By JUSTIN SABATA
Thursday’s heated climate was symbolic of the events that occurred on Main Street in Hays that evening.
At approximately 5 p.m., protesters began to gather across the street from a presentation that was due to begin in an hour — a private event at The Fox Theatre titled “Understanding the Threat: Strategic and Operational Training & Consulting on the Threat of the Global Islamic Movement.”
The presenter was former Kansas House of Representatives member Peggy Mast, who served 20 years in the state legislature. She was invited to come to Hays from the Ellis County Patriots. The Ellis County Patriots are currently not an official group. The idea for the name came from Mast after event coordinator Ramona Herman contacted her.
“I asked her (Mast) what I should call myself, and she said ‘The Ellis County Patriots,’ ” Herman said. “And so, I’d really like to get a group started.”
Herman described how she first heard about the former representative.
“Someone told me to go listen to this lady (Mast), so I did,” Herman said. “And I was so excited about what she said ’cause it was everything I believed in.”
Controversy surrounded the event due to the possible anti-Islamic rhetoric that came with it. Mast said she does not hold any animosity towards the Islamic community.
“It wasn’t a prejudice against any people,” she said. “I found that I have no problem with, you know, any sect.”
The protesters across the street did not believe the sentiments of the presenter. Hays resident Jacob Alexander participated in the demonstration and explained his views of the presentation.
“I’m a biracial individual who goes to Fort Hays (State University) and, you know, tries to actively participate in the community,” Alexander said. “And I think that, you know, the event that’s taking place across the street from us right now is a little bit bigoted and, you know, rooted in hate.”
Rachel Moravek echoed similar views when explaining why she was protesting.
“(Because) this is my home and I love it,” Moravek said. “And there’s no room for hate here.”
Moravek also stated her concern with the number of young people leaving Hays.
“To be honest, I think the biggest threat facing this community is all of the young leaders leaving because they don’t want to be here anymore,” Moravek said. “Because they don’t feel like it’s the place for them and they relocate.”
Alexander believes the community is having difficulties progressing in modern times.
“I think that not being able to progress as a small town in western Kansas is probably the hardest and biggest challenge for our community to overcome,” Alexander said. “We’re having an event like this which is kind of ridiculous. I mean, I support the right to do it, but it’s a bit ridiculous.”
Mast believes protesters at such events attempt to censor presentations with conservative messages.
“They don’t like people like me giving a different message than they have, they don’t like that,” Mast said. “So they want to censor us, and they do it through intimidation and fear.”
Various forms of literature were available at the event, including a book titled Raising a Jihadi Generation: Understanding the Muslim Brotherhood Movement in America. The book details a supposed overthrow of the U.S. by the Muslim Brotherhood. As stated in the first sentence of the introduction which reads:
“This handbook is the first of its kind to examine the history, writings and practical implementation of the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategic plan to overthrow the United States.” – Raising a Jihadi Generation: Understanding the Muslim Brotherhood Movement in America, John Guandolo.
Guandolo, a former FBI agent, is the founder of UnderstandingTheThreat.com. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) currently lists Understanding the Threat as an Islamaphobic organization.
Included in Mast’s presentation was the belief that CAIR contributes to Hamas, a designated terrorist organization in the United States. There was a connection between the council and the organization when CAIR co-founder Nihad Awad voiced his support for Hamas in 1994, before it was designated as a terrorist threat in early 1995. Since then, both CAIR and Awad have publicly condemned the actions of Hamas.
In 2009, a trial determined CAIR had a relationship with Hamas in the past. But, again, the connections were before Hamas was labeled a terrorist organization.
“I’m not saying Muslims are all bad,” Mast said. “I’m saying that there are individuals that we all know that come to America, or are radicalizing America.”
Alongside CAIR, Mast believes Antifa and the Black Lives Matter movement are associated in the same communist plot against the country.
“Then of course now, with the introduction of Antifa and Black Lives Matter and the rioting in the streets,” Mast said. “And so we’re teaching about Marxism and communism.”
Mast elaborated on what she thinks the intentions of these organizations are.
“We’re talking about how, you know, these theologies are working along with the Hamas organizations in America because they have the same intent — they want to destroy America from within,” she said.
In the presentation, Mast cited the printing of George Floyd memorial signs by CAIR as evidence of the association.
On the other hand, protest organizer Anniston Weber believes the real issue lies in people’s ignorance about topics like these.
“I think the biggest threat is ignorance,” she said. “I think that people that are unwilling to step outside of their, dare I say, conservative bubble, fail to see the diverse community that we have here, fail to see other perspectives, fail to see how great the people that they’re actively being against are.”
As a whole, the speech consisted of quotes from historical figures such as the Founding Fathers and Ronald Reagan. There was also an emphasis on the belief the U.S. should be a more Christian nation.
Also included in the presentation was the “Big Lie” quote from Nazi propagandist Joseph Goebbels. This was contextualized to apply to supposed deceptions from the state like climate change, voter fraud, COVID-19 mandates and Critical Race Theory.
Tensions bubbled over following a question-and-answer session after the presentation, leading to a handful of hostile verbal exchanges. There were no acts of violence from either side of the street, which itself served as another symbol of the sweltering, concrete division between the community and the nation.
Photos by Jessalyn Kirchhoff