June 20, 2017 at 9:25 PM
by Amy Brittain and Abigail Hauslohner
A controversial group that has held rallies against the spread of Islamic law is seeking to harness the allure of President Trump's brand as it raises money for its upcoming Washington conference.
For $10,000, sponsors of the ACT for America gathering can enjoy "pre-conference cocktails" and a "private tour of the historic Trump International Hotel" alongside the group's founder, Brigitte Gabriel, among other benefits, according to promotional materials published on the group's website.
The walk through the hotel, in the stately Old Post Office Pavilion a few blocks from the White House, is scheduled to take place before participants head to Capitol Hill to hold lawmakers' "feet to the fire" on national security issues, according to plans posted on the group's website. The organization, which critics have decried as anti-Muslim, has repeatedly claimed that Judeo- Christian culture is under "assault" in America and that radical Islam is to blame.
The promotion represents a new twist in the story line of Trump's luxury hotel, which has sparked several lawsuits and criticism from ethics experts alleging that the president is improperly profiting from foreign governments and other interest groups holding events at the property. Groups typically pay to book meeting space and food service at the Trump hotel like they would at any event venue, but ACT is touting the chance to enjoy access to a signature business owned by the president.
The October event offers ACT, which has drawn headlines this month for its "March Against Sharia" rallies across the country, a chance to associate itself with a president who campaigned on banning many Muslims from entering the United States and has recently seen his efforts to restrict travel from certain majority-Muslim countries tied up in legal challenges.
Officials from the Trump Organization and ACT declined to answer questions about the event, including whether ACT was paying the hotel for the tour and, if so, how much.
Christine Da Silva, a Trump Organization spokeswoman, pointed to "guest privacy" in declining to discuss the event but said that, generally, "private tours about the history of the building are organized periodically."
An ACT spokesman, David White, did not make Gabriel available for an interview, but in a statement to The Washington Post he defended the group's work.
"ACT for America embraces the practice of all religions, including Islam," White said. "We stand opposed to Sharia law, which is not a religion, but a barbaric code that executes LGBTQ people for their orientation, mutilates children, and subjugates individual rights."
The group has invoked Trump in its efforts to lure donors. Gabriel, who has shared photos of herself at the White House and Mar-a-Lago, Trump's Palm Beach, Fla., club, wrote to donors after the election saying that ACT "has a direct line to Donald Trump, and has played a fundamental role in shaping his views."
The White House did not respond to a request for comment.
Gabriel, whose legal name is Brigitte Tudor, describes herself on ACT's website as "one of the leading terrorism experts in the world." ACT says it has more than 750,000 members. Its most recent tax filings list about 17,000 volunteers.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that tracks hate organizations, has labeled ACT an extremist group characterized by "wild hate speech demonizing Muslims" and a mission to advance anti-Muslim legislation around the country. Heidi Beirich, who runs SPLC's Intelligence Project, said that Gabriel's national prominence has recently surged.
"Her visibility is higher than it's ever been," Beirich said.
Last summer, ACT announced that retired Lt. Gen Michael Flynn, who was advising then-candidate Trump on national security issues, had joined its board of advisers. In August, Flynn appeared at an ACT event in Dallas and referred to Islam as a "cancer," according to a Dallas Morning News account of his speech. A person close to Flynn told The Post that he is not involved with ACT and has no plans to attend the group's conferences.
Flynn was fired this year as Trump's national security adviser after reports that he misled Vice President Pence on his meetings with Russian officials.
In March, Gabriel shared photos of her visit to the White House, where she was reported to have met with a staff member handling legislative affairs. On April 6, Gabriel posted a photo of a red carpet and said she was heading to dinner at Mar-a-Lago. Trump also dined at his luxury Palm Beach club that evening, around the time that U.S. forces launched a military strike in Syria.
Most of the events for ACT's 2017 "United Against Terror" conference are scheduled to be held on Capitol Hill and at a hotel in Arlington.
"Political correctness and cowardness has no place in America," the group says on promotional materials for the gathering. "We will not be silenced. We will not fail. We will ensure that America remains the brightest star shining on a hill over the world."
Katrina Pierson, who was a national spokeswoman for Trump's campaign, is listed as one of the speakers.
ACT's website lists the private tour of the Trump hotel as part of the "Chairman's Circle" sponsorship package, which is the top tier available to donors. It also includes four conference registrations, a private lunch with Gabriel and preferred seating for events.
The Trump International Hotel, which opened last fall, has emerged as one of Washington's new attractions since Trump won the election.
Although he owns the hotel, he leases the historic building from the federal government. A clock tower remains open to the public through the National Park Service and is available through a separate entrance — giving visitors panoramic views of the city.
A wide array of special-interest groups has chosen the hotel for events in the months since Trump has taken office. Prominent bookings have included a conference on U.S. and Turkish relations, a PAC fundraiser for funeral directors featuring former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich and an event highlighting forklift safety issues.
Last week, the attorneys general of Maryland and the District filed a lawsuit claiming "unprecedented constitutional violations" by Trump, largely centered on allegations that he has refused to create a meaningful divide between his business and his presidency.