Anti-Muslim protesters gathered outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix on Friday evening for a “Freedom of Speech Rally.” Many brought American flags and some brought weapons to the demonstration outside the mosque (Arizona is an open-carry state). There were signs and t-shirts that read “Fuck Islam” and other similar sentiments. Some protesters even tore up and stomped on the Quran. The group also had planned a “Draw Muhammad” contest, but it didn’t seem many participated.
The protesters were met by counter-protesters in almost equal numbers. About 500 people gathered in the scorching desert heat. Police put up barricades and separated the groups on opposite sides of the street. And though there was yelling and arguments (and reportedly a couple physical fights), the rally was relatively peaceful with no arrests.
The demonstration was organized by former Marine, Jon Ritzheimer, in response to the ISIS-inspired attack outside a controversial Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas back in May. Ritzheimer says that he’s received numerous death threats since he began organizing the event on Facebook. And now, he says that he’s going into hiding.
“I’m having to sell my house. My family is going into hiding,” an armed Ritzheimer told the media at the rally. “They’re calling for lone wolves to behead me. That’s terrorism right here in America.”
Meanwhile on Twitter, the Campaign to Take On Hate (which works to challenge misconceptions about Muslims) launched the #NotMyAmerica hashtag in an attempt to drown out the supporters of the armed protesters in Phoenix. However both sides began using the hashtag to try to prove their point.
Click through the gallery below to see photos from the protest outside the Phoenix Mosque.