Civil rights campaigners have spoken out against several US officials who attended the meeting of a “hate group” where one speaker compared Muslims to “sharks” which were drawn to attack distressed animals in the water.
South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley and Secretary of State Shantel Krebs were reportedly present at the meeting of 250 people, hosted by ACT For America, in Rapid City.
Both officials declined to comment when asked to confirm or explain their presence at the event, as reported by Rapid City Journal.
A spokeswoman for Mr Jackley told The Independent that Mr Jackley "stopped to chat with a few folks. He was there for less than 15 [minutes]...before he went to a different engagement."
The Southern Poverty Law Centre has described the event organiser, ACT For America, as the “largest grassroots anti-Muslim group in America” and a “KKK for Muslims”.
At the meeting in May in Rapid City, one invited speaker, former congressional candidate and radio host William Federer, claimed that being nice and tolerant to Muslims was a “sign of weakness”.
“Weakness invites aggression,” Mr Federer told the audience.
“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.”
Mr Federer has also questioned whether Muslims could be “loyal” citizens of the US, and said their goal was to “immigrate, increase and eliminate”. He could not be immediately reached for comment by The Independent.
As reported by the local journal, he said is not a member of ACT For America, but his views are closely shared by founder Brigitte Gabriel, a US immigrant who also claimed in 2007 that practising Muslims could not be loyal US citizens.
Ms Gabriel’s grassroots group, which has been accused of distorting Lebanese history to attack Muslims, has grown from inception in 2007 to about 500,000 members across 1,000 chapters in the US.
The organisation believes that Islam ideology is an "attack on Western civilisation" and the group produces propaganda-style videos talking of patriots fighting the "enemy".
Donald Trump’s administration prompted controversy when Ms Gabriel tweeted that she was preparing for a meeting at the White House in March. The White House confirmed that Ms Gabriel had requested the meeting.
The South Dakota event was sponsored by the state’s chapter of the Family Heritage Alliance, a national Christian lobbying organisation, and several other religious organisations.
Several members of the audience left before the event was over, claiming the contents were “harmful” against other people. A small group of protesters were also outside the building.
The event comes as US Muslims and immigrants are suffering unprecedented levels of discrimination and hate crimes. The FBI found hate crimes against Muslims increase by 67 per cent in 2015.
The Council of American-Islamic Relations also condemned the officials for attending the group. CAIR found that, as of mid-March, the number of threats and acts of vandalism against mosques in the US had doubled so far in 2017 compared to the same period the previous year.
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