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Context of 'September 10, 2010: Florida Pastor Goes Back on Promise to ‘Never’ Burn Koran, Implies Koran-Burning May Be On Again'

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Part of the Westboro Baptist Church as it appears in recent years. The URL “godhatesamerica.com” is written on a banner hanging in front of the church.Part of the Westboro Baptist Church as it appears in recent years. The URL “godhatesamerica.com” is written on a banner hanging in front of the church. [Source: Ask (.com)]The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC) in Topeka, Kansas, holds its first services under the auspices of Pastor Fred Waldron Phelps. Phelps, his wife, nine of his 13 children, and their spouses and children make up the core of the WBC’s small congregation. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) will describe the church as a virtual cult led by Phelps. Phelps and his extended family members live in houses on the WBC compound in Topeka, with the houses arranged in a box formation and sharing a central backyard. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] The congregation will quickly begin shedding members because of Phelps’s vitriolic preaching, and for a time Phelps will attempt to support the church by selling vacuum cleaners and baby carriages door-to-door. For years, much of the church’s income comes from Phelps’s children, who regularly sell candy door-to-door. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001]
Atmosphere of Fear, Abuse Alleged - According to one of Phelps’s estranged children, Nathan Phelps, Phelps uses violence and abuse to keep the members in line; in the SPLC’s words, “cultivating an atmosphere of fear to maintain his authority.” Nathan and his two siblings, Mark Phelps, and Dortha Bird, will later leave the church and family, and all three will allege physical and psychological abuse in multiple newspaper and television interviews. Fred Phelps will dismiss all the allegations as “a sea of fag lies.” Nathan will allege that his father beat him with a leather strap and a mattock handle until he “couldn’t lie down or sit down for a week.” They will also allege that Phelps beat his wife, forced his children to fast, and other charges. No child abuse charges brought against Phelps will ever result in convictions, usually because the children will refuse to testify out of what Nathan Phelps will call fear of reprisal. Children in the Phelps family are kept close to the church, and, the SPLC will write, “their upbringing offers them few opportunities to integrate into mainstream society. It is common to see young children from the Phelps family at WBC pickets, often holding the group’s hateful signs. These children casually use the words ‘fag’ and ‘dyke’ in interviews, and the older children report having no close friends at school. The Phelps family raises its children to hold hateful and upsetting views, and to believe that all people not in WBC will go to hell.… The children quickly grow alienated in school and in society, leading them to build relationships almost exclusively within the family. This helps to explain why nine of Fred Phelps’ 13 children have remained members of the church.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] Phelps, who dropped out of the fundamentalist religious Bob Jones University, was ordained as a Baptist minister at the age of 17. He met his future wife Marge Phelps after his California street ministry against dirty jokes and sexual petting was the subject of a Time magazine profile. Between 1952 and 1968 the couple will have 13 children. Phelps will go on to earn a law degree from Washburn University in 1962, though he has some difficulty being admitted to the Kansas bar because no judge will be willing to vouch for his good character. Between 1951 and 2010, Phelps will be arrested multiple times for assault, battery, threats, trespassing, disorderly conduct, and contempt of court. He will be convicted four times, but will successfully avoid prison. He will decorate his WBC compound with an enormous upside-down American flag. He will go on to vilify both liberal and conservative lawmakers, including future President Ronald Reagan, and will praise enemies of the nation such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro and Iraq’s Saddam Hussein. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] Mark Phelps will later call his father “a small, pathetic old man” who “behaves with a viciousness the likes of which I have never seen.” All three estranged children say that Phelps routinely refers to African-Americans as “dumb n_ggers.” Bird later says, “He only started picketing in 1991, but I want people to understand that nothing’s changed, he’s been like this all along.” She will change her last name to Bird to celebrate her new-found freedom away from the family, though she will continue to live in the Topeka area. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001]
Fundamentalist Doctrine - Phelps teaches a fundamentalist version of Calvinist doctrine called “Primitive Baptist,” in which members believe that God only chooses a select few to be saved, and everyone else is doomed to burn in hell. The WBC Web site will later explain: “Your best hope is that you are among those he has chosen. Your prayer every day should be that you might be. And if you are not, nothing you say or do will serve as a substitute.”
Successful Lawsuits Help Fund Church - In 1964, Phelps will found a law firm specifically for defending the church against civil suits; the firm employs five attorneys, all children of Phelps. Phelps himself is a lawyer, but he will be disbarred in 1979 by the Kansas Supreme Court, which will find that he shows “little regard for the ethics of his profession.” The church does not solicit or accept outside donations; much of its funding comes from successful lawsuits against the Topeka city government and other organizations and individuals. The SPLC will explain, “Because the Phelps family represents WBC in court, they can put the fees they win towards supporting the church.” As of 2007, many Phelps family members will work for the state government, bringing additional revenue to the church. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] Nathan Phelps will later say that his father routinely files frivolous lawsuits in the hope that his targets will settle out of court rather than face the expenditures of a bench trial. (One extreme example is a 1974 class action suit demanding $50 million from Sears over the alleged delay in delivering a television set. In 1980, Sears will settle the suit by paying Phelps $126. Another, more lucrative example is a 1978 civil rights case that earns Phelps almost $10,000 in legal fees as part of the settlement of a discrimination case.) [Southern Poverty Law Center, 4/2001]
Reviling Homosexuality - One of the central tenets of the church’s practices is the vilification of homosexuality, which the church will use to propel itself into the public eye (see June 1991 and After, 1996, June 2005 and After, September 8, 2006, October 2-3, 2006, and April 2009). The church’s official slogan is “God Hates Fags.” The church will begin its anti-gay crusade in the late 1980s with the picketing of a Topeka park allegedly frequented by homosexuals. In the early 1990s, WBC will launch its nationwide anti-gay picketing crusade. The church will win international notoriety with its picketing of the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay student brutally murdered in Wyoming (see October 14, 1998 and October 3, 2003). After the 9/11 attacks, the church will begin claiming that God brought about the attacks to punish America for its tolerance of homosexuality (see September 8, 2006). The church will also begin picketing the funerals of American soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in 2005, claiming that God is punishing America for tolerating homosexuality and persecuting the WBC (see June 2005 and After). The church will win notable victories in court regarding its right to protest at funerals (see March 10, 2006 and After and June 5, 2007 and After). Nations such as Canada and the United Kingdom will ban WBC members from entering their borders to engage in protest and picketing activities (see August 2008 and February 2009). [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] Phelps will write in an undated pamphlet detailing the “message” of the WBC: “America is doomed for its acceptance of homosexuality. If God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for going after fornication and homosexuality then why wouldn’t God destroy America for the same thing?” In 2001, a Topeka resident will tell an SPLC researcher: “I’m so tired of people calling him an ‘anti-gay activist.’ He’s not an anti-gay activist. He’s a human abuse machine.” [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012] According to the Anti-Defamation League (ADL): “Though the group’s specific focus may shift over time, they believe that nearly all Americans and American institutions are ‘sinful,’ so nearly any individual or organization can be targeted. In fact, WBC members say that ‘God’s hatred is one of His holy attributes’ and that their picketing is a form of preaching to a ‘doomed’ country unable to hear their message in any other way.” [Anti-Defamation League, 2012]

Entity Tags: Fred Waldron Phelps, Matthew Shepard, Kansas Supreme Court, Mark Phelps, Dortha Bird, Marge Phelps, Anti-Defamation League, Nathan Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church, Southern Poverty Law Center

