Between fights, taunting worshipers with insults, and waving signs inscribed with slogans like “Stop Islamic immigration to the U.S.A.", the crowd that mobbed the Islamic Community of Phoenix Saturday chowed down on bacon.
“We’ve been eating a lot of bacon over here so you’d better think twice before you blow anybody up,” former U.S. Marine John Ritzheimer shouted up at the red-domed mosque. “If you do, you’ll probably get some bacon chunks on you.”
Ritzheimer organized the protest as part of what he called a “Global Rally for Humanity,” but hate-speech monitoring organizations called it the largest show of force against Muslims in history. He networked with anti-Muslim groups in Australia, Canada, and Germany, including United Patriot Front, Britain First, and PIGIDA, to put on rallies in more than two-dozen cities.
“We’re speaking out for humanity, which is being attacked daily by Muslims,” he said. “It’s not just extremists. It’s Muslims just following the Koran as it’s written.”
While his overarching goal is to protect the world from terrorist attacks, he said. He is happy to “take baby steps.” To start, he said he’d like the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix to lose its status as a nonprofit. Then, he said, “This mosque needs to be bulldozed.”
A roughly equivalent number of people showed up to defend the Mosque’s worshipers, carrying signs that read, “Using the 2nd Amendment to intimidate people from using the 1st Amendment is fascist” and “Islamaphobia kills.” Many donned white, grinning Guy Fawkes masks.
Usama Shami, president of the Islamic Community Center, said he was “disappointed” when he heard what Ritzheimer planned. Hundreds showed up, spewing hatred in May, garnering national media attention. Since, he said, people have sporadically stood outside with rifles and pistols drawn, harassing people as they prayed.
Ritzheimer’s claim that the Mosque aligns itself with terrorism is “false fantasy,” he said.
“This should not be done in front of any house of worship regardless of what it is: church, mosque, synagogue, temple — whatever,” he said. “People need to be able to worship freely and not feel like they are threatened.”
Anticipating clashes, Phoenix police set up barricades dividing the street.
Protesters leaned over the fences and shouted insults at one another. On Ritzheimer’s side, they shouted: “Goat humper!” and “Mohammed was a pedophile!” On the other, people yelled: “Bigots!” “Racists!”
At one point, two men from Ritzheimer’s side of the street marched over into enemy territory and a brawl erupted.
Dozens of policemen in full riot gear immediately flooded the street.
“USA! USA!” Ritzheimer’s mob chanted.
One woman closed her eyes, raised her hands to the sky, and prevailed upon God to “smite” the Muslims. “Halleluja!” she sang. “Halleluja!” Another woman hauled over a red wagon filled with eight pounds of smoking-hot bacon to mock the Muslims, who don’t eat pork.
A few yards away, there was a man wearing a red plastic devil mask and cape who said his name was “Satan.” There were horns sprouting out of his head. He had a message for the so-called Islamic State Terrorist Group: “You think you scare us? The epitome of evil is protesting against you!”
Dean Saxton had a T-shirt custom-made for the event. On the front, in bold black letters, it said: “Proud to be an Infidel.” Referencing the beheadings beloved by the Islamic State terrorist group, his neck was encircled by a dotted line. Next to a tiny pair of scissors, it read: "Cut here."
“It’s not that I hate Muslims,” he said. “I would like all of them to become Christian if they can and repent from their wicked religion.”
Saxton spent the morning shouting into a megaphone and waving around graphic photos of atrocities committed by terrorists.
“You are promoting a religion of hatred!” he shouted.
Across the fence, Johnny Martin, a 22-year-old Arizona State University Student stared him down. Raising his own megaphone to his lips, he countered: “We’re not promoting any religion! We’re promoting peace, tolerance, and acceptance!”
Martin, a Muslim convert, is president of Sun Devils are Better Together, ASU’s interfaith club. He brought a troupe of students carrying white signs with their religions written on them in blue marker. “I am an atheist and I love all people,” one said. “I am Catholic, and I love Muslims,” read another.
Saxton yelled back: “This is not a religion of tolerance. This is not a religion of acceptance. This religion isn’t even humane!”
Martin rolled his eyes.
“They are generalizing one-fourth of the global population based on a very select few radical extremists who represent less than .00001 percent of Muslims,” he said. “I am Muslim, and I love Christians and Jews and atheists and agnostics and Hindus and Buddhists. It is because of my faith that I respect and love all people.”
The problem isn’t Islam, said Dai Dawson, who identifies with the ancestral traditions of first nations Muscogee/Creek, and it isn’t, she added, fixing Saxton in a steely glare, Christianity, either.
“The problem is fundamentalism and these assholes that want to kill each other over their ideals,” she said. “I think all of their traditions are silly … but I’m not going to tell any of them they don’t have the right to pray.”
Keep Phoenix New Times Free... Since we started Phoenix New Times, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Phoenix, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Phoenix with no paywalls.