TOMPKINS — The voices of about 300 neighbors from near and far chanting messages of peace and unity overwhelmingly drowned out the low growl of five motorcycles and the engines of fewer than 10 cars sent to confront the Islamberg Muslim community Sunday.
Despite near-freezing temperatures and intermittent snow flurries, men and women of varied ages and faiths lined the stretch of Roods Creek Road that leads to the entrance of Islamberg near the Delaware County town of Hancock.
Supporters of the Muslim enclave held American flags and homemade signs that read “One Planet, One People;” “Bikers Bigots Begone;” and “We Are All Muslims Today.” One man sang God Bless America. And they waited together.
They came to reject what they believed could be hundreds of motorcycle-riding members of an anti-Muslim group called American Bikers United Against Jihad, which has long asserted that Islamberg is a training site for terrorists and those aspiring to wage jihad.
For months, the biker group has used Facebook, YouTube and other websites to encourage participation in the “Ride for National Security.” Rumors quickly circulated that hundreds of anti-Muslim protesters from across the country would ride by the compound together Sunday to “educate” people on the “issue” of Muslims in America.
“Heavily armed, trained, and ready for violent jihad against innocent Americans, they prey on our prison populations and vulnerable youth to recruit, but the FBI’s hands are tied,” the group’s website reads. “Join us in a ride for national security to let the FBI do its job. Our children are counting on us.”
So the crowds waited for them Sunday. Islamberg supporters waved American flags and strained to see the “hundreds.” State police officers stood with serious faces and crossed arms. Members of the media snapped photographs and filmed videos.
At 1:15 p.m., when motorcycles could finally be heard in the distance, the crowd of supporters swelled and began to chant: “Stop. Harassing. American. Muslims. … Stop. Harassing. American. Muslims.”
But as the group of riders reached the stretch of road in front of Islamberg at exactly 1:20 p.m., the crowds of supporters, police officers, reporters, women, men and children had a surprise: just five bikers and a handful of vehicles rumbled down the dirt road and past the crowds.
Two riders waved sheepishly, and the others looked straight ahead, not making eye contact with the mass of people along the road. The impassioned Islamberg supporters grew louder, cheering and looking at each other with smiles.
And just like that, the motorcycles and cars were gone.
“I guess they didn’t rally very much support,” said Jamil Abdul-Wadud, who came from Massachusetts to support his Muslim brothers and sisters. “This was a beautiful fellowship. Despite the cold, we’re warmed by this support. It’s very uplifting.”
Leo Frascatore, a graduate of Oneonta High School, was smiling.
“We stand for peace,” Frascatore said. “We’re sick of the hate and intolerance.”
Frascatore and two friends drove to Hancock on their own, but hundreds of other Oneontans rode on two buses chartered by the area NAACP.
“It was bumpy but worth it,” said Betsy Holland, a special education teacher from Oneonta who rode the bus.
Nancy Furdock of Hancock said the peaceful protest was a success, which “answered anger and hate with love and peace.”
And State Police Capt. Scott Heggelke, who had more than 10 troopers at the site, agreed.
“We were prepared for more bikers,” Heggelke said. “I’m glad it was a peaceful event. We were most concerned with the safety of everyone and with maintaining the flow of traffic on such a rural road.” Members of the Delaware County Sheriff’s Department and Deposit Police Department assisted at the site, he said.
Kirk Gibbs, a sergeant in the United States Air Force, said he suspected there would be more supporters than bikers but was “overwhelmed by the turnout.”
Fatima Mumi told The Daily Star she drove from Michigan with friends to the small town the support the Islamberg cause.
And Tom Ellis came from Albany after receiving an email from a friend about the event, he said. He held a sign that said “What are you afraid of?”
“I wanted to peacefully confront the bikers,” Ellis said. “I think maybe many of them live in areas where they’ve never met a Muslim person before. Sometimes people are afraid of the unknown.”
Others had a more-personal stake in the matter, including Muneerah Brooks and Ambreen Salaam, two young girls who live at Islamberg. They stood by the road with family and friends and waved American flags. Muneerah said she wasn’t sure why “all these people” were at her home, but Ambreen had an idea.
“The bikers were coming to mess with us,” Ambreen said. “It hurts my feelings. But our friends are here, too.”
Najeeba Aziz, 16, who lives at Islamberg, smiled alongside her mother, Najah Aziz.
“I’m glad everyone supported us,” Najeeba Aziz said shyly.
Faruq Baqi, spokesman of Muslims of America, said the peaceful protest went “phenomenally.”
“People have come to see for themselves that there is no truth to these rumors and lies about us,” Baqi said. “Some people see things and hear things and push these false narratives, but where’s the proof? Our neighbors know us to be peaceful and kind. Now, hopefully, others will, too.”
Rashid “Carl” Clark, mayor of Islamberg, said “it means so much to have the support of local people and beyond.”
“I went to Binghamton to buy this suit jacket yesterday,” Clark said with a smile. “The salesperson was wondering what I needed it for, so I started to talk to her about the event and about our community, saying I might have to address the crowd and needed to look nice. She said she had heard about us and particularly the work we did in Deposit when there was flooding. It feels good to know that the news of our good work is known elsewhere, too.”
After the bikers had driven away, the hundreds of supporters gathered under a tent on the Islamberg grounds, where $4,000 worth of chicken, fruit, salads and pasta had been prepared to distribute free to the supporters, according to resident Khadijah Smith.
The 25 to 30 families who live at Islamberg milled around, greeting visitors and handing out food and coffee, and an Interfaith Peace Rally and Luncheon was held until about 3 p.m.
After the luncheon, guided tours of the community were given.
The Facebook page for American Bikers United Against Jihad was “temporarily unavailable” Sunday evening and the group’s co-founder, Ram Lubranicki, did not respond to multiple email messages.