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Matthew Shepard.Matthew Shepard. [Source: BilEric Project]Matthew Shepard, a 21-year-old college student, is murdered on the outskirts of Laramie, Wyoming. Shepard, who is openly gay, is found brutally beaten, burned, and tied to a fence, where he hung, comatose, for some 18 hours before being found. He is rushed to a local hospital, but dies five days later. Local residents Aaron McKinney and Russell Henderson are quickly charged with Shepard’s death. Because of the extreme brutalization they inflicted on Shepard, prosecutors chararcterize the murder as a hate crime: according to the charges, the two killed Shepard because of their hatred of homosexuals. [New York Times, 10/10/1998; ABC News, 11/26/2004] The girlfriends of the two accused murderers are also arrested and charged as accomplices after the fact, but the charges are mitigated after they cooperate with the investigation. [New York Times, 10/10/1998] Investigators quickly learn that Shepard had been beaten twice in recent months by other Laramie residents who, he said, attacked him because of his homosexuality. [CNN, 10/12/1998] “He was very open about his sexuality,” says a friend, anthropology student Tina LaBrie. “I admired him for that because it is very courageous to be yourself even when others disagree.” [New York Times, 10/10/1998]
Fatal Truck Ride - Henderson and McKinney approach Shepard at a bar with the intention of robbing him. According to the two, Shepard, unaware of their plans, tells them he is too drunk to drive and asks for a ride. In some versions of the events, McKinney and Henderson represent themselves as gay in order to entice Shepard into the truck. The three climb into McKinney’s pickup; Henderson drives. McKinney will claim that at some point during the ride Shepard places his hand on McKinney’s leg. It is then that McKinney strikes Shepard with a .357 Magnum pistol. However, McKinney later says, “I was getting ready to pull it on him anyway.” (In 1999, Henderson will admit that McKinney lied about the sexual advance from Shepard, and say that Shepard never touched either man. And tapes of McKinney’s post-arrest confession bear out Henderson’s denial.) McKinney tells Shepard: “Guess what? I’m not gay—and you just got jacked.” McKinney forces Shepard to give him his wallet, which only has $30 in it. McKinney continues pistol-whipping Shepard; prosecutors will say that McKinney continues beating Shepard because of his hatred for gays, but McKinney will later claim he loses control of himself because he is high on methamphetamine, saying: “Sometimes when you have that kind of rage going through you, there’s no stopping it. I’ve attacked my best friends coming off of meth binges.” McKinney and Henderson drive to a secluded spot outside Laramie where they can dump Shepard and flee. They stop at a wooden fence, where Henderson ties Shepard to the fence with a length of rope while McKinney continues to beat Shepard. Henderson later claims McKinney strikes him in the face when he tries to stop McKinney from continuing to assault Shepard. After tying Shepard to the fence, Henderson returns to the truck, leaving McKinney alone with Shepard. McKinney later says he believes it is his final blows to Shepard that ultimately kill him. [New York Times, 10/18/1998; Salon, 11/6/1999; ABC News, 11/26/2004] Sergeant Rob DeBree, the chief investigator in the case, will later say, “That is one thousand percent torture, what occurred to that boy.” [Salon, 11/6/1999]
Altercation in Parking Lot Alerts Police to Murder - McKinney takes Shepard’s wallet and shoes, gets back in the truck, and tells Henderson to return to Laramie. McKinney later says his intention was to burglarize Shepard’s apartment. However, McKinney and Henderson meet up with two other young men whom police say are vandalizing cars; McKinney attacks the two men, attracting police attention. Police Sergeant Flint Waters runs down Henderson; after apprehending him, he sees several incriminating items in the bed of Henderson’s truck, including a bloodied large-frame revolver, a coat, a shoe, and a length of rope. Waters later says, “Seeing that the gun covered in blood, I assumed that there was a lot more going on than what we’d stumbled onto so far.” [ABC News, 11/26/2004] The two assailants’ girlfriends attempt to cover for them, inventing an alibi for them and throwing Henderson’s bloodied clothing into a trash bin. McKinney’s girlfriend, Kristen Price, says of Henderson after the murder: “He was crying, and he kept throwing up. He just came in and hugged me, and said, ‘I’ve done something horrible. I deserve to die.’” [New York Times, 10/16/1998]
Discovery - Aaron Kreifels, a fellow University of Wyoming student, finds Shepard by chance after struggling to get his mountain bike through the sandy, rugged terrain. He later tells a Denver Post reporter: “I got up and noticed something out of the corner of my eye. At first I thought it was a scarecrow, so I didn’t think much of it. Then I went around and noticed it was a real person. I checked to see if he was conscious or not, and when I found out he wasn’t, I ran and got help as fast as I could.” Kreifels reaches a house in the nearby Sherman Hills subdivision and calls police. As to Shepard’s condition, he will say, “I don’t really want to go into details about that.” Of the two assailants, Kreifels will say: “I can’t even grasp what these people were thinking, how they could do such a thing. There’s no excuse for it. Whatever their excuse is, it’s meaningless, because there’s just no excuse for taking another’s life.” [Denver Post, 10/15/1988] McKinney’s girlfriend briefly attempts to blame Shepard for the attack, claiming Shepard had made a pass at her boyfriend in recent days, and embarrassed him in front of his friends. [New York Times, 10/12/1998]
Father of Assailant: Gay Victim Caused Increased Media Coverage - The father of one of the assailants, Bill McKinney, condemns the attack, but also complains about the attention Shepard’s murder receives in the media. The national press “blew it totally out of proportion because it involved a homosexual,” McKinney tells a Denver reporter. “Had this been a heterosexual these two boys decided to take out and rob, this never would have made the national news.” [New York Times, 10/12/1998]
Funeral - Anti-gay protesters will picket Shepard’s funeral, displaying signs such as “God Hates Fags” and “Matt Shepard Rots in Hell” (see October 14, 1998).
Hate Crime - The question of whether Shepard’s murder qualifies as a “hate crime” is hotly debated in the weeks following the murder (see October 9, 1998 and After).
Multiple Life Sentences - McKinney and Henderson are found guilty of murder, kidnapping, and, in McKinney’s case, aggravated robbery. They accept double life sentences, in a plea deal agreed to by Shepard’s family, in order to escape the possibility of a death sentence. They waive their right to appeal as part of their plea deal. “Bottom line, Aaron was afraid he was going to die,” DeBree later says. [Salon, 11/5/1999; Salon, 11/6/1999; ABC News, 11/26/2004] Dennis Shepard, the father of the victim, speaks for the family in court. “I would like nothing better than to see you die, Mr. McKinney,” he says. “However, this is the time to begin the healing process. To show mercy to someone who refused to show any mercy. To use this as the first step in my own closure about losing Matt.… Mr. McKinney, I give you life in the memory of one who no longer lives. May you have a long life and may you thank Matthew every day for it.” [Salon, 11/5/1999]
Triggers Legislation - Shepard’s death will be a catalyst for the passage of the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act (see October 28, 2009). Shepard’s mother will create a foundation in her son’s name dedicated to promoting tolerance and diversity. And Shepard’s story will be retold in documentaries, television movies, and a play called “The Laramie Project,” which will often be performed in schools to address the issues of hate and prejudice. [ABC News, 11/26/2004]

Entity Tags: Dennis Shepard, Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, Matthew Shepard, Flint Waters, Bill McKinney, Aaron McKinney, Aaron Kreifels, Tina LaBrie, Russell Henderson, Rob DeBree

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Reverend Fred Phelps, holding a sign outside Matthew Shepard’s funeral service.The Reverend Fred Phelps, holding a sign outside Matthew Shepard’s funeral service. [Source: Slate]The funeral for Matthew Shepard, a gay college student brutally murdered by three white supremacists (see October 9, 1998 and After), is held in St. Mark’s Church in Casper, Wyoming. The service is led by the Reverend Anne Kitch. [CNN, 10/13/1998; Louie Crew, 10/14/1998] The Reverend Fred Phelps of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, leads a small delegation of church members in a raucous denunciation of homosexuality at Shepard’s funeral. Phelps and his congregation members have picketed the funerals of gay men for years across the country, holding “God Hates Fags” signs and harassing family members. Governor Jim Geringer (R-WY) says he cannot prevent Phelps from attending the funeral, but vows that the protesters will not be allowed to disrupt it. Phelps’s group, Geringer says, is “just flat not welcome. What we don’t need is a bunch of wing nuts coming in.” For his part, Phelps, who claims he has received multiple death threats after announcing his journey to Laramie, says: “We’re not going to tolerate any violence from these homosexuals. They are the most violent people in the world. Here they are talking about what happened to this poor boy, and they turn around and make death threats against us.” Geringer, the Casper City Council, and several groups of gay activists succeeded in passing a regulation that keeps Phelps and his protesters 50 feet away from church property during the funeral. “[I]t was the best we could accomplish without risking an immediate court injunction for violating constitutional free speech,” reads a statement by the local chapter of the Log Cabin Republicans. “Such an injunction might have allowed Phelps to walk right up to the church property line.” [CNN, 10/13/1998; Log Cabin Republicans, 10/16/1998] Phelps and his fellow church members picket the funeral with signs reading, “Matt Shepard Rots in Hell,” “AIDS Kills Fags Dead,” and “God Hates Fags.” [Fact-Index, 2004] Five years later, Phelps will attempt to erect a marker emblazoned with inflammatory statements about Shepard in a local park, to “commemorate” his death (see October 3, 2003).

