WATCH: U.S. law enforcement officials say they’ve identified the two men shot by police during an attack on a controversial art exhibit in Texas. The event featured caricatures of the prophet Muhammad, which are considered offensive to Muslims. As Aarti Pole reports, at least one of the gunmen was being monitored by the FBI.
The organizers and attendees of a “Draw the prophet Muhammad” event in Texas on Sunday attacked by two suspected extremists were adamant they were promoting free speech and weren’t Islamaphobic. But their founder has been banned from the United Kingdom and the group is listed as an anti-Muslim extremist group by the non-profit Southern Poverty Law Center.
What is the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and who is Pamela Geller?
The American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) is an organization whose self-described mission is to defend free speech. But a large chunk of the group’s mission statement is dedicated to attacking what it declares an encroachment of Sharia law and Marxism in the United States.
“AFDI acts against the treason being committed by national, state, and local government officials, the mainstream media, and others in their capitulation to the global jihad and Islamic supremacism, the ever-encroaching and unconstitutional power of the federal government, and the rapidly moving attempts to impose socialism and Marxism upon the American people.”
The group was founded by Pamela Geller, a writer and activist, who has attacked what she sees as Sharia law in the United States. She was instrumental in the protests against the building of an Islamic Cultural Center near the site of the 9/11 attacks in New York and has gone to court several times to defend anti-Islamic ads placed on buses.
WATCH: Raw video of a shooting outside Muhammad cartoon contest in Texas.
One of the posters featured Adolf Hitler meeting with the so-called “leader of the Muslim world.” Another reads, “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
Another ad, posted on New York City buses, features a man wearing a headscarf beside the passage “killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah” and attributes it to the non-existent Hamas MTV. At the bottom, the ad says “That’s his Jihad. What’s yours?”
Free speech or a hate group?
People at the event, interviewed in a live stream from the exhibit, went out of their way to clarify they didn’t hate all Muslims – just terrorists. They repeatedly said they were more interested in supporting free speech.
The winner of the $10,000 art contest was cartoonist Bosch Fawstin who has penned two comics, Infidel and Pig Man, which deal with themes of freedom, religion, and Muslims. His superhero, Pig Man, wears a pigskin leather suit to “exploit the enemy’s pigotry” – an apparent reference to Muslims’ deference for pork.
“It’s about free speech. It’s about us not being told what we can or can’t do,” Fawstin said during the stream.
“As Americans, as free people, as westerners, we’re being told by an enemy that’s at war with us, that we can’t draw their prophet.”
Most people interviewed during the live stream were adamant they were promoting free speech. But much of their language was inflammatory.
“This is a war,” Geller said during her keynote speech.
The shooting happened just over an hour after the event started and in the middle of the live stream. Tom Trento, an activist who was hosting the stream, was busy interviewing a man when he received news of the shooting. The unidentified man went on to suggest he wasn’t Islamaphobic but was afraid of Islam.
“They call us Islamaphobes and my answer to that is I’m not an Islamaphobe, but I am afraid of Islam and you should be too, especially if you are a Muslim. Islam is dangerous to human beings and we’re getting evidence of that right now.”
While the group’s members are adamant they aren’t a hate group, the Southern Poverty Law Center does list the ADFI as a NYC-based “Anti-Muslim” group in its so-called “Extremist Files” database.
And Geller has been banned from the United Kingdom because she set up what British authorities called an “anti-Muslim hate group.”
She’s also shown support for the far-right English Defence League, a group which frequently protests against Islam in England, writing in a blog: “I share the EDL’s goals… We need to encourage rational, reasonable groups that oppose the Islamisation of the west.”
Opposition to the Stand With The Prophet conference
During her keynote speech, Geller explained the art exhibit was being held at the Carter Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, because it was the same location where a Stand With The Prophet conference was held shortly after the Charlie Hebdo attacks.
That event characterized itself as the “beginning of a movement” to defeat Islamaphobia in the United States and was raising money to build a communications centre for the Muslim community which would “develop effective responses to” slurs against Muslims.