpoints regarding Islamic Jihad, immigration, terrorism, etc.”
Founder Brigitte Gabriel, despite her anti-Muslim rhetoric, has been invited to address various institutions, including the United Nations, the Pentagon, members of the United States Congress, and other facets of the country’s foreign policy and national security apparatus. Additionally, she has been featured as a prominent guest on cable news networks such as CNN and Fox News.
Gabriel’s public engagements have been riddled with numerous anti-Muslim comments. In 2007, she asserted that a “practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.” In 2011, during an appearance on CNN, she made claims about radical Muslims infiltrating various American institutions, including the C.I.A., F.B.I., Pentagon, and State Department. In 2014, at a forum hosted by the Heritage Foundation, she suggested that “between 15 and 25 percent” of all Muslims worldwide are extremists.
Following President Trump’s election, Gabriel received an invitation to a meeting at the White House and was photographed with President Trump at Mar-a-Lago, where she participated in a national security briefing.
Gabriel and ACT For America enjoyed a close relationship with numerous White House officials serving in Trump’s administration. Former CIA Director and U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke at multiple conferences for ACT For America and sponsored a meeting for the organization in the U.S. Capitol in 2016. Gabriel held a meeting with White House staffer Paul Teller during the Trump years.
In May 2021, leaked documents reported by the Southern Poverty Law Center revealed Gabriel’s association with other Islamophobic figures in the secretive right-wing coalition called the Council for National Policy (CNP). According to journalist Anne Nelson (who researched the CNP), she asserts that: “Islamophobia has been a core value of the Council for National Policy for a long time, an outgrowth of the Christian fundamentalist roots of the organization.”