Entity Tags: St. Mark’s Church (Casper, Wyoming), Log Cabin Republicans, Jim Geringer, Fred Waldron Phelps, Anne Kitch, Matthew Shepard, Westboro Baptist Church

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Roy W. Menninger, the chairman of a citizens’ rights group in Topeka, Kansas, writes a column for the local press condemning the anti-gay protests held by Topeka’s Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) at the funeral of a murdered gay man (see October 14, 1998). Menninger calls Matthew Shepard’s murder (see October 9, 1998 and After) a “shocking” example of “unspeakable brutality… intentionally and… blatantly aimed at a member of a minority.” The WBC’s derogatory protest at Shepard’s funeral (see October 14, 1998) “surely express[ed] the same fear and the same bitter hatred right here that motivated the killers of the Wyoming youth: These very attitudes are the substructure of such acts of violence.” Menninger writes that almost everyone harbors some capacity for hatred, fear, and brutality just as Shepard’s killers and the WBC protesters do, but they generally do not act on that capacity. Too often, he continues, those feelings cause people to “look away from the unbelievably obscene signs carried by local picketers pillorying homosexuals in the name of Christianity. We cluck our dismay, we are distressed by their behavior, and we regret the sad image of Topeka that these picketers project—but we do not protest; we do not object. Where is our outrage? Why do we not mobilize the healthy sentiment in this community that would force these behaviors to stop?… The plain fact of the matter is that our silence conveys tacit approval of the mean and ugly things that are done by others in the name of righteousness. Our silence encourages the shameful unChristian behavior that this picketing really is. Our failure to speak out against those who commit hateful acts of prejudice and injustice makes us silent accomplices and secret supporters. In fact, our silence gives permission to the openly hateful few to act out their fear and anger against others; our silent acquiescence encourages their violence, which then becomes our violence and our hate crime. We cannot escape the guilt that this kind of collusion brings: When we are silent, we are as guilty as the perpetrators.” [Topeka Capital-Journal, 11/18/1998]

Entity Tags: Matthew Shepard, Westboro Baptist Church, Roy W. Menninger

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Conservative Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell, who speaks out against the anti-gay rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church.Conservative Baptist preacher Jerry Falwell, who speaks out against the anti-gay rhetoric of the Westboro Baptist Church. [Source: New York Times]People from the left and right of the social and political spectrum join in condemning the actions of the anti-gay Westboro Baptist Church (WBC—see November 27, 1955 and After) during its protest at the funeral of Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was beaten to death a month earlier (see October 9, 1998 and After and October 14, 1998). The Reverend Jerry Falwell, a far-right Christian evangelist, says of the WBC’s protest, “I found it almost impossible to believe that human beings could be so brutal and vicious to a hurting family.” Of the WBC’s leader, Fred Phelps, he says, “He’s a first-class nut.” Phelps says he is proud to be labeled as such by Falwell because “[i]t means I’m preaching the truth.” Phelps then labels Falwell a “Judas” and says WBC members will picket Falwell’s church in Lynchburg, Virginia. Robert H. Knight of the conservative Family Research Council says he asked Phelps to call off the church’s protests against gays (see June 1991 and After) a year ago, and says he told Phelps that his actions “misconstrue… the message of Christ, which was one of love.” Arne Owens of the Christian Coalition says that anti-gay Christian organizations oppose the homosexual lifestyle while loving gays and lesbians: “You must be loving toward all human beings while recognizing the role of sin in the world.” But Cathy Renna of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation (GLAAD) says that Phelps only expresses the hatred other anti-gay groups feel but do not so bluntly demonstrate. The Traditional Values Coalition, a conservative lobbying group, joins the Christian Coalition and other anti-gay organization in accusing GLAAD and other gay rights groups of capitalizing on Shepard’s murder for their own purposes, a charge Renna calls ludicrous. She says that Shepard’s friends “told me that Matthew would have wanted something good to come out of this. If [a murder] energizes and makes us fight to educate people about the kind of violence lesbians and gays face every day, that’s not using Matthew.” Instead, she says, groups like the Christian Coalition are using Phelps to promote their agenda: “They can point to him and say: ‘He’s a bad guy. We’re compassionate.’” For his part, Phelps says his organization brought “a little sanity” to Shepard’s funeral, and claims it was “the homosexuals” who “turned it into a Cecil B. DeMille propaganda mill.” [Associated Press, 11/24/1998]

Entity Tags: Gay and Lesbian Alliance against Defamation, Cathy Renna, Arne Owens, Christian Coalition, Fred Waldron Phelps, Jerry Falwell, Matthew Shepard, Westboro Baptist Church, Robert H. Knight, Traditional Values Coalition, Family Research Council

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Reverend Fred Phelps, minister of the Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, announces plans to erect a monument in the Casper, Wyoming, City Park to “commemorate” the murder of gay college student Matthew Shepard five years ago (see October 9, 1998 and After). According to Phelps, the marker would bear a likeness to Shepard and read: “MATTHEW SHEPARD, Entered Hell October 12, 1998, in Defiance of God’s Warning: ‘Thou shalt not lie with mankind as with womankind; it is abomination.’ Leviticus 18:22.” Few Casper City Council members support Phelps’s plans. Councilwoman Barb Watters says: “When Phelps puts on one side his picture with the thing about killing all the gays, and they put on the other side of the thing a picture of Hitler that says ‘Kill all the Jews.’ That is what you are opening yourself up for.” Councilman Paul Bertoglio notes: “I think the hate language will find a very cold reception in this community. I think this community’s backbone is going to come up and say, ‘We are not going to accept it.’” Of Shepard, Phelps says: “It all comes back to Casper, Wyoming. That is his home, that is where he was born, where that church is, where those institutions… conspired in a confluence of evil resulting in a Zeitgeist that is extraordinarily evil. He [Shepard] was not a hero. This is a great monster sin against God. It is not an innocent alternate lifestyle. And all that has come down in that one little evil town called Casper, Wyoming. And we can’t ignore that.” The city will not allow the monument to be erected. [Casper Tribune, 10/3/2003] The WBC soon builds a virtual “monument” to Shepard on its Web site (see 1997), which depicts him burning in hell. A photo of Shepard is wreathed in animated flames, and mousing over the photograph triggers an audio response of recorded screams and a voice shouting, “For God’s sake, listen to Phelps!” A counter on the site displays how many days Shepard has “Been in Hell.” The site claims: “WBC does not support the murder of Matthew Shepard: ‘thou shalt not kill.’ Unless his killers repent, they will receive the same sentence that Matthew Shepard received—eternal fire. However, the truth about Matthew Shepard needs to be known. He lived a Satanic lifestyle. He got himself killed trolling for anonymous homosexual sex in a bar at midnight.” [Global Oneness, 2011; Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: Matthew Shepard, Westboro Baptist Church, Barb Watters, Fred Waldron Phelps, Paul Bertoglio

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Westboro Baptist Church (WBC), a small, virulently anti-gay organization in Topeka, Kansas, led by pastor Fred Phelps (see November 27, 1955 and After), announces its intention to travel to the United Kingdom to protest a performance of The Laramie Project, a highly respected play that documents the hate murder of gay student Matthew Shepard and how the incident impacted the Wyoming community (see October 14, 1998). The WBC protested at Shepard’s funeral, and tried unsuccessfully to raise a “monument” to Shepard vilifying him for being gay (see October 3, 2003). In response, the UK bans both Phelps and WBC church leader Shirley Phelps-Roper from entering its borders. [Southern Poverty Law Center, 2012]

Entity Tags: Fred Waldron Phelps, Westboro Baptist Church, Shirley Phelps-Roper, Matthew Shepard

