Surprise, surprise, ACT for America or as they are better known ACT for Hate’s largest chapter is in Nashville. Bob Smietana does a good job reporting on them in the article below.
by Bob Smietana
ACT! for America sums up its mission in four words: “They must be stopped.”
The “they” in question are Muslims, who ACT! for America’s leaders insist are involved in a stealthy jihad to destroy the United States from the inside out, replacing the Constitution with the Islamic legal code known as Shariah.
The Virginia Beach, Va.-based national nonprofit claims 150,000 members and spreads its message through books, websites, radio ads, cable television and the work of local chapters.
It has become a potent political force in Nashville, home to the largest ACT chapter in the nation. Local members have opposed new mosques and lobbied for laws limiting Islamic influence — including a new state anti-terrorism law that originally referenced Shariah law.
Their message appeals to Bible Belt Christians, who fear that Islam and secularization threaten their way of life, and Jewish and Christian supporters of Israel, who see Muslims as the enemy of that nation. Members point to the 2009 case of Carlos Bledsoe, a Muslim convert and former Tennessee State University student who confessed to murdering an Army recruiter in Little Rock.
Critics say ACT distorts the nature of Islam and labels law-abiding Muslims as terrorists. Local Muslims say they will stand up for their rights to religious freedom.
“We are not afraid of this ACT group,” said Rashed Fakhruddin, a member of the Islamic Center of Nashville. “But we are concerned about the climate of fear they are trying to create.”
ACT has nine chapters in Tennessee: Middle Tennessee — based in Nashville — Cleveland, Hermitage, Jackson, Lebanon, Knoxville, Memphis, Morristown and Niota. Charles Jacobs, president of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, a Boston-based anti-Islam group, said he’s not surprised that ACT has caught on in Middle Tennessee.
“The extent to which ACT has been successful in Nashville reflects its strong leadership nationally and locally and the frustration of many citizens with the failure of Nashville’s civic leadership and the media to deal with this threat,” he wrote in an email.
Anti-Islam groups fight for new laws
Daniel Bregman, a Nashville eye surgeon, leads the Middle Tennessee chapter. Bregman’s wife, Joanne, an attorney, has been one of the group’s chief lobbyists at the state Capitol.
Bregman turned down several requests for an interview. He appeared in a promotional video produced by the charity’s national office for its recent annual conference, held in Washington, D.C. The video states that Nashville has the largest chapter in the country, although the group won’t reveal its membership numbers.
“There are a couple reasons why a large chapter is good,” he said on the video. “The larger you are, the more power you have.”
The video includes images of the couple, as well as images of the outside of the Islamic Center of Nashville. Bregman repeats the claim that Muslims in the U.S. want to impose Shariah law in the place of the U.S. Constitution and are threatening non-Muslims.
“The imposition of Shariah law, which is the objective of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists in this country, is that I become a second-class citizen,” he said. “If I don’t get killed first.”
ACT members see themselves as warriors in a clash between Western civilization and Islam. That belief is reinforced at local chapter meetings, which feature speakers from other national anti-Islam groups.
They include Frank Gaffney of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for Security Policy and a star witness for opponents of the new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro. He has argued on ACT! for America’s cable show that Muslims should be arrested and tried as traitors if they follow any part of Shariah law.
He spoke at a March 15 ACT meeting held at New Hope Community Church in Brentwood, and a recording of his speech recently was posted online.
“Frankly, I feel I am in the presence of a lot of heroes,” he told audience members. “Folks like you are, in the end, what’s going to make a difference between victory and defeat in what I think of as the war for the free world.”
That message appeals to ACT supporters such as J. Lee Douglas, a Brentwood dentist.
Douglas said he usually takes a live-and-let-live approach when it comes to religion. But he doesn’t believe Islam shows the same respect to other faiths.
“I think with Islam, there is an effort to not just leave people alone,” he said. “There is a compulsion to force people to join that faith.”
Defenders called apologists, ignorant
Douglas was one of 100 or so people in attendance at a workshop Tuesday night — also at New Hope Community Church — sponsored by the local chapter of ACT! for America.
The session was titled “Persuading the Near Enemy.” According to the workshop leader, Bill French, a near enemy is anyone who thinks Islam has good points.
“The near enemy is the apologist for Islam, who, I have found, doesn’t know anything about Islam,” French told the group.
French is a former Tennessee State University physics professor who writes under the pseudonym Bill Warner and runs the Center for the Study of Political Islam. He has no formal training in Islamic studies and doesn’t speak Arabic.
