Ritzheimer, the de facto leader of Arizona’s Islamophobia movement, garnered attention earlier this year after he organized a large anti-Islam protest outside the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix, but critics say his most recent attempt to recreate the event didn’t work.
“I think it was a bit of failure,” Heidi Beirich, Director of Intelligence Project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, tells New Times. “[Ritzheimer] didn’t get many people to turn out at these different mosques.”
“We are pleased that what was planned as a campaign of hate and marginalization turned instead into a show of support for the American Muslim community and for religious inclusion,” Ibrahim Hooper, national communications director for the Council on American and Islamic Relations said in a statement.
Protests were planned in at least 20 cities across the U.S., as well a handful of cities abroad, but it appears most were, Beirich says, “a bust.”
According to the SPLC, no one showed up in Huntsville, Alabama: "I expected to see a group of people here angry, with signs talking about how awful Muslims were, but no one showed up," a Huntsville pastor told the organization.
No protesters turned out for rallies planned in Washington, Georgia, Illinois, or New Jersey — though in some of these places, small groups of counter-protesters showed up and held anti-hate signs.
“The Dearborn, [Michigan rally] was apparently very, very small, too,” Beirich says. “Phoenix may have been the biggest one, [but ] it was nothing close to the rally Jon Ritzheimer held in front of the mosque earlier this year.”
Phoenix police estimate that Ritzheimer’s rally here drew about 100 protesters and counter-protesters — though the majority were on the counter-protest side demonstrating against what they called his hateful message. By contrast, his previous rally — The Rally for Free Speech back in May — drew more than 500 people.
While crime statistics show anti-Islam hate crimes are on the rise, Beirich says. perhaps this weekend’s poor turnout “indicates that anti-Islam sentiment isn’t as strong as it appears, or at least that people aren’t willing to go into the street for it.”
She concedes that “he’s obviously attracted some people to his views [since] he got some people in the street,” but “he’s kind of scary,” she adds. “You watch his videos, his views are so extreme…I wonder if some people who share his views may have been scared off by them.”
She mentions the video New Times wrote about earlier this year in which Ritzheimer opened fire on a Quran to show his disdain for the religion: “That’s the scary aspect of him...he seems willing to put the most provocative, scary stuff out there," Beirich says.
"He’s just crazy and irresponsible [and] about as anti-Muslim or anti-Islam as you can possible be [though] we know he hasn’t done anything [violent]. He’s someone we’re watching very closely.”
In addition to The SPLC, CAIR and possibly the FBI have been keeping close tabs on Ritzheimer.
Ritzheimer, who ranted into a microphone Saturday morning outside of the mosque, claims he doesn’t hate Muslims; it’s just the religion of Islam he hates: “We’re speaking out for humanity, which is being attacked daily by Muslims. It’s not just extremists. It’s Muslims just following the Quran as it’s written.”
As if to prove his message is not hate-filled, Ritzheimer made big deal of expelling a group of neo-Nazis that showed up outside of the mosque.
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The SPLC’s take on the situation: “It doesn’t make him any less of a hater because he threw some neo-Nazis out,” Beirich says, chuckling.
“In fact, I think it’s sort of humorous. You’re perfectly happy to spew hate against Muslims, but my God, you’re not going to be around white supremacists spewing hate? It’s kind of ironic.”
Saturday’s protest ended uneventfully, and according to Facebook, Ritzheimer and company celebrated their “event that was successful” by jumping off of a cliff — though not the cliff that some of his critics may have hoped for.