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A sign outside Terry Jones’s Florida church.A sign outside Terry Jones’s Florida church. [Source: Gainesville Sun]Pastor Terry Jones of a small Gainesville, Florida, church called the Dove World Outreach Center sends a barrage of posts on Twitter, called “tweets,” that call Islam a “fascist” religion and lambast President Obama’s support for a new Kenyan constitution that could permit abortion and codify Islamic law. His final one reads, “9/11/2010 Int Burn a Koran Day.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2010] In the hours that follow, Jones begins a Facebook campaign he calls “International Burn a Koran Day.” Jones says that on September 11, 2010, he and his congregation intend to burn “a few hundred Korans” in a massive bonfire on his church’s grounds, and he expects a crowd of “several hundred” to join him. He also says that others will undoubtedly join him by burning Korans on their own. Jones says that he intends to burn the Korans because Islam is an “evil” religion and a sponsor of worldwide terrorism, and it is time for Christians to “stand up” to Muslims. He says Islam promotes violence and that Muslims want to impose Shari’a law in the United States. He has acknowledged that he and his wife Sylvia learned what they know of Islam by watching YouTube videos, and has admitted never actually meeting a Muslim. He has said publicly that other religions, such as Buddhism, Hinduism, and Judaism, are all “of the devil.” He says he has refused to take part in any interfaith discussions, explaining: “Because I’m not interested in interfaith discussions. That’s part of our problem.” [ABC News, 9/7/2010; Gainesville Sun, 9/11/2010; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011] He claims to have over 700 “friends” on Facebook by July 23, only two days after the “tweet” barrage, though most of the comments on the page are quite negative. [Washington Post, 9/10/2010; The Age, 9/12/2010] The Dove Center is a nondenominational church that practices charismatic, evangelical Christianity, and supplies free food and clothing to indigent citizens through its Lisa Jones House, an organization named after Jones’s first wife, who died in 1999. [Gainesville Sun, 7/8/2009] Within days of the Facebook campaign launch, EuroIslam (.info), a Web site that collects news and analysis headed by a Harvard professor of divinity, picks up the Dove World mission statement—“To bring to awareness to the dangers of Islam and that the Koran is leading people to hell”—and posts it on its “Islamaphobia Observatory” section. Jones begins posting videos on YouTube promoting his intentions to burn Korans. By July 21, the Council on American-Islamic Relations is calling for Koran education sessions to refute the burnings. Jones soon appears on CNN, and on July 30, is asked by the National Association of Evangelicals to call off the planned Koran-burning. In August, a Sunni scholars’ center at al-Azhar University in Cairo issues a statement condemning the plan to burn Korans and warning that doing so could have “dangerous consequences.” By early September, protesters in Indonesia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are taking to the streets in opposition to Jones. [Washington Post, 9/10/2010]
History of Controversy in Germany and Florida - Jones calls himself a doctor and claims he was awarded an honorary doctorate of theology degree from the unaccredited California Graduate School of Theology in Rosemead in 1983, but the university has never confirmed this, and later says the degree it awarded to Jones is strictly honorary. Jones, a native of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, and a high-school classmate of conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh, is a former hotel manager and Christian missionary. He and his wife Sylvia were asked to leave Germany in 2008, where he and Lisa Jones had established a small church in Cologne, the Christliche Gemeinde Koln. One of his three children accused them of “financial and labor abuses,” and told authorities that “the workforce was comprised of the Jones’s disciples, who work for no wages and live cost-free in tatty properties owned by the couple.” People who listened to some of Jones’s sermons in the Cologne church later recall them as “hate-filled.” Jones became involved in the Dove Center in 2003, when it was led by Dennis Watson, and for five years shuttled between the US and Germany to work at both sites. In 2008, after being forced to leave Germany, he took over the leadership of the Dove Center fulltime. When Jones took over the leadership, the church had about 100 members; that number has dwindled to between 30 and 50 now. A former employee expelled from the Dove Center later tells reporters that punishments for disobedience in the church include carrying a life-size wooden cross, writing out all of Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, or cleaning the barnacles off Jones’s boat in Tampa. Jones’s daughter Emma, a child from his first marriage, still lives in Germany and has no contact with her father, but reportedly contacts him and asks him not to carry out his threats to burn Korans. She told a German reporter that her father’s church was little more than “a cult.” Andrew Schafer, a Protestant Church official responsible for monitoring sects in the region where Cologne is located, will say that Jones has a “delusional personality.” [Der Spiegel, 9/8/2010; Gainesville Sun, 9/11/2010; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011]
For-Profit Activities - Jones also runs an antique and used furniture store, TS and Company, on the grounds of the church; the company had its tax-exempt status revoked in 2009 when Alachua County tax officials determined that it was a for-profit organization masquerading as a non-profit religious entity; his bank will soon demand he repay the church’s $140,000 mortgage. Former members who were brought to the United States on religious visas have said they were made to work as many as 12 hours a day packing furniture (religious visas do not allow work at for-profit companies). He also runs the “Dove World Academy,” a six-month-long boot camp-esque regiment of discipline and working without pay. Those who are enrolled are not allowed contact with family members for six months and are required to wear khaki uniforms and address church leaders as sir or ma’am. The tuition costs $500. [ABC News, 9/7/2010; Gainesville Sun, 9/11/2010; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011]
'Islam Is the Devil - Jones is the author of a book, Islam is the Devil, a phrase often used on church property. In August 2009, two children who are members of the church were sent home from school after coming to class wearing T-shirts reading “Islam is the Devil.” Jones is often seen on the 20-acre church compound with a pistol strapped to his hip. Of the phrase, Jones says: “It’s an act of saying there is only one way, and that is actually what Christianity is about. It is about pointing the people in the right direction, and that right direction is Jesus and only Jesus. We feel the sign is an act of giving the people a chance.… I think every pastor, every Christian pastor in this city, must be in agreement with the message. They might find the message a little bit too direct, but they must be in agreement with the message because the only way is the Bible and Jesus.” The sign is regularly vandalized, Jones says, and is repaired and replaced when it is damaged. Neighbor Aubrey Davies tells a reporter: “When we originally saw it, we were initially very offended.… We’re sad it is up. It is such a divisive message when it could be used to put out a statement of unity.” Saeed Khan, a University of Florida professor and a practicing Muslim, says it is important not to overreact to the sign. “There are a couple of things on this that come to mind, and first there is freedom of speech,” he says. “People are free to say, but then society has to think about it. When it becomes inflamed, the reaction on both sides can be detrimental to the people that live there. You have to make some kind of balance.” Jones says future signs may express his opposition to same-sex marriage or abortion. [Gainesville Sun, 7/8/2009; ABC News, 9/7/2010; Gainesville Sun, 9/11/2010; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011]
'The Braveheart Show' - Jones spends much of his time in his office, which is adorned with a poster from the movie Braveheart and a photograph of former US President George W. Bush. He has launched a series of YouTube videos he calls the “Braveheart Show,” which feature anti-Islamic diatribes. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/7/2010; ABC News, 9/7/2010]
False Rumor of Child Porn Conviction - Rumors circulating on the Internet and repeated by some media outlets that Jones was convicted on child pornography charges have proven to be false. [ABC News, 9/7/2010]

Entity Tags: Dennis Watson, TS and Company, Andrew Schafer, Barack Obama, Aubrey Davies, Sylvia Jones, Terry Jones (pastor), National Association of Evangelicals, Dove World Academy, Saeed Khan, Dove World Outreach Center, Christliche Gemeinde Koln, EuroIslam (.info), George W. Bush, Emma Jones

