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Venice speakers denounce Islam and Muslims at 9/11 ceremony

It’s surprising that the Mayor admitted that he didn’t look into the background of any of the speakers, including the extremist Tom Trento.

Venice speakers denounce Islam at 9/11 ceremony

VENICE – What was billed as a 9/11 memorial service took on elements of an anti-Islamic rally Wednesday, including a lengthy speech by the leader of what has been labeled an anti-Muslim hate group.

An audience of about 500 people, including schoolchildren, gathered at Patriots Park at 10 a.m. to hear remarks by city officials, law enforcement and family members of those who died on 9/11 and the ongoing fight against terrorism.

But three other speakers used the podium to criticize Islam and the policies of President Obama, taking city officials by surprise, including Venice Mayor John Holic, who called the message “extreme.”

One speaker was Tom Trento, who heads an organization called The United West, which says its mission is to defend “Western Civilization against Shariah Islam.” The United West is based in Lake Mary and is classified as an “anti-Muslim hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Trento, whose speech lasted for nearly 30 minutes, told the audience: “I’m not talking about radical Islam or moderate Islam. I’m talking about all Islam. Their goal is to get every single one of us to convert to Islam. And they won’t stop until we do.”

Mayor Holic stressed that the event was not city-planned and that an organization called Salt of the Earth had rented out the park and organized the event.

“He had some pretty extreme points of view,” Holic said of Trento. “I guess pretty extreme is underplaying it a little bit.”

Holic said neither he nor any other city officials left during the political and anti-Islam remarks.

“Out of respect for the day and the meaning for the day, I don’t think it would have been proper for any of our people to leave and walk away,” Holic said.

Holic added that in the future he will scrutinize the backgrounds and views of speakers before he attends such an event.

Some in the crowd cheered when anti-Islam remarks were made, which troubled Maj. Michael Dubrule of the U.S. Marine Corps, who was overseeing a group of Venice Middle School young Marines at the event.

He said the school group volunteered to hand out water and programs before the speakers began to take a political turn.

“I talked to (the students) about the fact that it’s a free country,” Dubrule said. “And when people are asked to speak, they sometimes have personal agendas that don’t always reflect what we’re here to do.”

Gene Sweeney, who is head of the group Salt of the Earth, organized Wednesday’s event. He defended the statements made by Trento and other speakers.

“People are overly politically correct,” Sweeney said. “If people want to remain in self-imposed ignorance, they can all hold hands and sing ‘Kum Ba Yah’ together.”

Sweeney added that Venice residents have a special obligation to seek understanding of 9/11 since several hijackers and plotters lived and trained in Venice.

Much of the program was a standard memorial ceremony, in which speakers, including Venice Police Chief Tom McNulty, who was a detective in New York on 9/11, shared reflections of the terrorist attacks.

“Their mission failed,” McNulty said of the terrorists. “We stood together, we faced the fight, and we said never again.”

But as some city officials and family members of those killed on 9/11 and in the ongoing war against terrorism finished speaking, the event became charged with anti-Islam messages, as well as harsh criticism of President Obama.

Members of The United West handed out books warning of the threat to America and DVDs titled “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West.” One woman held a large “Impeach Obama” sign on a totem.

Trento told the audience that the Obama administration failed to realize the threat posed by Islam, and the administration was too worried about being “politically correct” to target America’s enemies in the Muslim world.

When asked about why he made political statements at the memorial ceremony, Trento said he felt it was an obligation.

“Being apolitical is an artificial way of looking at life,” Trento said. He added that if he had a conversation with a Muslim, “I would ask them, is your allegiance to the United States of America or to Islam? If they’re being honest, they’ll say Islam.”

Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that while thousands of groups in the United States are critical of Islam, few are as vicious in their criticisms as the United West.

“They are a vicious, conspiracy-minded, Muslim-bashing group,” Potok said.

EARLIER: A 9/11 memorial service held at Patriots Park today included several speakers who used the podium to denounce Islam and criticize the Obama administration for failing to recognize the threat posed by Islam.

