Several downtown streets in Washington DC are to be closed on 10 October for the 20th anniversary of the Million Man March, a mass gathering of African-Americans first held at the National Mall in 1995. The rally is being organised by Louis Farrakhan, leader of the Nation of Islam, and is intended to address the issue of black rights in the United States, as well as protest against the killing of black men by police, such as Michael Brown who triggered protests in Ferguson in 2014.
The US Capitol Police had also warned officers of potential violence on the day, according to emails seen by The Washington Post. According to the newspaper, the emails said that the Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan "has been accused of inciting violence against both Caucasians and police officers". While it acknowledged that the original Million Man March had been peaceful, the emails allegedly claimed that "there are legitimate concerns that the second march may not be as peaceful".
In a video message posted on the Louis Farrakhan's Twitter page, Farrakhan said: "Let's come together as never before and say to America, 'We want justice, or else'. Be there." Over the last few days the activist has been appealing to supporters for donations for the event on 10 October, but it remains unclear how much money has been raised.
The Million Man March, also termed as the 'Justice or Else!' gathering, will begin on the West Steps of the US Capitol, where a sunrise prayer service will kick off the anniversary celebrations. The official programme is due to begin at 10am EST and Farrakhan will deliver his keynote address at 1pm EST, according to Final Call, Farrakhan's media publication. The event's website displays the words 'No guns. No alcohol. No drugs.' It has developed an app for people to keep up-to-date with news about the day.
Preparations for the event come as mosques are being put on heightened alert as anti-Islam rallies are due to be carried out on the same day across the country. A group calling itself the Global Rally for Humanity has organised roughly 20 protests outside mosques and Islamic centres to coincide with the Million Man March. The organisers claim that "humanity is attacked daily by radical Islam" and are calling on people to set up protests "in every country at every mosque". Jon Ritzheimer, an anti-Muslim campaigner in Phoenix, called on supporters to bring guns to the protest.
An organiser for one of the anti-Islam protests in Phoenix confirmed that demonstrators would be coming to the protest armed. The spokesperson said: "Arizona is a Second Amendment state. We are coming armed as is our right. Islam is not capital to a free society such as ours − it's an intolerant political ideology that threatens the stability of any tolerant society it enters." Speaking of the refugee crisis in Europe, the spokesperson for Phoenix's anti-Islam protest said that the situation was "untenable" and that Sharia law was "inevitable with a large Muslim population". The group are expecting "hundreds" of supporters on the day, despite numbers on Facebook indicating at no more than 100 will attend.
Many have taken to the anti-Islam group's Facebook page to condemn its actions, branding the organisers as racist and urging it not to give the United States a bad name. One Facebook user, Rebecca Campbell, posted: "Are you guys kidding me? Last time I checked humanity included Muslim people. This is despicable. As a veteran, I am ashamed at your use of the terms patriot and oath keeper."