Timeline Tags: Domestic Propaganda, US Domestic Terrorism

General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in the Middle East, warns that a plan to burn a Koran by Florida pastor Terry Jones (see July 12, 2010 and After and September 9, 2010) will endanger the lives and safety of US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq. Petraeus says in a CNN interview that burning a Koran “is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems—not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community.” In a statement issued by his office, Petraeus adds: “It could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan.… Even the rumor that it might take place has sparked demonstrations such as the one that took place in Kabul yesterday,” referring to a protest by Afghan citizens against the news of the planned Koran-burning. “Were the actual burning to take place, the safety of our soldiers and civilians would be put in jeopardy and accomplishment of the mission would be made more difficult.” White House spokesman Robert Gibbs says that “any type of activity like that that puts our troops in harm’s way would be a concern to this administration.” NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen lambasts the plans, telling reporters that the planned Koran-burning violates NATO’s “values,” and adding, “There is a risk that it may also have a negative impact on security for our troops.” Lieutenant General William Caldwell, who oversees the training of Afghan security forces, says he was informed of Jones’s plans to burn a Koran a few days ago by a senior minister in the Afghan government. Caldwell says many Afghans do not understand Jones’s First Amendment rights to burn a Koran, or why President Obama cannot legally stop Jones from his demonstration. “There is no question about First Amendment rights; that is not the issue,” Caldwell says. “The question is: What is the implication over here? It is going to jeopardize the men and women serving in Afghanistan.” Jones has said he would go through with the burning no matter what kind of pressure he encounters: “We think the message is that important. We can not back down just because of fear, because if we back down, it won’t make Islam any more moderate,” said Jones, who has said he has the right to burn the Koran because “it’s full of lies.” Protests in Afghanistan, Indonesia, and other nations have followed news reports of Jones’s plans. An armed Christian militia called “Right Wing Extreme” has disassociated itself from the event, according to the blog Christianity Today. CNN had reported that the group was to provide security for the event, according to Christianity Today, and forum posters on the group’s Web site are engaged in harsh debate over the topic; one poster writes, “This could be the stupidest idea ever in the history of stupid ideas.” [Wall Street Journal, 9/6/2010; Christian Science Monitor, 9/7/2010; BBC, 9/7/2010] A senior defense official who asks to remain anonymous says Petraeus deliberately cast the issue first and foremost as a threat to US troops. “Then it no longer is simply a political issue,” he says. “That way you can get [Fox News talk show host] Glenn Beck and [Fox News commentator and former vice-presidential candidate] Sarah Palin and [Secretary of State] Hillary Clinton to agree.” [Washington Post, 9/10/2010] Right-wing blogger Robert Spencer, who runs JihadWatch (.org), writes that although he opposes the Koran-burning—he would rather people read the Koran and learn “the ways that jihadists use those contents to justify violence”—he disagrees with Petraeus’s statement against Jones’s demonstration. “The idea that in wartime one should be careful not to do anything that the enemy is likely to respond to with irrational and even murderous anger may seem tactically wise at first glance, but ultimately it is a recipe for surrender,” he writes. “One is already accepting the enemy’s worldview and perspective, and working to accommodate it, instead of working on various fronts, not just the military one, to show why it is wrong and should be opposed.” Instead, Spencer writes, Petraeus should defend Jones’s right to free speech, and use his defense “as a teaching moment in Afghanistan to say, ‘We are going to defend our vision of society, no matter what you bring against us.’” [Robert Spencer, 9/7/2010]

Entity Tags: William Caldwell, Right Wing Extreme, David Petraeus, Barack Obama, Anders Fogh Rasmussen, Robert Spencer, Robert Gibbs, Terry Jones (pastor)

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A Christian Science Monitor (CSM) analysis explains why Muslims find a planned Koran-burning by a Florida pastor (see July 12, 2010 and After and September 9, 2010) so offensive. Pastor Terry Jones intends to burn a Koran, or a number of Korans, in a ceremony on September 11, 2010, to commemorate the 9/11 attacks. He has the legal right to do so, but has been condemned by a number of the world’s governments, along with the Vatican and two prominent US Christian organizations (see September 6-9, 2010). General David Petraeus, the commander of US troops in the Middle East, has warned that burning the Koran would endanger US troops in Afghanistan and Iraq (see September 6, 2010). Muslims find such an action particularly inflammatory, the CSM notes, because they view the Koran “as the uninterrupted, unchangeable, and eternal word of God. Burning the Koran is akin to directly burning the word of God.” Moreover, the timing is offensive: September 11 is the day after the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting that commemorates the time in 610 A.D. when Muslims believe the angel Gabriel first appeared to the Prophet Muhammad and began “revealing” the Koran to him. Muslims believe the Koran was delivered to Muhammad directly from God, and has existed without change or error since the time of the last revelation, in 632 A.D. Traditionally, a Koran is treated with deference and honor in a Muslim household. Jones has further infuriated Muslims by his slogan, “Islam is of the Devil.” In 2006, a series of Danish cartoons satirizing the Koran and Islam set off a round of violent protests throughout the world, and was used by al-Qaeda as a recruitment tool. [Christian Science Monitor, 9/8/2010]

Entity Tags: Terry Jones (pastor), Christian Science Monitor

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A photo of Terry Jones standing in front of a sign announcing ‘International Burn a Koran Day,’ originally planned for September 11, 2010.A photo of Terry Jones standing in front of a sign announcing ‘International Burn a Koran Day,’ originally planned for September 11, 2010. [Source: London Daily Mail]Terry Jones, the pastor of a small church in Gainesville, Florida, called the Dove World Outreach Center, calls off his announced plan to burn copies of the Koran, apparently in response to worldwide condemnation and pleas to abandon the idea (see July 12, 2010 and After and September 6-9, 2010). Among many voices raised against Jones is a stern adjuration from President Obama that to burn a Koran, as Jones had announced he would, amounted to placing American troops in danger and serving as a recruitment tool for al-Qaeda (see September 10, 2010). Jones and his associate pastor, Wayne Sapp, announce the decision on September 9, and on the morning of September 10, appear on NBC’s morning talk show The Today Show to discuss the situation. They are interviewed in the studio by Carl Quintanilla. Jones says he and Sapp have come to New York to try to talk with a local imam, Feisal Abdul Rauf, about announced plans to build the Cordoba Center, a Muslim community center and mosque, a few blocks from the former World Trade Center. (The Center will later be renamed Park51.) Jones says he has already received assurances from Imam Muhammad Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, that the Cordoba Center will be relocated. However, Musri tells the reporter that no such relocation deal has been struck, but he and Jones intend to meet with Rauf to discuss the proposed relocation. Rauf says he knows of no plans to meet with Musri and Jones, and has no intention of relocating the center. Jones tells Quintanilla: “We feel that we have somewhat of a common denominator in the fact that most people do not want the mosque near Ground Zero. And, of course, I assume all Muslims do not want us to burn the Koran.” Jones says the Koran-burning, scheduled for 6 p.m., has been called off. He says: “[W]e feel that whenever we started this out, one of our reasons was to show, to expose that there is an element of Islam that is very dangerous and very radical. I believe that we have definitely accomplished that mission. Even though we have not burned one Koran, we have gotten over 100 death threats, we see what is going around in the whole world even if we do it. We feel a little bit—if you’re familiar with the story of Abraham, we feel a little bit like—Abraham was also called to do something very crazy. I mean, God told him to go to the mountain and sacrifice his son. Of course, Abraham was much wiser than us. He told no one. Yeah. So he got to the mountain. He started to do it, and God told him to stop. So we feel—we feel we have accomplished our goal. We were obedient. We feel that God is telling us to stop. And we also hope that with us making this first gesture, not burning the Koran… to say, ‘No, we’re not going to do it.‘… Not today, not ever. We’re not going to go back and do it. It is totally canceled. We hope that through that maybe that will open up a door to be able to talk to the iman about—yeah, about the Ground Zero mosque.” Quintanilla presses Jones, asking, “[Y]ou can guarantee us today that there will never be a burning of the Koran at your church?” Jones replies, “I can absolutely guarantee you that, yes.” Sapp explains that he and Jones do not believe that the entire religion of Islam is extremist, as media reports have quoted them as saying: “I believe there are some teachings that are carried on throughout the entire religion. They are as—as there are in denominations in Christianity—there are facets in Islam as well that push one element more than others. But that element is still alive and well throughout the entire religion.” Jones denies that his announced Koran-burning was to garner publicity for himself and his church, calling the planned burning “a mission” and attacking Islam’s “radical” elements. He also denies that the death threats he says he and his church members have received had anything to do with their decision not to go through with the Koran-burning. A “Burn a Koran Day” banner outside the Dove World Outreach Center has been taken down. [Associated Press, 9/9/2010; MSNBC, 9/11/2010] Later in the day, Jones adds that his decision was swayed by a telephone call he received from Defense Secretary Robert Gates (see September 9, 2010), what he terms a promise by Rauf to meet with him, and what he calls a firm promise by Musri that the Cordoba Center will be relocated. He will later accuse Rauf of lying and by the evening, indicates that plans to burn the Koran may be again in the offing (see September 10, 2010). Jones will indeed renege on his promise to not burn a Koran “not today, not ever,” burning a Koran in a public ceremony in March 2011 (see March 20, 2011). The Koran-burning will trigger a protest in Afghanistan that kills 11 people, including seven UN staffers and guards (see April 1, 2011).

