Armed protesters again created chaos in Texas on Saturday by hunkering outside a mosque in Richardson that they falsely accused of terrorism.
The protesters, from volunteer group “Bureau of American Islamic Relations” (BAIR) brought firearms to the Islamic Association of North Texas, claiming the religious organization “has a documented history of funding terrorism” — a claim the Dallas Morning News could find no evidence for.
The group’s leader, David Wright, told the News the guns were to protect the group against Islamic extremists. But when pressed about the armed, mask-wearing men stalking people at their place of worship, he said he is “not a monster.”
“I do not like the fact that it may scare children or that it may scare women,” Wright told the News. “I do not like that at all. I’m not a monster.”
The group’s action was met counter-protesters in Dallas demonstrating against bigotry and Islamophobia — one dressed as a bear to spoof the armed group’s acronym, BAIR. Dallas News journalist Avi Selk reported 500 had signed on to come, but the location had to be moved last minute. Still, over 200 attended.
“We reject the discrimination against our Muslim brothers and sisters, we reject racial profiling by anyone, and we stand together and say we are better united,” said Pastor Eric Folkerth of Northaven United Methodist Church.
Last month, armed BAIR protesters generated outrage by showing up carrying firearms at a mosque in Irving. The mosque was set to be the site for the anti-bigotry demonstration, but mosque leaders asked for privacy as they met with community leaders from various faiths instead.
While mosque leaders at the Islamic Center of Irving had warned worshippers not to engage them, Wright and members of the Richardson mosque debated each other, according to the News.
“Nobody was listening to me two or three weeks ago — not one person,” Wright said, according to the News. “Now look, now look, now look how many people are now listening to me.”
The two argued over Wright’s bogus terrorism claims and Syrian refugees.
A week after the Irving demonstration, about 200 people rallied in support of their Muslim community members, in what the News calls one of the largest spontaneous demonstrations in the suburb’s history.
“It just made me so angry to see Americans who call themselves brave patriots threatening women and children,” one protester had said.
While Irving was thrust into the center of the national discussion over Islamophobia after a schoolboy who made a clock was arrested and accused of making a “hoax bomb,” organizers of Saturday’s counter-demonstration said they’re hoping this will snowball into a larger movement against bigotry.
“The hate isn’t going to stop so we shouldn’t let the rain stop us,” Alia Salem, leader of the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, told the crowd, and talked about a “snowball of a movement that’s going to take over [Dallas-Forth Worth.”