Sunday’s shooting at a Muhammad cartoon contest in Garland, Texas that killed both suspects has not only ignited a passionate debate on the meaning of free speech in the United States, but has outraged Americans across the political spectrum alleging the contest's host, the notoriously racist Pamela Geller’s, extreme free speech attempt weakens national security.
In an interview with BBC, Mayor Douglas Athas of Garland said her event unnecessarily put the lives of his citizens and law enforcement in danger.
“Of course we’d been happy if they’d stayed in New York and had their activity there,” Athas said. “But they chose to come here. From all the reports I’ve gotten from our officers that were on the scene, most of the people there were not from Garland. They were not even from Texas.”
Of course, in good Geller fashion, she absurdly defended her antics against the backlash likening herself to a rape survivor.
“How ridiculous,” she told the BBC. “I mean, that’s like saying the pretty girl was responsible for her own rape. The mayor is going after the defenders of free speech, and clearly giving a free pass to the savages who came with guns to kill innocent people because of a cartoon.”
But even the most prominent conservatives are not coming to Geller's aid instead lashing out at Geller for her actions. On Thursday, Fox News correspondent Geraldo Rivera condemned Geller for her event in a tweet.
Pamela Geller has the right to voice her hateful ideas, but don't pretend its about free speech. Its about insulting, taunting and inciting.— Geraldo Rivera (@GeraldoRivera) May 6, 2015
Potential Republican candidate and ludicrous Tweeter Donald Trump also criticized Geller, discussing this week how he couldn’t comprehend her reasoning for such an obvious display of taunting ridicule.
“Isn’t there something else they could draw?” Trump told “Fox and Friends.” “She’s taunting them,” he added. “What is the purpose of it?”
In an interview with Fox News host Martha MacCallum, Geller responded to the comments by astonishingly comparing herself to civil rights activist Rosa Parks:
"He sure flaps his tongue and uses free speech and wishes to silence others. What would he have said about Rosa Parks? Rosa Parks should never have gone to the front of the bus. She’s taunting people."
When MacCallum responded, "No, no, no. How do you make the Rosa Parks comparison?" Geller pressed on saying "she would not 'abridge' her freedom for the sake of 'savages.'"
Numerous news outlets (even the most progressive ones) are abhorred by the Geller's, actions, BUT they also defend her right to offend Muslims as an expression of free speech. Yet is America’s staunch obsession with free speech going too far when it protects bigoted speech that is clearly taunting violence?
Geller, president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) — an infamous anti-Muslim hate group —, directly hosted the Muhammad art exhibit as a counter-response to the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris in January.
“We’re holding this exhibit and cartoon contest to show how insane the world has become,” Geller said in February. “If we can’t stand up for the freedom of speech, we will lose it—and with it, free society.”
But is the self-proclaimed anti-Jihadist and unapologetic free speech advocate actually even using protected free speech that she so proudly embraces?
Recommended: Bill Maher’s Muslim Joke Went Too Far
According to the Pacific Standard, no, Geller’s contest is an example of “fighting words” “which the Supreme Court defined in 1942’s Chaplinsky v. New Hampshire as ‘those which by their very utterance inflict injury or tend to incite an immediate breach of the peace,’" otherwise known as speech that is taunting violence and has the Pacific Standard notes “does not enjoy the same protections as political speech.” Geller’s contest is not only offensive and demeaning to an entire religious group, but is also inciting violence under the guise of free speech and in turn threatening national security.
The AFDI agenda paints Muslims as violent jihadists (adding to the already Western misunderstanding of a peaceful religion), and with her fighting words she even drummed up an additional $10,000 in security, knowing full well her event could cause violent outrage.
And it seems this Islamophobic agenda Geller is so vehemently upholding is not solely driven by ideology but financially motivated as well.
The Bridge Initiative reports how AFDI profits off of its intolerant message.
In one year, AFDI’s total assets increased by 15,199%. In its 2012 tax filings, the group reported just $3,721.00 in end of year resources. AFDI’s firebrand president, Pamela Geller, didn’t even draw a salary. In 2013, though, the group reported its end of year assets at $569,288.00. Geller drew a salary of $210,870.00.
Not only does Geller receive quite the salary but she's paid this amount for only ten hours of work each week — totaling out to a rate of $405 per hour.
Furthermore, the Muhammad cartoon contest rehashes the double standard theme often ignored in Western versus Muslim relations.
Somehow it was seemingly okay for Geller’s organization to host a bigoted seminar, where participants can draw their racist depictions of Islam’s main prophet — clearly making fun of the religious icon and blatantly mocking an entire religion — and even having the far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who has advocated banning the Quran, as the featured speaker. What would have happened if this was an event drawing cartoons about the Holocaust or Jesus and anti-Semitic politicians like Jean Marie Le Pen were invited? Would the event even have taken place or be shut down before they even reserved the venue?
In the Western World the mainstream narrative sticks that being openly offensive and hateful towards Islam is totally justified, but if we were to turn the tables and offend Jesus, the whole American-Christian Right would be in chaos with lawsuits and riots.
Geller's views and actions are no different than the Quran-burning pastor, Terry Jones. His plan to burn almost 3,000 Qurans (thankfully stopped when he was arrested before the massive book-burning) and Geller's bigoted events and campaigns further validate the stereotype that Americans are intolerant and hateful, and push extremists to mass murder Americans. Their actions increasingly endanger U.S. citizens abroad and clearly threaten the lives of Americans right in their hometowns.
Despite criticism of Geller's wildly misguided shenanigans, Americans are still overwhelmingly supportive of free expression and free speech, with a January Pew Research Center survey showing 60 percent to 28 percent in favor of publishing the Charlie Hebdo cartoons. Thankfully though Millennials were the least likely to be in favor of publishing the offensive cartoons (a hopeful lean that our society is shifting in the progressive direction).
Although Geller’s hate-speech event certainly does not excuse this ISIS-claimed attack, it is a heavy reminder that violence (even in the form of words) breeds violence, and that stereotyping and bigotry further enforces this cycle of extremism.
Read more: What If The Chapel Hill Shooter Was Muslim?