While all eyes were on the University of California, Berkeley, Thursday night to see if radical leftists could control their anger over the mere presence of a conservative speaker on campus, it was a gathering in a tiny Iowa town that attracted the attention of one of the left's key allies – the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
CAIR, which was named an unindicted co-conspirator in a massive terror-financing trial held in 2008, crashed a meeting in Oakland, Iowa – population 1,500 in rural Pottawattamie County.
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Why such concern for what's going on in a place so far off the beaten path?
Actually, it's not unusual, not in post-Trump America.
CAIR has made it a top priority in the wake of President Trump's surprising election victory to show up, challenge and cause confusion wherever a factual discussion of Islam is being held, say experts on the organization. CAIR is worried that a nation under the spell of Barack Obama for eight years may start to wake up to some startling facts and discover that Islam has become the government-favored religion, the only religion Americans are not allowed to criticize.
This is all part of CAIR's nationwide campaign against "Islamophobia" which coincides with the United Nations' anti-Islamophobia campaign being carried out on a global scale. Cities such as Boston, Minneapolis, San Fransisco and Nashville have all taken up the cause of defending Islam against verbal attacks increasingly referred to as "hate crimes."
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But if Oakland, Iowa, is any indication, CAIR's strategy of defending Islam against Americans exercising their First Amendment rights doesn't play as well in rural America as it does in the big cities. In fact, it may even be backfiring.
The speakers who had CAIR worked up into a frenzy were John Guandolo and Chris Gaubatz, partners in Understanding the Threat, a consulting firm that educates the public, local law enforcement and churches about the threat of latent jihadist cells in America – cells similar to those that have been activated and carried out horrific attacks over the past two years in Paris, London, Brussels, Barcelona and other European cities.
The two men were set to appear Thursday in a series of meetings in Nebraska and Iowa, one of which had to be canceled due to the sponsor's fear of protesters showing up and scaring away his customers at a local restaurant.
The final leg of the speaking tour, at a community center in Oakland, Iowa, is where it got interesting. The event drew a crowd of about 100 people seeking to learn about the Islamic threat. They were met by 16 protesters made up of mostly left-wing Democrat activists. Some of the CAIR operatives infiltrated the meeting and tried to disrupt the flow of information from Gaubatz, an investigative journalist and Guandolo, a former FBI counter-terrorism specialist. Gaubatz once went undercover to work at CAIR National, leaving with copies of hundreds of documents that made the basis for an investigative book called "Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret World that's Conspiring to Islamize America."
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Part of the two men's presentation included a video showing how Christians and other non-Muslims are treated in Muslim-majority countries.
The CAIR operatives were unable to shut down the meeting but police had to be called in to restore order, said the host of the event, Dr. Mark Christian, a former Muslim who left his native Egypt in 2005 so he could freely practice his new-found faith of Christianity.
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"There was a video on the screen displaying the punishments of Shariah law across the globe, from lashings and stonings to beheadings, all going on right now," Dr. Christian said. "Everyone in the room was crying, including myself, because it reminded me of what my faith was going to be like if I had not left Egypt and come to America.
"I would be persecuted in the streets just like them."
Before the meeting even started, the unwelcomed guests started working the crowd.
A woman stood up just as people were finding their seats and said Mark Christian was "a racist, fascist, and hater of Muslims."
She had no idea that Christian was sitting in the back of the room, that he is a native Egyptian whose former name is Mohamed Abdullah and that his skin is brown.
A man with a large beard made his way through the crowd and sat down next to Dr. Christian.
"I was afraid for my life for the first time in years," Christian told WND. "A guy from CAIR came and sat down in the seat directly next to me and so I retreated in the back and decided I am not going to speak. I am not a wuss but you must understand it is the duty of every Muslim to kill an apostate like me, so I don't know who encounters me that might take up that challenge from Allah."
Christian said every Muslim who encounters an apostate – a Muslim who has left the faith – is challenged by the hadiths to take one of three actions.
"There are three kinds of actions required by the hadiths of Muhammad. The best Muslim will take action and kill me, the middle Muslim will decide to insult me, and the least of the Muslims will hate me in his heart," he said. "And Allah does not favor the weak Muslim, according to the hadith."
So Christian had no idea which kind of Muslim the man with the beard would decide to be that night.
Christian hired four ex-Marines for security but they were unarmed.
"They couldn't do much, so we had to call police to keep order in the room," Christian told WND. "Because of the laws they couldn't carry a gun at the city-owned community center."
Dr. Christian is not just any former Muslim. He is a former imam who converted to Christianity and now runs the Global Faith Institute, an organization based in Omaha, Nebraska, dedicated to teaching Christians and Jews about Islamic supremacism, cutting through the politically-correct narrative so prevalent in Western countries today that Islam is a "religion of peace and tolerance."
He said Thursday night was an eye-opener for him. He'd never encountered such a concerted effort to shut down free speech in the U.S. – especially not in a small town in the heartland.
A local physician confronts Dr. Christian
A local physician from Council Bluffs, Iowa, appeared to be the lead agitator along with one other woman, according to Christian. The physician, Dr. Glenn Hurst, is running as a Democrat for a seat on the Pottawattamie County Board of Supervisors.
"They walked in and we let them in, we let them in because we are for freedom of speech, free and open debate," Christian told WND.
But Hurst had already showed his hand. He posted on Facebook suggestions that Guandolo, Christian and Gaubatz did not qualify for free speech rights under the First Amendment.
