CLAREMONT — The Claremont Elks Lodge became the second organization in two days to refuse an event inviting a controversial anti-Muslim author to speak.
The Sullivan County Republican Party had initially booked a political fundraiser for Friday night at the Eastman Community Association’s Draper Room in Grantham, which featured guest speaker Robert Spencer, an American anti-Muslim author and blogger. On Wednesday afternoon, the Eastman Association notified Keith Hanson, chair of the Sullivan County Republicans, that they would no longer host the event following recent criticism from area residents and organizations.
On Thursday, the Republicans moved the event to Claremont, booking the function hall at the Elks Lodge on Summer Street.
But Friday morning, the Elks Lodge announced that, after learning the nature of the event, they would need to cancel the reservation.
“When our facility was booked yesterday, we did not know what this was for,” according to a message from the Claremont Elks Lodge no. 879. “All they told us was that it was a fundraiser. As soon as we found out this morning, it was cancelled on our end immediately.”
Spencer, 57, who describes himself as “the good kind of Islamophobe” in his writing, has published at least 17 books, including two New York Times bestsellers. He also runs Jihad Watch, an anti-Muslim blog that he founded in 2003, and with conservative blogger Pamela Geller founded the anti-Muslim group Stop Islamization of American.
Spencer’s provocative views have attracted controversy worldwide. Spencer received public scrutiny after reports that Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass killer whose 2011 terrorist attack in Norway killed 77 people, cited Spencer 64 times in his manifesto and recommended reading “essentially everything written by Spencer.” In 2013, the United Kingdom barred Spencer from entering the country for three to five years, stating concerns that his rhetoric might spur inter-community violence.
“I am delighted that [the Elks] have cancelled it,” said Rev. Peter Nelson, of Claremont. “We don’t need that spirit of hate in Claremont.”
Nelson said that before learning of the cancellation, he had planned to participate in an organized protest outside the lodge. The protest was organized by the Upper Valley Interfaith Project, a coalition of religious and community groups committed to social justice and equality, with participation from Rights and Democracy NH, Rise Upper Valley and concerned Grantham and Claremont residents.
Asma Elhuni, of the Upper Valley Interfaith Project, said that several organizations reached out to the Elks yesterday upon learning of the event moving to Claremont, to express their concerns about Spencer’s potential to divide and incite animosity.
Elhuni said that she had only learned of the event in Grantham four days ago. Elhuni, a practicing Muslim, said that Spencer’s appearance was the last thing Muslims in the Upper Valley needed.
“We are already battling stereotypes and misperceptions,” Elhuni said. “It’s difficult and scary enough without people getting stirred up by some man who claims to be a scholar. Spencer is not a scholar. He mongers hate for profit.”
According to Elhuni, the Eastman Community Association cancelled the event upon learning that there would be protesters.
“They were afraid that there would be violence,” Elhuni said. “Though the violence would not have come from us.”
According to Hanson, the Elks made no mention of Spencer in their cancellation announcement, saying that they could not book the event because it was political.
Hanson directed his criticism toward the Eastman Community Association, which cancelled the event with only two days notice. The Sullivan County Republicans had booked the space a month ago and already paid a deposit.
“They have no problem holding lectures on transgender issues and climate change, but when you speak out against extremists who subordinate women, murder gays and lesbians and support child marriages it’s considered hate speech by social justice warriors,” Hanson said.
Hanson also criticized the protesting groups for using the First Amendment to silence another person’s right to speak.
“People had better realize that it’s your free speech that [these groups] target,” Hanson said.
Hanson said that Spencer’s focus is specifically on fundamentalist, radical Islam, not people of Muslim faith.
“Just as we protect the First Amendment, we actively seek to protect the freedom of religion,” Hanson said. “All people, be they Christian, Muslim or Jewish, should feel free to practice their faith unencumbered.”
Attempts to receive a response from the Eastman Community Association were unsuccessful.