On Friday evening, a group of self-proclaimed "patriots" will demonstrate outside of the Islamic Community Center in north Phoenix to "protect [their] Constitutional rights to freedom of speech."
According to the event's Facebook page, the rally "is in response to the recent attack in Texas where 2 armed terrorist, with ties to ISIS, attempted Jihad." The group held a similar rally on May 17, which organizers say drew a crowd of about 200.
During the protest, attendees—many of whom are part of the motorcycle group, RidersUSA—will march with signs and American flags. Event organizer Jon Ritzheimer tells New Times the protest will be peaceful, and that he plans to "pull the reins in on people who want to do stupid things like throw bacon" at the center. He will also be selling black T-shirts that read "F*** Islam."
Ritzheimer scheduled the rally to coincide with Friday evening prayer, and is encouraging people to bring cartoon drawings of the Prophet Muhammad to enter into a contest. (The winner will be selected during the "after-party" at a nearby bar, Wild Bills.) There will be at least "two state militia groups to provide security," but he's still encouraging folks to bring guns "just in case our first amendment [right] comes under the much anticipated attack."
Also at Friday's event will be members of the group Wave of Action, which is planning a counter-protest. "After numerous reports that racist groups were organizing and attempting to intimidate others we couldn't sit by quietly," member Murray Bookchin wrote in an email to New Times. "They are using the guise of 'free speech' to intimidate people who simply want to pray to god. They have openly called for open carry [of guns] as if that's not meant to intimidate. They are selling F*** Islam shirts outside this mosque while spewing racist and intolerant rhetoric via loudspeakers. Everyone is entitled to free speech and as long as they will proclaim Islam is a devils cult we will scream this is what fascism looks like."
Ritzheimer tells New Times that he was inspired to protest after learning that the two gunmen who opened fire outside of an event showcasing cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad earlier this month in Garland, Texas were from Phoenix. (The two were subsequently shot and killed by police.) Upon hearing the news, Ritzheimer, an atheist and Marine Corps veteran, put on his black "F*** Islam" shirt and spent seven hours waving an American flat outside of the apartment building where the two had resided.
"I received a lot of threats from Muslims. Someone told me to expect a drive-by if I stayed out there," he says. "But people have the right to slander Islam if they want to...I'm a patriot and this is about the Constitution."