NEW YORK (AP) — The Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest that exploded in violence over the weekend in Texas was organized by Pamela Geller, a New Yorker who rails against Islam with such ferocity that one of the nation’s top civil rights groups lists her in its “extremist files.”
Who is Pamela Geller?
Geller, 56, is head of an organization called the American Freedom Defense Initiative. Through websites, books, ad campaigns and public events, Geller has been warning for years that Islam threatens to destroy the US.
She famously led the campaign in 2010 — under a different group, called Stop the Islamization of America — to prevent the opening of an Islamic community center blocks from the World Trade Center site. She called it the “ground zero mosque.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit organization that tracks hate groups, keeps a dossier on her in its “extremist files,” calling her “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.”
The law center describes her as “relentlessly shrill and coarse in her broad-brush denunciations of Islam” and notes some of her more sensational claims, including that President Barack Obama is the “love child” of Malcolm X.
“I don’t think that many Westernized Muslims know when they pray five times a day that they’re cursing Christians and Jews five times a day,” she was quoted as telling The New York Times in 2010.
In 2009, she wrote on the conservative site Newsmax that “devout Muslims should be prohibited from military service. Would Patton have recruited Nazis into his army?”
A divorced mother of four, Geller grew up on Long Island and worked on the business side of The New York Daily News in the 1980s, later becoming associate publisher at The New York Observer, according to a Times profile. She received nearly $4 million in her divorce settlement in 2007, the Times reported.
The cartooning contest in Garland, Texas, was offering $10,000 for the best depiction of Muhammad. In an interview with The Associated Press last month as the contest was being organized, Geller called it an attempt to stand up for free speech and said: “We will not bow to violent intimidation.”
Geller has been involved in numerous lawsuits across the US in recent years, many of them related to her attempts to display incendiary ads in public transit systems.
Most recently, New York City’s transit authority banned all political advertising after a judge upheld Geller’s right to run bus ads about Islam that said, “Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.”
In 2012, the transit authority was forced to run Geller ads that read: “In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
She paid for similar ads in San Francisco, Detroit and Washington.
In 2013, Geller and a colleague were barred from entering Britain to attend a march that ended in the London neighborhood where a British soldier was killed by Islamic extremists.
American Freedom Defense Initiative took in nearly $160,000 in 2012 and $960,000 in 2013, according to tax filings. It did not list any donors. Geller made $192,500 in 2013, records show.
The organization’s 2013 tax form also lists a related tax-exempt organization called Jihad Watch, with an address in Manchester, N.H.
A recent report by the Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington, said Geller’s top donor included the Fairbrook Foundation, which gave $253,250 to Jihad Watch. The Fairbrook Foundation supports a number of mainstream conservative groups.