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Protest at anti-Muslim seminar

Tuesday, Dec. 1 | By Michael Melkonian
Above, a protester, who would not give her name, holds a sign denouncing the seminar. Below, James 'Ace' Lyons Jr., a retired U.S. Navy admiral, speaks to attendees of a seminar last Thursday warning against radical Muslims. Fauquier Times Staff Photo/Randy Litzinger
A seminar on the “Islamization of America,” warning against the threat of radical Muslims, drew a quiet response from Fauquier residents last Thursday.

The protesters' message: “This isn't us.”

The seminar featured Claire Lopez and Jim Simpson, speakers from the Center For Security Policy. The Center, based in D.C., claims the existence of a “Global Jihad Movement” to install shariah law as a parallel legal and political system in the United States.

The seminar was scheduled well before the terrorist attacks in Paris. But the attacks, and the ongoing debate over how to deal with refugees streaming from Syria, made the topic of Muslim life in America more sensitive still.

Sheriff's deputies were present at the Warrenton Community Center during the event. Some of the seminar's attendants wore stickers reading “No room in my heart for prejudice.”

One Muslim woman, who wished only to be called “Tina” in this article, said she walked away from the event with a warm feeling in her heart about being an American thanks to those who spoke out on her behalf.

“I walked away from there saying ‘Even though we had these hate speech speakers come to our town, it was just a warm feeling at the end to see so many people stand up against them.”

She said almost 15 people stood up after the presentation during a question and answer period to speak out.

She said she was probably the only Muslim in the audience, and one of few non-white people in the room. But even with the warm feeling of support from some, she was still too scared to give her real name.

“Ever since 9/11, being a Muslim in America has become hard,” Tina said. “It is not a good feeling to be hated.”

Sara Townsend, a Catlett resident who led an unsuccessful bid to represent parts of Fauquier County in the House of Delegates, said she came to support the Muslim community.

“It’s unfortunate that, in the wake of recent events, this blanket of negative connotation gets applied to the whole community,” Townsend said. “I think is disgraceful to be honest. It’s upsetting that this sort of fear-mongering and hate-mongering is taking place right here in Fauquier County.”

Georgia Herbert, former chairperson of the Fauquier County Board of Supervisors, also attended. In 1987, she was the first woman elected to the county board.

“I think a lot of people, including me, came with the idea that simply being a peaceful presence was the most important part,” Herbert said.

She has known event organizer Bob Touhey for a number of years, and doesn't think he’s necessarily a bad person for planning the event.

“Although, I certainly find it very troubling that they have created this stage,” Herbert said.

Touhey, along with John Green, organized the series. Early in the evening they set up the microphone and laid out reading material as their wives set out cookies and water.

Green called the event an educational presentation and said we over-stress ideas of diversity and equality today.

“We talk about things like diversity,” Green said while setting up. “Name me a company that owes its success to the fact that they’re very diverse.”

His favorite example to use is of a good Christmas choir, he said.

“Guess what, they’re singing the same song, to the same music and in the same language, and that’s what we’re about.”

Protester Lisa Flake, who walked out halfway through the event said she applauds and celebrates diversity.

“More heads are way better than one,” Flake said. “I love learning about other people’s perspectives because all I can see is out of my own eyes,” Flake said.

“I think it’s absolutely criminal what they’re doing: inciting fear in people and hate in people,” Flake said.

Tina, initially worried about the event, walked away warmed with support from her friends in Fauquier.

“And that is the great thing about being in this county,” Tina said. “Even though that extremist group came to our county, I felt like I was surrounded by goodhearted Fauquier County citizens, the
ones that stood up at the end,” Tina said.

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