"Let them know that Racism, discrimination and hate are not topics that are up for debate," Hurst posted on Facebook.
He urged Iowans to contact Pottawattamie County GOP leader Jeff Jorgenson and ask him to shut down the scheduled meeting, but Jorgenson supported the symposium and actually helped organize it privately after the GOP establishment rejected an offer to be the host.
Hurst made it clear he and his supporters did not attend the event to participate in an open discussion or to debate the facts.
"Our intention is to go in and put in ear plugs, hold up newspapers and ignore this entire event," Hurst told the local NBC TV affiliate, WOWT Channel 6. "We will not be engaging in the debate."
Watch local TV coverage of the event:
Christian found that odd.
"Now if the information we were presenting was not true in their eyes you would think debating it would be the best outcome for them, no?" Christian said. "So they are there trying to disrupt the program, they occupy the first two rows, holding newspapers in their hands to block the view of those behind them."
The protesters responded to requests for quiet with loud talking among themselves and holding the newspapers up, frustrating those who took the time to come out and hear the speakers.
"But they raised the papers even higher and started talking to themselves very loud," Christian said. "They were looking for trouble."
When the cops arrived, one of the agitators asked "are we under arrest?"
"The police said you are not under arrest, but you need to act like an adult," Christian said. "The police presence and the security over there prevented a real problem from happening."
At least five from CAIR were inside the room, including the head of CAIR-Iowa, Miriam Amer, while about a dozen protested outside.
"We talk all the time about the cooperation that is going on between the left and the Islamists but when you see it play out in front of your eyes it takes it to a completely different level," Dr. Christian told WND. "It was one accusation after another – I'm a fascist, I'm a racist, I'm a Muslim hater, and I'm a white supremacist."
Before he converted to Christianity, Dr. Christian was raised in Egypt as Mohamed Abdullah, the son of a prominent Muslim Brotherhood family in Cairo.
"Dr. Hurst said I was a disgrace to the medical profession and to humanity 'because of the hate you represent, because you hate Muslims.' I said how can I hate Muslims when all my family are Muslims?"
His views come from having lived under Islamic law and experiencing its repressive, intolerant ideology for more than 25 years. He converted to Christianity in his late twenties and escaped from Egypt after being marked for death. Now the fear of Islam is beginning return, even in the country he thought would be a refuge absent of Sharia blasphemy laws that threaten Christians.
"I have no idea how I can be a white supremacist but that's what they called me. They had flyers made up, local news articles calling us 'controversial,' they sent out the flyers, put together a smear campaign and handed it to everyone there, 'Mark Christian is a racist! Mark Christian is a Nazi, a fascist.'"
From one doctor to another
The whole "controversy" began with Hurst, the local physician who is running for county supervisor. He contacted local media and posted on Facebook about a gathering of "religious intolerance" and "racism." He and a group called Indivisible Iowans used an article by Southern Poverty Law Center's to smear Christian, a medical doctor who risked his life and lost all his possessions in Egypt in order to seek freedom in America.
Christian said he was threatened by Hurst in a phone conversation this week before the events Thursday.
"He asked me to cancel the event. I said I am not only not going to cancel the event but I am going to schedule more events," Dr. Christian told WND. "He said you have no idea how many networks and connections we have with other groups nationwide -- you will see just a taste of it this time, but if you dare to come back to Iowa you will see it even more."
CAIR activists immediately responded to Hurst's call for protest at the Oakland Community Center Thursday night.
"There is a network, a web all over the country that is connected more than you can imagine, so you have the Black Lives Matter, the Socialist Workers Party, Indivisible, Southern Poverty Law Center, and different women's groups, all connected in a loosely knit web," Christian said.
Hurst posted Christian's personal phone number on Facebook.
"He put it up for people to call and harass me. And they started calling the mayors of the different cities, Omaha, the sheriff's department, the owner of Tactical 88 shooting range, which was one of our sponsors, and they called for his partner's immediate firing from the police force. The Tactical 88 owner was cast as evil and unworthy of being a police officer because he is both pro-Israel and pro-gun rights.
"So now all of the police and the media outlets were chasing us around from one event to the other with the media trying to get us to comment and the police trying to make sure there were no outbreaks of violence."
Christian said he came away from the day's events with a new concern for his adopted homeland of America.
"The communication between CAIR and the leftist groups is unbelievable, to push it up the line that fast is unbelievable," he said. "They didn't seem to care about Nebraska much but Muslim groups are moving into Iowa big time."
Guandolo told WND that the event Thursday turned out to be "a pretty amazing victory" in spite of the threats and smear campaigns.
"As the sheriff's deputy who came out said to them 'you are not acting like adults,' including this guy Glenn Hurst who is running for county supervisor," he said. "I can't believe anyone would vote for such a person. They weren't interested in the truth and they said as much. The people there that did come to listen, 100 percent of them got it, that those sitting in the front row were supporting terrorists, and there was one hardcore jihadi in the room and I addressed him directly."
Guandolo said he and Gaubatz told the audience, "if you think something we say is not true, please ask, please challenge us."
One CAIR-affiliated woman did speak up.
She said the presenters were only teaching about the extreme version of Islam found in places like Saudi Arabia.
"I asked her to name the title of one book that teaches the other version of Islam, the moderate version. She couldn't name one," Guandolo said. "The whole audience gasped because they realized what was going on."