He recently was listed as a member of “The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle” by the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Reportmagazine, along with Gaffney, ACT founder Brigitte Gabriel and David Yerushalmi, a Phoenix attorney who drafted Tennessee’s anti-Shariah bill.
That law passed after all references to Shariah and Islam were removed. The final version made giving assistance to a terrorist group a class A felony.
Shariah law’s meaning debated
French’s books, with titles such as Shariah Law for Non Muslims, and talks are based on counting verses in the Quran and other Islamic texts. He says that more verses in those texts are about politics and violence than religion.
Therefore, he argues, Islam isn’t only religion. Instead, he sees it as a political system bent on world domination, disguised with a thin veneer of religion. Real Muslims who follow the true Islam want to spread their religion by force.
“Jihad is what made Islam great,” he said.
Page Brooks, assistant professor of theology and Islamic studies at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said ACT! For America confuses radical Islam with the more moderate mainstream version of the faith.
Brooks, who is a chaplain in the Army National Guard, spent 2010 in Iraq. He said the Muslims he met there were thankful that American troops were opposing terrorists, who used Islam to justify violence.
“Even the average Iraqi knew the difference between the radical jihadists and the average Muslim walking around the street,” he said. “We have to be careful about who we label as a radical Muslim.”
Brooks also took issue with how ACT! for America and its supporters describe the Islamic legal code known as Shariah. That code guides religious practice — such as how to pray or what to eat — as well as family law, business practices and rules for ethical warfare.
“A lot of it has to do with religious compliance and personal holiness,” Brooks said.
Ron Leonard, ACT chapter leader in Hermitage, said his group is only worried about terrorists.
“I want to make that real clear,” said Leonard, who retired from the Army National Guard in 2004. “It is not Muslims. It is the extremist elements that we are dealing with. Muslims are good people. There are people that take their extremist views to the point of killing people. And ACT is in a position to stop this from going on.”
War, religious right are at group’s roots
ACT! for America is the brainchild of Hanah Kahwagi Tudor, a Lebanese Christian who fled her homeland during that country’s civil war, which raged from 1975 to 1990.
Tudor, who goes by the pseudonym Brigitte Gabriel, first moved to Israel, where she worked for a television network owned by Pat Robertson.
She married a co-worker named Charles Tudor, a former cameraman for Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker’s Praise the Lordtelevision show. The couple eventually settled in Virginia Beach.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, she began speaking out about terrorism. She wrote two books — They Must Be Stopped andBecause They Hate — which became best-sellers.
In books and speeches, Tudor says that Islamic terrorists took over her home country, and she wants to stop them before they take over America.
Tudor declined to be interviewed. On Friday, the ACT! for America website announced she’d visit Nashville on a November date to be announced.
ACT and Tudor’s other nonprofit, the education group American Congress for Truth, took in a combined $1,612,908 in 2009, according to their latest federal tax returns, known as Form 990s. The groups asked for an extension for filing their 2010 tax returns.
Tudor was paid $178,441 in salary by the two charities.
The nonprofit uses constant email updates, conference calls with Tudor and other electronic means to keep in close contact with local leaders.
Email updates sent to supporters also regularly include a request for donations.
Julie Ingersoll, associate professor of religious studies at the University of North Florida, attended ACT’s recent national convention and wrote about her experience for religiondispatches.com.
Ingersoll, who is critical of ACT, said the event was well organized and professional and focused on an “us versus them” approach to Islam and to liberals, who are seen as supporting Muslims.
“It’s framed as this real fear of outsiders,” she said. “It’s tied to all of the tea party rhetoric about the real America.”
Middle Tennessee Muslims organize
ACT’s growing influence has led local Muslims and interfaith groups to become more organized.
Hillsboro Presbyterian Church recently hosted an interfaith Scripture study with local Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders. About 50 people attended.
Fakhruddin, of the Islamic Center of Nashville, helped organize opposition to the anti-Shariah bill, working with the American Civil Liberties Union as well as people of other faiths.
“It made us a stronger group,” he said. “We will not tolerate any acts of injustice. Not just to Muslims, but to all Americans.”
Local Muslims haven’t been politically active until recently, Fakhruddin said. Now they are more aware of how to get involved in the political process and have now gotten to know their state legislators. They also are committed to defending the U.S. Constitution.
“People know us a little better than they did in the past,” he said. “People will see what we stand for and who we really are now. We are Americans. We are not some other group. We stand up for America.”