A leading Muslim-American legal advocacy group has asked the president and CEO of Marriott International to drop the annual conference for the country’s largest anti-Muslim group at a Virginia hotel in October.
On Sept. 11, Muslim Advocates, a national legal advocacy organization, sent a letter to Marriott International’s president and CEO Arne Sorenson, asking the world’s largest hotel chain to honor their stance on diversity and inclusion by canceling Act for America’s annual conference.
Scott Simpson, the group's public advocacy director, told BuzzFeed News that Marriott International has confirmed receiving the letter but that no action has been taken since.
The conference, labeled “ACTCON2017,” is scheduled to be held at the Marriott Crystal Gateway in Arlington, Virginia, on Oct. 2 and 3. Expected speakers at the conference are former Trump campaign spokesperson Katrina Pierson, and Walid Phares, President Trump’s foreign policy adviser during the presidential campaign.
“Your past statements on behalf of LGBTQ equality, for humane immigration reform, and your recent comments that ‘symbolism is wrong’ on the Muslim ban show your understanding of how bigotry and discrimination are not only wrong, they are bad for business,” Simpson wrote. Speaking about the ban on a company conference call in February, Sorenson said “across much of the world” the travel ban “is a really big deal” and that the “that the symbolism is wrong.”
In the letter to Marriott, Simpson also noted the hotel chain’s 2010 decision to cancel an event by a white nationalist group.
“Declining to host ACT for America would help to ensure that Marriott International does not fall behind other companies and would be true to your company’s stated commitment to inclusivity,” Simpson concluded in his letter to Sorenson.
“We are a hospitality company that provides public accommodations and function space," a spokesperson for Marriott International told BuzzFeed News. "Acceptance of business does not indicate support or endorsement of any group or individual,” they added.
Speaking at conference the following week in New York City, Marriott's CEO, Sorenson, said, "I shudder to think that we really expect that my role or Marriott’s role is to say your views are not acceptable in our hotels and that another person’s views are...I know someone will say, ‘That’s a cop out.'" Sorenson went on to say that he believes that there are "points of view that are wrong" but he doesn't believe "it’s practical or constructive to say you’ll be the one to make that judgement.”
Act, which has been labeled an extremist group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, claims to have over half a million members and over 1,000 chapters. Ret. Gen. Michael Flynn — who President Trump fired as national security adviser for lying about communicating with Russia — called Islam a "cancer" at an ACT meeting and is a member of the group's board.
A spokesperson for Act for America said in an email to BuzzFeed News that the group has “a zero tolerance policy for hatred or bigotry of any kind.”
“The recent statement by Muslim Advocates in an attempt to suppress the speech of those holding opposing views from theirs is disappointing, since it is based on a series of outright fabrications,” the statement said.
“In recent months, however, purely political advocacies like Muslim Advocates and the Southern Poverty Law Center have deliberately attempted to redefine legitimate political differences as hate, in an effort to stop any public conversation about them,” the statement continued.
“By attempting to pressure the venue to cancel it through the distribution of outright lies, Muslim Advocates simply exposes itself as a dishonest political partisan on issues important to millions of Americans. We hope they reconsider their outrageous conduct,” the statement concluded.
Brigitte Gabriel — who once said “every practicing Muslim is a radical Muslim” — founded the group Act for America in 2007. She has since embarked on a tireless campaign against what she says is the threat posed to the US by Islam and Muslims.
In March, Gabriel had a meeting with a member of the Trump administration’s legislative staff at the White House. In June, during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, ACT held “march against Sharia” rallies in cities across the US.
"The leftist Islamic coalition is waging war against the rule of law and against you and me. That's why I need you by my side as we descend on Washington DC," Gabriel says in a promotional video for the group's annual conference.
"We cannot sit back any longer watching our Judeo-Christian culture under assault in every way," Gabriel added, then went on to praise the president and the vice-president, stating that Muslim-American activist Linda Sarsour and billionaire George Soros "do not want to reform America, they want to destroy it."
Talal Ansari is a reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in New York. His secure PGP fingerprint is 4FEE 894C 8088 7E08 E170 A515 2801 7CC6 95D3 11C2
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