Entity Tags: Muhammad Musri, Barack Obama, Al-Qaeda, Carl Quintanilla, Feisal Abdul Rauf, Park51, Terry Jones (pastor), Dove World Outreach Center, Wayne Sapp, Robert M. Gates

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Florida pastor Terry Jones, who earlier in the day announced that he would “never” burn a Koran as he has previously threatened (see September 9-10, 2010), issues a new set of demands from his Gainesville church, the Dove World Outreach Center. He has announced his intention to meet with New York imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, in an attempt to dissuade Rauf and his colleagues from building the Cordoba Center, a Muslim community center and mosque, a few blocks away from “Ground Zero,” the site of the fallen World Trade Center. (The Cordoba Center will later be renamed Park51.) Jones, accompanied by Houston evangelist K.A. Paul, announces that he will give Rauf two hours to answer his questions about relocating the Cordoba Center to a different location. “This challenge goes to the imam in New York,” Jones says at a hastily called press conference. “We would like to make an announcement to give a challenge to the imam in New York.” Paul, the head of the evangelical Global Peace Initiative, says: “[T]here is a confusion going on. We want to clear that confusion to find out if he has agreed to move the mosque from Ground Zero.” Neither Jones nor Paul indicate what, if anything, they will do if they do not hear from Rauf. Rauf does not contact the two and Paul says in response: “The last two days I have been in much prayer with Pastor Terry Jones. I asked the pastor not to burn the Korans, and I ask the imam not to build the mosque at Ground Zero. The pastor has agreed in principle” not to burn the Korans. Paul confirms that Jones will not burn a Koran as he had originally planned. Jones’s son Luke Jones, a youth pastor at their church, tells reporters that Paul is only speaking for himself. “There will be no Koran-burning tomorrow,” he says. “I can’t speak for the future.” Jones did not make a meeting with Rauf a condition of not burning a Koran during a morning interview on NBC, but said then that “God is telling us to stop.” Luke Jones and assistant pastors Wayne Sapp and Stephanie Sapp appear at the press conference wearing sidearms. Luke Jones says they are armed to defend themselves from people who have issued death threats: “The FBI’s been here four times. They told us the threats are very severe and we need to take them very seriously.” After the press conference, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, which routinely conducts anti-gay protests at the funerals of US servicemembers (see October 14, 1998), says it now plans to hold a burning of both a Koran and a US flag. [USA Today, 9/10/2010] Jones has also received calls from Defense Secretary Robert Gates and General David Petraeus, commander of US forces in the Middle East, warning him that to burn the Koran would endanger US troops in combat zones in Afghanistan and Iraq (see September 6, 2010 and September 9, 2010). [Christian Science Monitor, 4/1/2011] Jones will later blame Rauf’s failure to meet with him as the reason for his decision to go ahead and burn a Koran (see March 20, 2011). [Daily Mail, 4/2/2011]

Entity Tags: K.A. Paul, Dove World Outreach Center, David Petraeus, Feisal Abdul Rauf, Westboro Baptist Church, Stephanie Sapp, Terry Jones (pastor), Park51, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Luke Jones, Robert M. Gates, Wayne Sapp

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A screenshot from a television interview with Jacob Isom.A screenshot from a television interview with Jacob Isom. [Source: A Muslim Convert Once More (.com)]An Amarillo, Texas, evangelist, David Grisham, is thwarted in his attempt to burn a Koran by a skateboarding man who snatches the holy book from his hands before he can set it afire. Grisham, the director of Repent Amarillo, a local organization which stands against promiscuity, homosexuality, and non-Christian religions, is preparing to set a Koran afire on a grill in Sam Houston Park, perhaps impelled by a recent controversy over a Florida pastor’s plans to set a Koran afire (see September 9-10, 2010). Grisham stages his Koran-burning during a rally against Koran-burning organized by the Amarillo Unitarian Universalist Fellowship. He is arguing with others in the park who are asking him not to burn the book, when Jacob Isom, a 23-year-old restaurant cook, comes from behind him and snatches the Koran from his hand. Isom later tells a local reporter: “I snuck up behind him and took his Koran. He said something about burnin’ the Koran. I said, ‘Dude, you have no Koran,’ and ran off.” Reports state that Grisham’s Koran was soaked with kerosene. Isom gives the Koran to a religious leader from the Islamic Center of Amarillo. Isom says that Grisham is “just trying to start holy wars,” and Grisham retorts that he is merely exercising his right to free speech. Grisham eventually leaves the park, pursued by the jeers of the rally participants. “I kind of expected the reaction,” he tells a local reporter. Jeremy Danielson, a participant in the rally who carries a “Love Thy Enemy” sign, tells another reporter: “Any time you burn books, that’s ignorant. For us to burn their religion is showing hate.” Dennis Cobbins, an imam at the Islamic Center of Amarillo, says the amount of crowd support for him and his fellow Muslims was “a little bit overwhelming.” Amarillo “has zero tolerance for bigotry,” he says. [Amarillo Globe-News, 9/12/2010; Huffington Post, 9/12/2010; MSNBC, 9/13/2010; Midnight Politics, 9/16/2010] In the hours and days that follow, Isom becomes a “hero” on the Internet, according to the New York Daily News, with his statement, “Dude, you have no Koran!” becoming something of a catchphrase, sported on T-shirts and baseball caps. Several people create Facebook pages supporting Isom and his intervention. [New York Daily News, 9/13/2010] However, Isom will later say that he becomes the target of opprobrium as well. The Amarillo Globe-News publishes his home address, and one of its reporters will tell him that the Koran is a book preaching violence. Isom will tell an interviewer: “I’m an athiest, but I know the Bible is a book of peace. I mean, Jesus was all about peace. He’s one person… you could live your life just like him. And the Koran is about peace. But she interrupted me and said it was about violance and hate. And that’s just not true.” Isom says he has no interest in becoming famous. “It should all just be kept to yourself. Everything. Especially religion,” he says. “I’m just a hipster, not someone trying to be anything. I just want to be left alone. I never wanted this.” [Midnight Politics, 9/16/2010]

Entity Tags: Repent Amarillo, New York Daily News, Jacob Isom, David Grisham, Dennis Cobbins, Islamic Center of Amarillo, Amarillo Globe-News, Amarillo Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, Jeremy Danielson

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Australian newspaper The Age publishes an analysis by reporter Matthew Weaver that examines the media’s role in bringing an obscure Florida pastor and his idea to burn Korans to international prominence. Pastor Terry Jones launched a Facebook page discussing his idea to burn Korans (see July 12, 2010 and After). The page did not garner a great deal of attention, Weaver says, but days later, the Religion News Service (RNS) published Jones’s claims that people had sent him copies of the Koran to burn. RNS asked the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for a response. Weaver writes, “It didn’t take the bait, but other religious organizations did not show such restraint.” Jones began posting videos on YouTube; in one, he held up a copy of the Koran and said, “This is the book that is responsible for 9/11.” The national press began paying attention to Jones, ignoring pleas from Craig Lowe, the mayor of Gainesville, where Jones’s church is located, to ignore him. CAIR and other religious groups, such as the National Association of Evangelicals, began issuing public statements condemning the Koran-burning plans. A British group called Campaign Islam posted a YouTube message claiming that the event would “wake up the [Islamic] lion from the den.” An Egyptian Sunni authority, the al-Azhar supreme council, accused Jones of stirring up hate. By early September, when the holy month of Ramadan was coming to a close, demonstrators in Afghanistan and elsewhere began taking to the streets to burn Jones in effigy alongside the American flag, and national representatives from a number of countries issued their own condemnations and pleas to cancel the Koran-burning (see September 6-9, 2010). General David Petraeus, the supreme US commander in the Middle East, publicly warned that Jones’s Koran-burning would endanger US troops (see September 6, 2010). Weaver writes, “The general’s intervention pushed the story to the top of the international news agenda, where it stayed for the rest of the week.” He cites American counterterrorism expert David Schanzer as saying that Petraeus, more than any single figure, gave Jones more credibility than he deserved. Schanzer said, “By having the head of our entire operation in Afghanistan ask them to refrain from this action, we’ve brought much more attention to this fringe element than it deserves.” Ignoring Jones would have undercut his power, Schanzer said. Instead, White House officials, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, press secretary Robert Gibbs, and President Obama himself (see September 10, 2010), spoke out against Jones’s plans. Weaver concludes by citing the 2008 burning of a Koran by another extremist church, the Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kansas. “[W]eary of the group’s gay-bashing provocations,” Weaver writes, “media organizations stayed away.” The 2008 Koran burning drew little media attention and few protests from Muslims. [The Age, 9/12/2010]

Entity Tags: Matthew Weaver, Craig Lowe, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Campaign Islam, Barack Obama, David Petraeus, Hillary Clinton, National Association of Evangelicals, The Age, David Schanzer, Obama administration, Religion News Service, Robert Gibbs, Terry Jones (pastor)

