An anti-Islam activist group hosted a march against Sharia law and faced dozens of counter-protesters at the Texas Capitol on Saturday.
ACT for America’s March Against Sharia took place in cities across the nation out of fear that a growing American Muslim population will threaten the Constitution and introduce practices such as child marriage and female genital mutilation, according to the event’s Facebook page.
Sharia law is a set of principles that governs how a Muslim should live based on interpretations of the Quran. Islamic scholars frequently debate about what constitutes Sharia.
The marchers carried Make America Great Again gear, signs that warned of Sharia law replacing U.S. laws and shirts with numerous allegiances that ranged from Oath Keepers to Infowars.
Trinity University sophomore Arisha Ali, who joined the counter-protest against ACT, said the marchers misunderstood Sharia, as some thought the law meant the suppression of all women.
As a Muslim, Ali said Sharia is subject to a multitude of interpretations, which most Muslims do not prescribe to extremist versions of.
“Sharia is up to each person,” Ali said. “It’s an individual thing, and it’s not something that everyone can have the same definition for.”
Counter-protesters, many of them masked in bandanas, attempted to disrupt the marchers through chants, whistles, pots and pans. Their efforts prevented a planned keynote from an ACT representative and occasionally interrupted media interviews with marchers.
Alana Brandt, an international relations and global studies junior who chanted with the counter-protesters, said their tactics were warranted because the ACT marchers’ rhetoric against Muslims should be “shut down as much as possible.”
“(The marchers’) flags are absurd,” Brandt said. “I mean the Confederate flag and the white supremacist symbols are unfathomable.”
Two days ago, ACT for America canceled its Arkansas march upon learning that “the organizer is associated with white supremacist groups,” according to a press release. In the Austin march, the Confederate flag and red cross symbols that referenced the Crusades were on display.
State troopers formed a line that separated the marchers from the protesters and blocked off sections of East 11th Street in order to prevent traffic from coming through. Later on, state troopers in riot gear were deployed to further demarcate opposing crowds.
Scenes of counter-protesters colliding with the shields of the state troopers caused more law enforcement to arrive, but no arrests were made.
“I thought law enforcement’s response was overly aggressive … but there may have been a reason why they needed protective gear,” said Ryan Goldsteon, a Tex-Mex waiter who stood with the counter-protest.
State troopers did not respond to requests for comment on what prompted them to use riot gear.
Several demonstrators from both sides openly displayed their firearms. Goldsteon said this display escalated tensions and hindered discourse with the other side.
“When you bring guns into this, that just brings more hostility,” Goldsteon said. “At some point, we’re going to have to take a step and engage people because not all these people are fascists.”
The protests dwindled by early afternoon.