As the kicks off this Friday, festival-goers will be joined by an unusual guest: Quran-burning Florida Pastor Terry Jones, who is planning a rally and march to coincide with the three-day festival’s start.
The annual Arab International Festival, hosted by Dearborn’s American Arab Chamber of Commerce, is one of the largest Arab-American social events in the country, attracting an estimated 300,000 people to a 12-block section of Dearborn’s Warren Avenue between Schaefer and Wyoming. It will take place June 17-19 and feature carnival rides, children’s activities and a slew of live entertainers.
But before the event even begins at 5 p.m. Friday, Pastor Jones will take to the steps of at 1 p.m. to give a speech before marching down the sidewalk along Schaefer Road to continue his rally at the festival.
Festival organizers have said that there will be a designated “free-speech zone” at the event where Jones is expected to speak.
Jones made waves in Dearborn earlier this year when his plans to hold an anti-Sharia (or Islamic law) demonstration on Good Friday in front of the were thwarted. Instead, Jones for refusing to pay a $1 peace bond after being found “likely to breach the peace” by a jury in Dearborn’s .
He , April 29, to hold his protest at City Hall–one of the city’s designated free speech zones at which a permit is not required to assemble.
Similar to his April protest, a press release from Jones’ organization, Stand Up America Now, said that the goal of the event this Friday will be to promote a plan “to save America and create a better world.” The plan includes suggestions to the federal government, including halting “all Muslim immigration” to America, governmental monitoring of mosques and demanding that Sharia–believed to be a form of radical Islamic law–be banned from the U.S.
Stand Up America Now representative Stephanie Sapp said the group isn’t sure how many supporters will show up.
“We have responses on Facebook, we have responses through email, phone calls,” she said. “But with social media today, it’s difficult to determine how many people will really come. But a lot of people commented and said they’ll be there, but sometimes they’re there and sometimes they’re not. So we don’t really know.”
As of Monday, the Facebook event for the Friday rally had over 140 confirmed attendees.
Further, the latest Stand Up America Now release suggests that a counter-protest is planned, with “thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of people opposing our rally.” It calls on the National Guard to come to Dearborn to protect both groups.
However, current public safety plans consist of a joint effort by Dearborn police and the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department. The former will be largely responsible for monitoring Jones’ City Hall speech and walk down Schaefer, while the latter will assist local forces in handling public safety at the festival.
At Jones' April rally in Dearborn, police in riot gear were dispatched to keep the peace after multiple counter-protesters broke through barriers and ran onto Michigan Avenue, some of them throwing objects in Jones' direction. Three people were arrested, though no one was hurt.
This Friday at the festival, however, Jones will not be separated from his opponents by police barricades. But Sapp said her group is confident that order will be maintained nonetheless.
“We’ve been informed by the police department that there would be some type of protection, especially during the march down the sidewalk,” she said. “And as far as the festival is concerned, we understand the Wayne County Sheriff’s department will take care of that, but we have not been in contact with them to find out any plans they may have.”
Sapp insisted, however, that Jones and his supporters are looking for a peaceful protest–not to stir things up.
“From our standpoint, there is no intention to incite violence or cause any violence whatsoever,” she said. “That’s the best we can go with, so we’ll see what happens.”