Update 7:15pm: Twenty minutes after we posted this story, News on 6 reported that one of the men who is "standing guard" in front of the "Muslim Free Establishment" accidentally shot himself. We wish we were kidding about that, but we're not. The shooting reportedly happened this morning.
"I saw several of those gentlemen out there yesterday," Muskogee County Sheriff Charles Pearson told local media. "The way they were holding their weapons, with the fingers on the triggers, you can tell a couple of these gentlemen have no idea about weapons safety."
"I didn't want any terrorists, or Muslims, cult, whatever you want to call them, training on my gun range," gun range manager Chad Neal explained to the Religious News Service last week about his decision to post a sign declaring his store and gun range a "Muslim Free Establishment."
Since posting the sign, Neal told local news stations, his business and family have received threats from across the world, from places as disparate as Germany and New Zealand. That's what prompted a group of private armed citizens to stand guard in front of his store, keeping watch for potential attackers.
"We have been threatened, and my family comes first, before anything else. So my customers understand the need for the extra security because they don't want anything to happen to us. They want us here, they want to protect us," Neal's wife Nicole Mayhorn told a local news station.
The decision to post the controversial sign came after last month's shooting of two military recruitment stations in Chattanooga, Tn. that left four Marines and a Navy soldier dead. The suspect, who was killed by law enforcement during the attack, was a Kuwaiti-born Muslim man. "There is a military recruiting station in the mall in Muskogee, and I thought this was one thing I could do to help protect our local soldiers," owner Neal said.
The Oklahoma store, Save Yourself Survival and Tactical Gear, is following in the lead of Florida Gun Supply, a fellow gun shop out of Inverness, Fl. Owner Andy Hallinan drew international attention when he declared his Florida store would be a "Muslim-free zone" just after the Chattanooga shooting. The announcement video, which was made in front of a Confederate flag, prompted anti-Muslim comments on the Facebook page, including comments, like: "cover the front door handle in pig skin, and put a cartoon of muhammad, on it as well. that will do it for sure. gun up peep's it is the way of the new world."
To that comment, Florida Gun Supply's account replied: "LOOOOOOOL!"
Islamic organizations, led by the Council of American-Islamic relations, say the "Muslim-free zone" efforts are blatantly racist and unconstitutional. In late July, the group filed a federal lawsuit against Hallinan's Florida shop. The group has also called on the Department of Justice to probe businesses that discriminate against Muslims in this way. The DOJ has not yet responded to the request.
Yesterday, Hallinan announced that he had teamed up with George Zimmerman, who was acquitted of the killing of black Florida teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012, to help support both parties' mounting legal bills. The "Muslim-free" shop will be selling Confederate flag prints made by Zimmerman, making for many racially-tinged-word-salad headlines.
“It is sad to see an Oklahoma business join the clearly illegal movement to deny service to American Muslims, and it is equally sad to note the silence of our government on this denial of religious freedom and equal access to public accommodations,” said Veronica Laziure, civil rights director of CAIR's Oklahoma chapter in a statement issued after the Oklahoma sign was posted.
"If the ideas of public segregation and second-class citizenship belong anywhere, they belong in the past. Whether a business's policy is 'no coloreds' or 'no Muslims,' it is making the same choice to put hate and ignorance ahead of traditional American values like freedom and equality. It is important that we as citizens speak out against the growing movement to resurrect Jim Crow," Brady Henderson, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Oklahoma said the shared statement.
The rush of locals to stand guard in front of the gun shop closely mirrors the push of national gun rights group the Oath Keepers to stand armed guard in front of military recruitment stations last month, just after the Chattanooga attack. The Pentagon put out a note to its officers, asking them to regard the men as a "security threat." “They can kiss my fucking ass,” founder Stewart Rhodes told Fusion of the Pentagon and President Obama's assessment. “To regard a bunch of veterans as a security threat is absolutely ludicrous.”
Shortly after Fusion spoke to him, one of the armed men accidentally fired a shot from his AR-15 at an Ohio recruitment center. “It is what it is,” the man told a local paper after getting arrested. "Nobody got hurt."
Local officials hope that kind of thing doesn't happen in Oklahoma. Muskohee County Sheriff Charles Pearson told a local news station that his deputies are keeping their eye on the situation.
"Everybody is entitled to say what they feel, and the other people are entitled to tell them how they feel about their opinion. When that gets out of control, that's where we come in," he said.
"The only thing that I ask, if they are true Patriots, that when the threats do come or the undesirables do show up, call us and allow us to handle it."
Daniel Rivero is a producer/reporter for Fusion who focuses on police and justice issues. He also skateboards, does a bunch of arts related things on his off time, and likes Cuban coffee.