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In flap over mosque near Ground Zero, conservative bloggers gaining influence

The Washington Post's Michelle Boorstein talks about two of the bloggers who have seen their online voices begin to influence the national debate on the proposed Islamic center in lower Manhattan.

Jihad Watch is widely read in many quarters in Washington, particularly among conservatives.

Daniel Pipes, perhaps the most prominent U.S. scholar on radical Islam, said he considers Spencer a "serious scholar."

"I learn from him," said Pipes, director of the Middle East Forum, a conservative think tank.

When Spencer lavished praise on Gingrich this month, the Republican posted it on his Web site.

Gingrich is scheduled to speak at an anti-mosque rally on Sept. 11 being organized by Spencer and Geller. Also scheduled to speak is former U.N. ambassador John Bolton, who wrote the foreword for the pair's new book about Obama, "The Post-American Presidency."

Charles Johnson, creator of the national security blog Little Green Footballs, called Spencer and Geller "very influential." Listening to Gingrich's comments about Islamic law, he said, "Newt sounded a lot like he got it from Pam Geller."

Impact in polls

Their efforts to rally public opinion against the mosque appear to have had an impact.

A Time magazine poll being released Thursday found that nearly seven in 10 Americans are following the story closely and that 61 percent oppose the mosque. The poll also found that 43 percent of Americans hold unfavorable views of Muslims, far outpacing the numbers for Mormons (29 percent), Catholics (17 percent), Jews (13 percent) and Protestants (13 percent). In the poll, 25 percent say most Muslims in the United States are not patriotic Americans.

While the amount of anti-Muslim sentiment hasn't shifted much since a spate of homegrown terror attacks and the furor over the mosque, Muslim American leaders worry that it could. They accuse the bloggers of fueling religious hatred.

Muslim Americans "are becoming fearful, uncertain, asking, 'What is the future?' " said Akbar Ahmed, a former Pakistani diplomat and current American University professor.

Ahmed believes the shaky economy, wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and tension over immigration, combined with the election of the first nonwhite president, have left Americans anxious. "Islam at this moment in time focuses all the intensity and passion," he said.

Brian Levin, a hate-crimes expert who used to work with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said the bloggers gain traction partially because they make points about American Muslim extremism that "the mainstream media consistently ignore."

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