A group that one expert called the "KKK for Muslims" hosted a two-hour presentation in Rapid City last weekend about the history of Islam.
ACT for America, a national organization categorized by the Southern Poverty Law Center as the “largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America,” held the event Saturday at the Best Western Ramkota Hotel in front of around 250 people.
South Dakota Attorney General and Republican gubernatorial candidate Marty Jackley was in attendance, but his office declined to comment when reached after the event.
Following the presentation, the Rev. Craig Moore of First Assembly of God told the audience that Secretary of State Shantel Krebs was also present. Krebs' office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.
Corey Saylor, a spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations who specializes in combating Islamaphobia, said of ACT for America: "In many ways, they are the KKK for Muslims."
CAIR is a national civil rights group focused on bettering relations within the U.S. between Muslims and non-Muslims.
The ACT for America event was sponsored by the South Dakota chapter of the Family Heritage Alliance, a national Christian conservative lobbying organization. Big Horn Canyon Community Church and the First Assembly of God — both local Christian churches — were also listed among the event’s sponsors.
Addressing the audience Saturday, Amy Wilson, a spokeswoman for the South Dakota chapter of ACT for America, decried the SPLC’s categorization of her organization as a “hate group.”
“This is a love group,” Wilson said, citing the South Dakota chapter’s efforts to convert Muslims to Christianity. “We love Muslims, and we want them to feel the love of Jesus Christ.”
Wilson said she is opposed to terrorism and female genital mutilation. In a later interview with the Journal, she said, “We want to educate so Sharia law doesn’t spread to South Dakota.”
The invited speaker, William Federer — Christian author, radio personality, and former congressional candidate — spoke about historical events in the Islamic world spanning from the first century to the modern era.
Though he praised secular leaders like Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of Turkey, Federer spent most of his talk painting a picture of Islam as a religion built primarily on a foundation of conquest and bloodshed.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that people see news headlines and they have questions,” Federer said after his presentation. “Past behavior is an indicator of future performance.”
Treating Muslims with “niceness” and “tolerance,” Federer told his audience, is a form of weakness.
“Weakness invites aggression,” Federer said. “Sharks can sense a distressed animal in the water, and they’re naturally drawn to attack the distressed animal. So the dilemma the West faces is the nicer the West shows itself, there’s a percentage of Muslims that view that niceness as weakness. And they take that as an invitation to attack.”
Rapid City resident Joanna Lawler was among a small group of protesters gathered outside the Ramkota Hotel before the event.
“I think it’s disappointing that a speaker like this would have an audience here in Rapid City,” she said. “But certainly, he doesn’t speak for all of us.”
In his book, “What Every American Needs to Know About the Qur’An — A History of Islam & the United States,” Federer questions whether Muslims can be loyal citizens of the U.S.
“Since Islam is not just a religion, but also a political and military system,” he wrote, “could a Muslim’s bowing five times a day be the equivalent of pledging allegiance to Mecca? Does it affect a Muslim’s loyalty to America to have one of Islam’s five pillars be the hajj, a pilgrimage once in their life to a city in Saudi Arabia?”
Federer said he is not a member of ACT for America, whose founder, Briggite Gabriel, attracted controversy when she met with President Donald Trump in March.
During a speech to the Defense Department’s Joint Forces Staff College in 2007, Gabriel — a Lebanese Christian — said that “a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Quran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day — this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Quran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.”
Saylor, with CAIR, said those beliefs are simply not true. “They’ll give lip service to ‘Oh, yeah, we like Muslims,'” he said. “But everything they teach is a conspiracy theory that somehow says that if we’re Muslims, we can’t be patriotic Americans. Which is a lie.”
CAIR has attracted controversy of its own in the past, having been accused of ties to Hamas, a terrorist organization. But CAIR has never been formally charged with criminal activity, and a New York Times story from 2007 said that government officials “described the standards used by critics to link CAIR to terrorism as akin to McCarthyism.”
“I grew up Christian, and I loved the Book of Joshua when I was a little kid,” Saylor said. “It’s one endless war story. That doesn’t mean I understand Christianity to be a violent faith. I understand you take the entirety of a holy book within its context. And I always find it intriguing that ACT for America’s understanding of the Quran is the exact same one as ISIS, even when the rest of the world rejects that interpretation.”
Zeroing in on the most violent chapters of Islam’s history, Federer in his presentation didn't discuss acts of violence committed in the name of Christianity.
"That’s not the topic of my talk," he said. "It’s how Islam affected Western civilization, not the comparison of bad things done."
Federer describes Islam as a religious, political and military ideology that he claims follows a three-part playbook for entering and taking over communities.
"Immigrate, increase and eliminate," Federer said.
When asked afterward how people should interpret the information he presented, he said, “Don’t. It’s a historical narrative.”
“It’s two plus two,” he continued. “You can do the 'equals four' in your mind, but don’t say that I did that.”
Rapid City resident Carol Merwin left Federer’s presentation about a half hour before it ended.
“They say they’re not being hateful,” she said, “but to me it seems they’re trying to demonize people of another religion. Since I’m not into demonizing people, I can’t demonize them for what they’re saying.
"But I think it’s harmful.”