Laura Loomer, a conspiracy theorist who has been booted from Facebook and Twitter largely due to her anti-Muslim rhetoric, is planning to speak at Zumbro Community Church Thursday.
Loomer, a conservative media figure, has frequently made Muslims, particularly U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, a first-term Somali-American representative from Minnesota, the target of her attacks.
Loomer has also been banned from Uber and Lyft after calling for the creation of a non-Islamic ride-share service and saying she did not want to support an Islamic immigrant driver.
"She's trying to become an up-and-coming A lister on the Islamophobia circuit," said Todd Green, an associate professor of religion at Luther College and a scholar on Islamophobia. "She's a conspiracy theorist on a number of topics that sort of resonate with far-right politics."
Loomer's event has left some area Muslim leaders in a quandary about how to respond. If they go and protest, they risk drawing attention to Loomer's appearance and giving it even greater prominence. But if they remain silent, they fear normalizing such rhetoric and losing the ability to tell and control their own narrative.
Regina Mustafa, a Rochester Muslim leader, said she will hold a casual event at Cafe Steam in downtown Rochester to counter Loomer's anti-Muslim message with a positive one.
"I don't want people going and holding signs and protesting, because that, I think, is exactly what she wants," Mustafa said. "So my take is to try to as always to counter a negative with a positive."
Loomer is not the only anti-Muslim figure to visit Minnesota in recent times. Well-funded, far-right groups have over the years viewed Minnesota as a battleground state "in terms of fighting for America," because of perceptions that have arisen surrounding Somali refugees and immigrants.
They predicted that these kinds of visits will become more frequent as the presidential election approaches. Hate crimes against Muslims spiked in the two years leading up to the 2016 presidential election, Green said.
Two years ago, Usama Dakdok, a Egyptian Coptic Christian, spoke at Cascade Town Hall after his scheduled appearance at a Stewartville venue was cancelled.
"There's a certain segment of the population in Minnesota that is very receptive to these narratives of fear mongering when it comes to Muslims taking over and Somalis taking over," Green said. "You're seeing this a lot in St. Cloud and also in the Twin Cities."
In a brief interview, the Rev. David Mohler, the pastor of Zumbro Community Church, said he did not know who Laura Loomer is and had not googled her name.
Mohler told another media outlet that the church was renting the space to a third party. He did not give the person's name, but he did give the person's phone number.
The woman who answered the phone declined to give her name but described herself as a Zumbro Falls resident who had arranged Loomer's speaking event at the church
"It is an event that is a communication. People have a right to be informed," she said.
The media is reportedly not allowed to attend. That was a condition sought by Loomer, the Zumbro Falls woman said.
A request for an interview sent to Loomer's email account was not returned.
The advertisement on the ticket-selling service Eventbrite billed Loomer as a Jewish Conservative undercover journalist for Project Veritas known for her guerilla-style journalism. Loomer has conducted ambush interviews while live-streaming with Hillary and Chelsea Clinton, James Comey and Keith Ellison. Such confrontations are called getting "Loomered."
Loomer's conspiratorial bent has also extend to mass shootings, suggesting that the school shootings in Santa Fe, Texas and Parkland, Fla., were staged and that the 2017 Las Vegas shooter was connected to ISIS.
Advertising for Loomer's event comes amid an uproar triggered by President Trump's tweets over the weekend, calling on four minority Democratic congresswoman "to go back" to the "crime infested places they came from," even though three of the four were born in the U.S. and the fourth is a naturalized citizen. Two of the four women are also Muslim, including Rep. Omar.
Many saw Trump's tweets as a calculated strategy to make the four women the face of the Democratic party.
"This is all pretty calculated," Green said. "You get people riled up. You get them mobilized. You get them angry. You get them afraid. And then they vote accordingly. Of course, sometimes they do other things as well, which is why this is so dangerous."