A planned anti-Islam rally in Gillette has some residents concerned.
The event, advertised on Facebook as a Wyoming Against Islam rally, is set for Saturday at Cam-Plex Park. The group plans to burn the faith’s holy book, the Quran, at the event.
Michelle Argento, who described being disgusted by the event, said she would like to organize a counter rally.
“I have been in talks with other people about doing something, a peaceful protest, including renting the shelter next door and blasting Mariah Carey,” she said.
Jon Roan, an electrician for a local coal mine, said he is organizing the event with his wife and another man.
“We’re trying to raise awareness,” he said. “It’s mostly we don’t want Syrian refugees here in Wyoming. We’ve had a few protests about it.”
Wyoming is the only state without an official refugee resettlement program, and Roan said he’d like to keep it that way.
Roan said protests began in November, when a well-established northeastern Wyoming family bought a house and converted it into a mosque for worship.
The group also held an anti-Islam rally at the Campbell County Courthouse, where county offices are located.
Gillette Mayor Louise Carter-King said the anti-Islam rallies are not representative of the majority of the residents in the northeastern Wyoming community.
“Last time they had a protest here there were more people protesting the protesters,” she said. “I feel that our community will again kind of turn their backs on something like this. There will be a few —- as there always is — but there will be so many more people who support everyone.”
The park is in city limits but Campbell County manages it. Dave McCormick, executive director of the county’s parks and recreation department, said the agency decided to let the group meet because it has a First Amendment right to assemble.
McCormick said he’s not too concerned about the group inciting violence, considering the number of anti-Islam protesters who attended the earlier courthouse rally.
“There were just a few people showed up,” he said. “They had signs and so forth. It really was no big deal. Had there been a big issue at the courthouse, we may have looked at it a little differently and have been cautious or whatever. Like any other group we allowed them to go ahead and have an event at one of our shelters.”
The group told McCormick’s staff they were going to have beer and brats, he said.
“Basically they’re not going to be selling any alcohol, it’s more like a picnic atmosphere,” he said. “We do allow that in our shelters and parks.”
Meanwhile, Argento said she hopes the group won’t be successful with burning the Quran.
The city prohibits open fires but burning is permitted in a grill or other structure that can contain flames.
Argento is concerned that Muslims will be intimidated in her community and that the rhetoric may inspire violence against them.
She is disappointed that the county is permitting the event in a public park.
“This is a really intimidating situation,” she said. “The majority of people are against it.”
Roan, for his part, says people need to grow thicker skin.
“People can call me names all day,” he said. “It’s just words. That’s why we live in America.”