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

English Defense League logo. The slogan “In hoc signo vinces” roughly translates to “In this sign you will conquer.”English Defense League logo. The slogan “In hoc signo vinces” roughly translates to “In this sign you will conquer.” [Source: BareNakedIslam (.com)]Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has achieved notoriety over his recent plans to burn Korans (see July 12, 2010 and After, September 9, 2010, and September 9-10, 2010), is invited to take part in a British event to discuss his anti-Islamic views. Jones is invited to take part in a February 2011 rally sponsored by the English Defense League (EDL), a right-wing nationalist organization. Other groups are asking the British government to prevent Jones from entering the UK. Jones welcomes the invitation, saying his appearance would be “positive” but admitting he would preach against “extremist Muslims.” He says he would not burn a Koran at the rally. Groups such as Unite Against Fascism and Hope Not Hate are pressuring the British government to keep Jones from attending the event. Of Muslims and Britain, Jones says: “We have no problem with Muslims—we have freedom of speech and religion—Muslims who want to make our country their country, obey our laws and constitution. We have a problem with them, which I believe you all have also, when they go on the street… and they call for the death of the UK, for the death of Israel, for the death of America. They call for Shari’a law. They say they are going to turn Buckingham Palace into a mosque and the Queen must convert to Islam or leave the country.” Jones admits to knowing little about the EDL. Weyman Bennett of Unite Against Fascism says: “Terry Jones is coming here to whip up Islamophobia and racism. We intend on calling a mass demonstration where everyone can oppose the growth of racism and fascism in this country.” Hope Not Hate’s Nick Lowles says: “Only extremists will benefit from his visit and, as we know, extremism breeds hatred and hatred breeds violence. It is yet another example of how the EDL exists only to sow the seeds of intimidation and division.” George Readings, a spokesman for the counter-extremism think tank Quilliam, adds: “Terry Jones is only coming to the UK to address a rally by the EDL, a far-right group whose protests have a track record of degenerating into violence. This suggests that his presence in the UK will not be conducive to the public good. The EDL has only invited him here to stir up trouble.” [BBC, 12/10/2010]
EDL Withdraws Invitation, Cites Jones's Anti-Gay, Racial Statements - Days later, the EDL withdraws its invitation, saying it does not agree with Jones’s inflammatory positions on homosexuality and race. Jones accuses the EDL of “bow[ing] to pressure from the government… and people within their own organization,” and promises to come to the UK in February “and organize something in London.” EDL spokesman Guramat Singh says that Jones approached the EDL asking to take part in the rally. The request sparked debate within the organization, Singh says: “A few of us have been debating the question of whether we bring him or not and after doing some research and seeing what his personal opinions are on racism and homosexuality, we are not allowing him to speak at our demonstration. He is not the right candidate for us. Although the English Defense League are sincere to what he has to say about Islam, we do not agree with some of his manifesto such as some of his issues with homosexuality and some of his issues with race. The EDL is anti-homophobic and we are a non-racism organization.” [BBC, 12/13/2010]
Home Office Denies Jones Entrance - Britain’s Home Office denies Jones entry to the UK after another group, England Is Ours, extends an invitation for Jones to take part in one of its events. A Home Office spokesperson says it denied Jones entrance to the UK because the government “opposes extremism in all its forms.… Numerous comments made by Pastor Jones are evidence of his unacceptable behavior. Coming to the UK is a privilege, not a right, and we are not willing to allow entry to those whose presence is not conducive to the public good. The use of exclusion powers is very serious and no decision is taken lightly or as a method of stopping open debate.” [BBC, 12/19/2010]

Entity Tags: Unite Against Fascism, Guramat Singh, George Readings, English Defense League, England Is Ours, Home Office, Terry Jones (pastor), Hope Not Hate, Weyman Bennett, Nick Lowles

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

A Koran burns in a firepit after being set alight by Reverend Wayne Sapp of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida.A Koran burns in a firepit after being set alight by Reverend Wayne Sapp of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. [Source: PI Bill Warner (.com)]An assistant pastor of a Gainesville, Florida, church ceremonially burns a Koran after a “mock trial” that finds the Koran “guilty” of promoting terrorism and crimes against women and minorities (see July 12, 2010 and After). The “trial” is conducted by the Dove World Outreach Center’s head pastor, Terry Jones; assistant pastor Wayne Sapp actually conducts the Koran-burning, setting the Koran afire using a grill lighter and allowing it to burn for 10 minutes. An imam from Dallas serves as the Koran’s “defense attorney” in the “trial.” Jones finds the Koran “guilty” of “training and promoting terrorist activities… death, rape, torture of people worldwide,” and crimes against women and minorities, and orders the book to be burned in what appears to be a preordained outcome. The church streams a video of the burning over the Internet. Luke Jones, Terry Jones’s son and the youth pastor at the church, says the burning is not disrespectful to Islam and is a “symbolic protest” of the “evil” religion. “It’s an act of demonstration,” he says. “Every day, Bibles get burned, flags get burned. Every day, there’s a protest against governments, politics, and some of those protests, some of those demonstrations… express concerns, they express worries, they express certain fears. That has nothing to do with actions and violence. You can’t use that as an excuse so someone can physically go around killing people.” At the time of the burning, signs outside the church read, “Protesting Sharia & jihad Dearborn, MI” (an apparent reference to the large Muslim community in Dearborn, Michigan), and “Islam is of the devil.” After the burning, someone defaces the signs to read, “Love all men.” [Gainesville Sun, 4/1/2011; Christian Science Monitor, 4/1/2011; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011] The incident sparks a bloody protest in Afghanistan that will result in multiple deaths, including the murder of seven UN staffers and guards (see April 1, 2011 and April 1-5, 2011). Jones and Sapp had publicly promised to never burn a Koran after canceling previous plans to do so (see September 9-10, 2010).

Entity Tags: Terry Jones (pastor), Dove World Outreach Center, Luke Jones, Wajid Khuddus, Wayne Sapp

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Afghan President Hamid Karzai publicly condemns the recent burning of a Koran by Florida pastor Terry Jones (see March 20, 2011). He condemns Jones and calls on US authorities to arrest him. A day later, Afghan protesters storm a UN compound in Mazar-i-Sharif, killing seven guards and staffers and setting off a wave of bloody protests throughout the nation (see April 1, 2011 and April 1-5, 2011). US and international officials blame Jones for setting off the protests, but note that Karzai brought the attention of his people to the incident. They do not believe that Karzai intended to set off such violence, but instead think that he may have chosen to use the incident to vent his frustration with the continued foreign presence in Afghanistan. Stephen Carter, an independent policy analyst in Kabul, says: “Karzai seems to veer between being dependent on the international presence and a real sense resentment and powerlessness. He tends to come out with public statements that make clear the degree of resentment that he feels. In this particular case, he could have refrained from making a statement and acted in a way that would have made this particular outcome less likely, but I don’t think it was a deliberate conspiracy. I think he was voicing frustrations that he genuinely feels.” A Karzai spokesman says Karzai spoke out because of his moral outrage at the burning. [Christian Science Monitor, 4/5/2011]

