Why Did a North Carolina County Fund Linda Sarsour’s Hate Speech?
Palestinian-American and Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour was the keynote speaker on March 31 in Hillsborough, North Carolina in honor of “Women’s History Month.” Sponsored by Orange County’s Department of Human Rights & Relations and the Orange County Human Relations Commission, Sarsour was reportedly paid $5,000 plus expenses. The total cost to date is $9,298.
The Women’s March has been rocked in recent months by charges that its leaders are antisemitic, and have close associations with the Nation of Islam. As a result, many organizations have withdrawn from the movement, including the Democratic National Committee, Greenpeace, the National Council of Jewish Women, and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which also withdrew, designates the Nation of Islam as a hate group. The Anti-Defamation League explains, “The longtime leader of the Nation of Islam, [Louis] Farrakhan’s name has become virtually synonymous with anti-Semitism. He’s the pied-piper of hate.”
Instead of distancing herself from this hate group, Sarsour’s security for the Orange County event was Terence Muhammad, who has “worked at the Nation of Islam” and tweeted, “I’m an EXTREMELY Proud, Active, and Known citizen/soldier of the Nation of Islam. @LouisFarrakhan.” Muhammad, who has also provided security for Farrakhan, wrote that “9/11 was caused by Israel/The USA government” and “America and Israel” are terrorists.
After all the criticism that Women’s March leaders have received about antisemitism, does Sarsour still not understand or care about the message she sends by associating with the Nation of Islam? In addition to antisemitism, the Nation of Islam is known for its “deeply racist” and “anti-LGBT rhetoric.” How exactly are Jews, the LGBTQ community, and “white liberals” to feel welcomed into the Women’s March with leaders like Sarsour?
As I have previously reported, Sarsour used this Orange County platform to applaud the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, repeatedly attack the Jewish state, and trivialize the Holocaust. Sarsour also equated capitalism with racism, complained that “white liberals” are a major obstacle to social justice, and said that she is near supporting the abolition of the police and prison systems.
Shortly before the event, registrants received an official email message from the county government stating, “Photographic, sound, or video recording of program without written permission is strictly prohibited. Unauthorized photographs, video, or other recordings may be cause for removal from the program venue.”
Yet Sarsour’s contract with Orange County did not prevent her from being recorded by the audience. It did call for Orange County to be able to publish “highlight clips,” and not the full speech and program. Orange County could have live-streamed the event — as they do public meetings held in the very same room — but it did not.
During Sarsour’s talk, I witnessed a staff member repeatedly ask a pro-Israel attendee to stop recording. The attendee, who wore a t-shirt with prominent “Israel” lettering, was the only person I saw who was so approached.
Yet, during the event, Sarsour’s guard was freely taking pictures and posted at least one video complete with narration on Facebook. Even I briefly appear in this video — without my permission. Orange County taxpayers, including myself, were forced to fund this event. We were told not to record, but Linda Sarsour’s security guard was permitted to openly record the audience and publicly show it. Usually it is the speaker being recorded, not the audience.
Muhammad also posted a five minute video on Facebook of Sarsour speaking. The video was clearly taken from one of the front row seats at the event, which seemed to be reserved for Orange County officials and their guests. Surely Orange County officials saw the person recording — or perhaps it was an Orange County official doing the recording. How and why was Muhammad allowed to have this video, and why was he permitted to publicly post it on his Facebook account?
Why did this Orange County event have two different sets of rules? Were there “Jew rules” and then rules for everyone else?
At the Orange County Board of Commissioners meeting on April 2, the first public commenter pointed out that on March 7, Annette Moore, Director of Human Rights & Relations, informed the Orange County Board of Commissioners about the Women’s History Month event being planned for March 31, saying, “I can’t tell you the speaker’s name yet.” The Board of Commissioners then approved the event — without even knowing that Sarsour was the speaker.
A soft-spoken senior citizen said to the commissioners: “I would like to see a show of hands from you who supported the engagement.” Several of the commissioners responded, “We all did,” but then quickly corrected themselves by saying “all but one.”
The commenter then asked if any of the commissioners opposed Sarsour speaking, to which the Chair snapped, “Let’s continue on. This is not a back and forth.” Apparently, Orange County can spend almost $10,000 on hosting a divisive, antisemitic speaker, but an Orange County senior citizen is scolded because she asked to know which commissioners opposed it.
Commissioners praised the Sarsour event, with one calling it “powerful” and “inspiring.” Only one Orange County Commissioner disapproved of Sarsour speaking. Commissioner Earl McKee told me: “I only know that I had no part of any of this and am sure that many other well-qualified women could have been asked to speak. … This type of conduct will continue until folks rise up and put a stop to it, either through public pressure or at the polls.”
At the April 2 meeting, one taxpayer shared her disappointment when she attempted to meet with Orange County Commissioner Mark Marcopolos about the event. According to this citizen, Marcopolos replied, “No, send me an email. I’m not really interested in talking to you.”
With about 110 people attending Sarsour’s speech, many as a form of protest, Orange County taxpayers were forced to spend almost $100 a ticket for this divisive, anti-Israel, anti-police, Holocaust-trivializing event. Taxpayer money should be better spent, as $10,000 would certainly help many disadvantaged Orange Country citizens.
At the April 2 meeting, a local business owner strongly reprimanded these elected officials: “Linda Sarsour does have a right for free speech, and I support her right to propagate her hateful ideas. … But she has no such right to use Orange County as her vehicle. You gave her that opportunity. What occurred was made possible only because of the actions of the Orange County Commissioners.”
That person was right.
Peter Reitzes is a speech-language pathologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, who holds an MA degree in his field. Peter is known for advocacy in his field and on topics related to Israel.