And as they shouted warnings against the supposed dangers of Muslim religious codes — which are practiced privately by a tiny fraction of the U.S. population — the demonstrators were drowned out by a much larger group of counterprotesters who mocked and harangued them for hours on Saturday.
Like simultaneous events in other U.S. cities, the protest was organized by ACT for America — which claims to defend against a conspiracy of Muslim organizations and sympathizers trying to enforce sharia law within U.S. borders.
But Austin organizer Lauren Morris insisted the event did not target Muslims, but merely religious laws derived from the Koran and traditions of the Islamic faith.
“It brutalizes them and robs them of their dignity, and it will not take hold in the West,” she said.
In a somewhat confusing video advertising the Austin protest, Morris said she had been visited by Iranian students as a child. She described the horrors of female genital mutilation and said she had herself survived a “horrific cutting event.”
Morris was supposed to make a speech in Austin. But this didn’t happen either, as counterprotesters shouted her group down for most of the event’s four-hour duration.
Instead, the anti-sharia protesters spent much of the day surrounded by a thick band of state police, separating them from a much larger crowd of detractors.
Some of the counterprotesters were self-described “antifascists,” who had mobilized to disrupt the event as soon as they heard about it.
Others were simply people who came to say their piece.
Inside the police line, a man held a sign: “I Don’t Take Orders From Mohammed.”
“What’s racist about any of this?” the man asked those screaming at him from the other side of the police line, as seen in video from the Texas Observer.
“Oh my God. Everything!” a woman replied.
They yelled back and forth for a while. A woman with the anti-sharia group boasted of her rights to walk around without covering her head in the United States — unless she wanted to, which she did that day, with a “Make America Great Again” hat.
A counterprotester listed the many evils and subjugations done in the course of American history.
“Do you know what the f— has happened on this land?” she yelled. “How the f— do you think your people got into power? F—ing genocide!”
“Hey, that was life back then, but we’ve moved on now,” said the man with the “I Don’t Take Orders From Mohammed” sign. “We don’t do that anymore. But sharia does. Sharia does.”
A few blocks away, Austin Mayor Steve Adler held a sign: “Muslims are welcome in my town.”
An imam stood with the mayor, the Observer reported, and tried to assure anyone worried about sharia law being forced on the United States.
“Muslims have been following the Constitution since the days of the slave trade,” the imam said.
No violence or arrests were reported at the event, though some counterprotesters armed themselves with makeshift shields and clubs, occasionally setting off flares, and self-described “Oath Keepers” showed up to protect the anti-sharia protesters with rifles.
Such was the scene in Austin, and it was not so different from the scene in dozens of cities across the United States on Saturday, as counterdemonstrators outnumbered the sharia foes almost 10 to 1.
All of which thrilled the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which helped organize many of the national counterprotests.
“The anti-Islam rallies were a bust,” said Ibrahim Hooper, the group’s national communications director. “We’ve seen a tremendous rise in the level of anti-Muslim bigotry in our society — and against minorities of all kinds — but we’ve also seen a tremendous rise in support.”
Abigail Hauslohner and Justin Wm. Moyer contributed to this report.