Entity Tags: Hamid Karzai, Terry Jones (pastor), Stephen Carter

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

Smoke billows from the burning UN mission in Mazar-i-Sharif, as protesters take to the streets.Smoke billows from the burning UN mission in Mazar-i-Sharif, as protesters take to the streets. [Source: Agence France-Presse / Getty]Eleven people, including seven United Nations officials, are slain in Afghanistan following a protest in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif. (Some press reports say 12 are killed.) The protest was spurred by the recent burning of a Koran by Florida pastor Terry Jones (see March 20, 2011) and a speech by Afghan President Hamid Karzai condemning the burning (see March 31, 2011 and After). The attack is the worst incident on record against the UN since the conflict began in 2001. The protest begins peacefully, but turns violent after Mullah Mohammed Shah Adeli tells the crowd of some 20,000 that multiple Korans had been burned, and they must protest in a call for Jones to be arrested. Otherwise, says Adeli, Afghanistan should cut off relations with the US. “Burning the Koran is an insult to Islam, and those who committed it should be punished,” he says. The infuriated crowd marches on the nearby UN compound, ignoring guards who at first fire their AK-47s into the air and then into the crowd. Four or five crowd members are killed before the guards are overwhelmed (press reports differ on the number of protesters slain). Crowd members take the guards’ weapons and turn them on people in the UN compound. Four UN guards from Nepal and three foreign workers from Norway, Romania, and Sweden are killed, along with four non-UN victims. One Afghan is arrested for leading the attack. General Abdul Rauf Taj, the deputy police commander for Balkh Province, says, “Police tried to stop them, but protesters began stoning the building, and finally the situation got out of control.” Kieran Dwyer of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan says, “Some of our colleagues were just hunted down” by angry protesters, who also burn and vandalize the building. [ABC News, 4/1/2011; New York Times, 4/1/2011; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011]
Early Reports of Two Beheadings - Early press reports indicate that two of the seven slain UN personnel are beheaded, but Afghan authorities later deny these reports. [New York Times, 4/1/2011; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011] An early report from the Christian Science Monitor says that 20 UN staffers have been killed. Later press reports do not include this number. [Christian Science Monitor, 4/1/2011]
Pastor Blames Muslims for Deaths - An unrepentant Jones calls on the US government and the international community to respond, saying in a statement: “We… find this a very tragic and criminal action. The United States government and the United Nations itself, must take immediate action. We must hold these countries and people accountable for what they have done as well as for any excuses they may use to promote their terrorist activities. Islam is not a religion of peace. It is time that we call these people to accountability.… They must alter the laws that govern their countries to allow for individual freedoms and rights, such as the right to worship, free speech, and to move freely without fear of being attacked or killed.” Pegeen Hanrahan, the former mayor of Gainesville, Florida, where Jones lives and works, says that most in the Gainesville community do not support Jones. “He’s a really fringy character,” Hanrahan says. “For every one person in Gainesville who thinks this is a good idea there are a thousand who just think it’s ridiculous.” Jacki Levine of the Gainesville Sun newspaper says of Jones: “He’s a person who has a congregation that’s exceedingly small, maybe 30 or 40 people—50 on a good day. He is not at all reflective of community he finds himself in.”
Condemnations, Warnings that Further Attacks May Take Place - President Obama condemns the attack, saying: “The brave men and women of the United Nations, including the Afghan staff, undertake their work in support of the Afghan people. Their work is essential to building a stronger Afghanistan for the benefit of all its citizens. We stress the importance of calm and urge all parties to reject violence and resolve differences through dialogue.” Obama was sharply critical of Jones’s announced plans to burn a Koran (see September 10, 2010). UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon echoes Obama’s sentiments, saying, “This was an outrageous and cowardly attack against UN staff, which cannot be justified under any circumstances and I condemn it in the strongest possible terms.” Ulema Council member Mullah Kashaf says of Jones: “We expressed our deep concerns about this act, and we were expecting the violence that we are witnessing now. Unless they try him and give him the highest possible punishment, we will witness violence and protests not only in Afghanistan but in the entire world.” [ABC News, 4/1/2011; New York Times, 4/1/2011; Daily Mail, 4/2/2011] Although Jones and his fellow church members deny any responsibility for the attacks, others disagree. One woman who lives near Jones’s church shakes her head in regret after being told of the Koran-burning, and says, in reference to Jones and the attack, “All because of him.” Gainseville Mayor Craig Lowe says: “Terry Jones and his followers were well aware their actions could trigger these kinds of events. It’s important that the world and nation know that this particular individual and these actions are not representative of our community.” Jones’s son Luke, a youth pastor at the church, says: “We absolutely do not feel responsible for it. You’re trying to avoid the real problem and blame someone.” The “real problem” is Islamic extremism, Luke Jones says, a stance he says is proven by the day’s attack. “The world can see how violent this religion—parts of this religion—can be.” [Gainesville Sun, 4/1/2011]

Entity Tags: Mohammed Shah Adeli, Christian Science Monitor, Craig Lowe, Hamid Karzai, Jacki Levine, Barack Obama, Luke Jones, Kieran Dwyer, Abdul Rauf Taj, Mullah Kashaf, Ban Ki-Moon, Pegeen Hanrahan, United Nations, Terry Jones (pastor)

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

Pastor Terry Jones, whose recent burning of a Koran (see March 20, 2011) sparked protests that have cost dozens of lives (see April 1, 2011 and April 1-5, 2011), announces that he now plans to conduct a “trial” of the Prophet Muhammad. Jones and his associate pastor Wayne Sapp conducted a “mock trial” of the Koran that led to their burning of the holy book. Imam Muhammad Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida who has attempted to work with Jones to prevent his Koran-burning (see September 9-10, 2010), says he was outraged by Jones’s burning of the Koran and calls him “a nut job.” Jones says he has no interest in causing further violence or in promoting his small Gainesville, Florida, church, saying: “We are actually not doing it because we desire to be killed, we are not doing it because we desire publicity. We really believe our message is that important, that the radical element of Islam is a danger to our society.” Muslims in and around Gainesville worry that Jones’s further actions may cause violent repercussions. [Orlando Sentinel, 4/5/2011; Huffington Post, 4/6/2011]

Entity Tags: Muhammad Musri, Wayne Sapp, Terry Jones (pastor)

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

The Islamic Center of America.The Islamic Center of America. [Source: Annenberg Digital News]Pastor Terry Jones plans to go to Dearborn, Michigan, home of a large and active American Muslim community, to take part in a Good Friday anti-Islam rally outside Dearborn’s largest mosque, the Islamic Center of America. Jones and his congregation recently burned a Koran (see March 20, 2011), and protests against his action have cost dozens of lives (see April 1, 2011 and April 1-5, 2011). Religious leaders from Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, and other religious groups plan a counterprotest that will drown out Jones’s anti-Islamic message with one of unity. The clergy and others plan to link hands in a circle around the mosque to symbolically shield it from Jones. The leaders of these groups call Jones divisive. Reverend Daniel Buttry, a Baptist minister, says, “This is an opportunity to show a different vision than the one he’s bringing.” Jones’s associate pastor Wayne Sapp, who applied the flame to the Koran in the March 20 ceremony, says he and Jones will come to Dearborn to peacefully protest against jihad and Shari’a law, which they say threaten non-Muslims with violence. Jones has said that Muslims are welcome in the US if they remain peaceful and submit to the Constitution. “Who is he to question our loyalty?” says Imam Hassan Qazwini, a Shi’a cleric known for his moderate views and the head of the Islamic Center. “Muslims are as American as he is. He has no right to question the loyalty of American Muslims in this country. We are peaceful, patriotic citizens who love this country and care about it as much as any citizen.” Under Qazwini, the mosque has conducted intensive interfaith and community outreach efforts. Robert Bruttell of the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit encourages people of all faiths to take part in the counterprotest. “Stand together in the spirit of cooperation and harmony, the essential basis of this great country,” he says. “We are calling on people to reject fear and intolerance.” The Reverend Jeffery Day of the Archdiocese of Detroit says Jones’s choice of Good Friday to protest is especially offensive: “As Catholics, we’re mortified that Terry Jones would want to come to Dearborn, where we really are a community that gets along well with our Muslim brothers and sisters.” Frank Fiorello, the leader of an anti-Islamic group called Order of the Dragon, originally organized the protest outside the Islamic Center but has since withdrawn his participation after being informed by Dearborn Mayor John O’Reilly and local pastors that Dearborn is not under Shari’a law, a myth promulgated on some Web sites. Fiorello calls Islam a “violent” religion and says, “There’s nothing holy about the Koran.” He named his group after a medieval Christian group that fought against Turkish Muslims; he also plays in a rock band that sings songs describing how they will kill Muslims, and once wrote, “I want to throw a pig head into a Friday prayer night at ye ole mosque of terror.” Of Jones’s Koran-burning, Richard Nodel of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Metropolitan Detroit says: “The desecrating of holy scripture of any faith is reprehensible. When it’s done by a member of the clergy, it’s sinful. We urge Rev. Jones to cancel this despicable act. His hatred and actions are not welcome in our community.” Qazwini acknowledges that Jones “has the right to express his opinion,” but adds that religious leaders should be more sensitive about such issues. “If he calls himself a reverend, a pastor, a religious leader, then we should hold him to a higher standard.” [Detroit Free Press, 4/20/2011; Detroit Free Press, 4/20/2011] Shortly after the Good Friday protest, Jones will be questioned after “accidentally” firing his gun outside a Southfield television studio. Police reports will say that he dropped the .40 caliber handgun while entering his vehicle, a Ford Taurus, and the gun fired a bullet through the floorboard. He and his companion both have valid Florida concealed-carry permits, which are recognized in Michigan. [Detroit Free Press, 4/23/2010]

Entity Tags: Jeffery Day, Daniel Buttry, Frank Fiorello, Islamic Center of America, Robert Bruttell, John O’Reilly, Wayne Sapp, Hassan Qazwini, Richard Nodel, Terry Jones (pastor)

Timeline Tags: US Domestic Terrorism

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