In the end, the people trying to stop the construction of a mosque in Temecula, California were vastly outnumbered by the crowd welcoming the growth of the Muslim community in Riverside County. Last week, we told you about the plan by some conservatives opposed to the construction of the new mosque to show up over the weekend outside the Temecula-area Muslim group’s current digs to tell those inside they weren’t welcome. To prove the point, the group planned to bring dogs — which one protester characterized as pretty much the Muslims’ mortal enemy, saying that Muslims “hate dogs.”
Here’s how it all turned out: the anti-mosque protesters were outnumbered by pro-mosque supporters, the local tea party disavowed the protest and called it hate speech, the protester we talked to dropped off the face of the earth and only one dog made it to the planned protest.
It was a fittingly unexpected end to an extraordinary tale.
First, the scene on the ground at Friday’s protest. As the Los Angeles Times reported, “a small group of protesters took over a patch of grass across from the Islamic Center of Temecula Valley,” but they were “greatly outnumbered by supporters from area churches who were there to support the Islamic Center.” Overall, the paper reported, the opposition was “vocal but relatively tame.”
The anti-mosque group numbered at “about 20,” according to the Press-Enterprise. Other local press reported that the group carried signs with messages like “Muslims Danced with Joy on 9/11,” and “No Allah’s Law Here.” The counter-protesters, on the other hand, “wore white shirts in solidarity” with the Muslims and carried signs reading “Leave These American Citizens Alone.”
The two groups clashed verbally, though police on the ground kept things civil. Meanwhile, as the Southwest Riverside News Network reported, the Muslims actually there to worship “ignored the protesters but smiled to acknowledge the supporters.”
What about the dogs, you ask? Here’s what Southern California Public Radio reported on that front:
There was only one dog. He was on a leash. No bibles or firearms were on visible display.
The Los Angeles Times talked to the dog owner on scene, “Zorina Bennett, 50.” She brought her dog Meadow along because, as she told the paper, “many Muslims believe that the saliva of dogs is impure.”
Their plans to use dogs to scare the Muslims out of Temecula dashed, the protesters found themselves on the outside looking in. The Valley News reported that Diana Serafin, the self-described tea partier who spoke with me about the protest and helped to promote it online, wouldn’t return email or phone messages as the controversy built. Any mention of the protest disappeared from her website as the event drew near. That might be because Serafin and her compatriots found themselves running out of friends.
The leader of the local Republican Party distanced himself from the protest in the Valley News. “In every group you get an element, we get an element, I mean in the Republican Party, that are really, super radicals and we say, ‘Ok, well, you can’t be a part of it because you’re a racist,’” he told the paper. “So there’s these groups and sometimes you can’t control them, they’re inside the church, club, mosque or the synagogue that are underground, you don’t even know they’re there.”
The Temecula area Tea Party Patriots had a similar response, strongly condemning the protest in a statement published by the paper. “The organizers of the Menifee, Hemet, Murrieta and Temecula Tea Parties wish to emphatically state that they are not involved in organizing any planned Mosque protest, but that they would strongly condemn the use of dogs to harass anybody, anywhere,” they wrote.
In the end, one Mosque supporter said, the power of unity overwhelmed the conservative attempts at division.
“We have people from different religious organizations and of different faiths showing their support today,” mosque proponent and Christian Rev. Joe Zarro told the Southwest Riverside News Network on the day of the protest. “We are all here to stand up for our brethren.”