For those unfamiliar with Pamela Geller, she was in the news a few weeks ago for sponsoring an ad campaign across major U.S. cities with anti-Muslim posters saying, among other things, “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah.”
But Geller drew national attention long before now. In 2009, she became a leader of the movement against a mosque in Manhattan. She told the New York Times she believed the only “moderate Muslim is a secular Muslim” and that when Muslims “pray five times a day … they’re cursing Christians and Jews five times a day.”
The wealthy housewife-turned-blogger has become one of America’s loudest voices against what she sees as the creeping “Islamization” of America. She is president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative as well as Stop Islamization of America.
Islamization, she has said, is not something that will happen overnight. “It’s a drip, drip, drip, drip,” she told the New York Times in 2010 as she waged war against the mosque at Ground Zero. “The mosque-ing of the workplace where you’re imposing prayer times on union contracts, non-Muslim workers have to lengthen their day. … These demands are a way of imposing Islam on a secular society.”
Such wild rhetoric prompted the Southern Poverty Law Center to add her group to its list of “hate groups,” calling her the “anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.”
“She’s relentlessly shrill and coarse in her broad-brush denunciations of Islam and makes preposterous claims,” it said.
Heidi Beirich, head of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s watchdog division, told CNN on Monday that although Geller’s activities may fall within the bounds of the First Amendment, they are considered “cruel and unfair” because “she doesn’t make distinctions” between mainstream Islam and militant factions.
“They say I’m a racist, Islamophobic, anti-Muslim bigot,” Geller told the Village Voice in 2012. “I’m anti-jihad. … I don’t see how anyone could say I’m anti-Muslim. I love Muslims.”
Geller portrays herself as emerging straight from Ground Zero.
When terror struck, she has said, it did something to her. She started a blog. She posed in a bikini to rant about Islam. She advanced conspiracy theories about President Obama — he was the “love child” of Malcolm X, he was once involved with a “crack whore” and, as a child, he was a Muslim and he never renounced Islam.
But as the mosque controversy receded in memory, so did Pamela Geller. Then in January came the assault by Muslim gunmen on Charlie Hebdo, the French satirical newspaper, which claimed a dozen lives. Geller was back in the public eye.
In response, she decided to organize Sunday’s “Muhammad Art Exhibit & Contest,” which would award a $10,000 prize to the “winning cartoon” depicting the prophet Muhammad.
“We decided to have a cartoon contest to show we would not kowtow to violent intimidation and allow the freedom of speech to be overwhelmed by thugs and bullies,” she told The Washington Post in an e-mail.
Many in Garland objected to the event. Some, including Muslims, said it was blasphemous. Others cited “public safety” concerns. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, however, decided to play it down. “We are not paying any attention to this at all,” Ibrahim Hooper, CAIR spokesman, told the Dallas Morning News. “The thing [Geller] hates most is being ignored.”
But Geller knew what she was getting into and would not be ignored.
“I expected that people would come to realize how severely the freedom of speech is threatened today, and how much it needs to be defended,” she told The Post. “We were prepared for violence.” Indeed, her group’s Web site said “we know the risks” and that the “exhibit has to be staged.”
“If we don’t show the jihadists that they will not frighten us into silence,” the site said, “the jihad against freedom will only grow more virulent.”
As Sunday’s show was coming to an end, two gunmen rolled up in a car and shot an unarmed security guard, police said. Two local police officers fired back. The incident left both gunmen dead, their bodies lying in the street for hours. The security officer was transported to a local hospital, treated and later released.
Although police said throughout the night that they did not know whether the shooting was related to the cartoon contest, Geller immediately announced that it was, calling it part of the “war on free speech.”
“The Islamic jihadis are determined to suppress our freedom of speech violently,” she told The Post.
“They struck in Paris and Copenhagen recently, and now in Texas. This incident shows how much needed our event really was. The freedom of speech is under violent assault here in our nation. The question now before is — will we stand and defend it, or bow to violence, thuggery and savagery?”
For Geller, it was her own Charlie Hebdo moment.