An audience of about 500 people, including schoolchildren, gathered at the park at 10 a.m. to hear remarks by city officials, law enforcement and family members of those who died on 9/11 and the ongoing fight against terrorism.

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  • Laurent Weppe

    In fascism, loyalty to the nation is prioritised above all other loyalties

    Fascism is not about loyalty to the nation; fascism is about submissiveness to the social hierarchy that fascist want to establish: the “nationality tests” devised by far-right extremists were never designed to test one’s patriotism, but to test whether one would obey to a fascist aristocracy’s diktats

  • Diego Hernandez

    What irks me about these regular extra-legal “nationality tests” is that they’re dangerously close to fascism. In fascism, loyalty to the nation is prioritised above all other loyalties, be they religious (usually quite easily embraced into ultranationalism) or (especially) class. This is why fascists absolutely despised socialists and communists, because the latter groups tried to organise working-class people across national boundaries. Hence the creation of “tamed” trade unions under Germany’s Nazis. Internationally linked unions were a threat. One can see parallels with the stigmatisation of transnational Islamic identity.

    The easy embrace of Christian theocracy into American ultranationalism, whereby theocrats will doggedly insist in the face of overwhelming evidence that the U.S. was founded as a Christian nation while stigmatising out-group religions like Islam, definitely calls to mind Hitler’s “German Church”. Many of these American Christians who prioritise their Christian identity over their American one would probably still insist on nationality tests for Muslims. Their own religions’ compatibility with American nationality apparently doesn’t need to be questioned.

    Voluntary patriotism is all well and good, but jingoistic ultranationalism crosses a line in my view. People should be free to say whatever the hell they want about their nation, think whatever they want about its policies and be “loyal” to or get their identities from whatever they want. That freedom is what political liberalism is ultimately about, and the willingness to discard this freedom by various Islamophobes and neocons indicates their complete insincerity in their “defence” of it.

  • techkid90

    is anyone really surprised? 9/11 to these people is simply the gift that keeps on giving. Something they can use to satisfy their vile bigotry and justify their ignorance. Hopefully, this is only a minority that is screaming as loud as fast as it is dying.

  • Tanveer Khan

    This was very disappointing. I think whenever we take part in a ceremony or speak at a ceremony in the name of some people who have been murdered etc we should always keep in mind what the people we are doing it in honour of would think. I think the poor souls of 9/11 would never condone this demonisation of Islam.

  • Reynardine

    Most assuredly, it was not pushy.

  • Just_Stopping_By

    Interesting. I can’t recall any Muslim friends actively pushing me to consider conversion. I think that made our discussions more informative for me, as I never felt any concern about a hidden agenda in the background. And, actually, the friend whose beliefs probably influenced me the most was a Muslim who demonstrated his beliefs more through acts of kindness to others than through conversation.

    Of course, everyone should feel free to discuss and/or promote their faith however they see fit within the bounds of reason and civility.

  • wjshelton

    Well stated, Reynardine, well stated, indeed. Thank you.

  • Reynardine

    Though I was, in years past, blandished by Muslim friends to consider their faith, there was nothing more coercive in it than endless cups of tea. Unlike a certain type of Christian, they did not force themselves on strangers, and unlike said types, I never had the least fear that they would attempt to overthrow the United States government for not conforming to their religious wishes.

  • Reynardine

    Besides being bigoted, discriminatory, and sectarian, this event was perilously close to seditious.

  • CriticalDragon1177

    The Mayor ought to be ashamed of himself.

  • CriticalDragon1177

    I agree. This is disgusting.

  • wjshelton

    I always find it interesting – and disheartening – whenever people like Trento say about Musims ” If they’re being honest…”, their supposition is that we are incapable of being honest and that anything coming out of our mouths is, by definition, a lie. So much for attempting dialog…

  • mindy1

    How pathetic to use an event meant for rememberence as an excuse to hate 🙁 it should be like memorial day, a day to pray and hope and remeber.

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