Two suspected gunmen were killed Sunday, in Garland, Texas, after they opened fire outside an event hosted by anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller. As participants were leaving the venue, the attackers shot at the crowd and wounded one security guard. According to reports, police then shot the suspects.
Geller’s organization, American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), was hosting a contest to award $10,000 for the “best” cartoon depicting the Prophet Muhammad. Geert Wilders, a notorious far-Right Dutch politician and proponent of anti-Muslim bigotry, was the keynote speaker at the event. AFDI and the organized network she is affiliated with often seek to provoke violent Muslim extremists in an effort to promote the misconception that all Muslims are violent.
But many Muslim leaders around the world were quick to denounce Sunday’s attacks, defending Geller’s “right to hate” while not condoning her message. The First Amendment exists to protect freedom of speech — for all Americans. And while our Constitution gives Geller the right to share her views, even bigoted ones, there is no excuse for anti-Muslim hate speech or Islamophobia.
Now, Geller is using the attacks as validation for the incendiary form of activism she practices.
“This incident shows how much needed our event really was. The freedom of speech is under violent assault here in our nation,” she wrote Sunday on her blog. “The question now before is — will we stand and defend it, or bow to violence, thuggery, and savagery?”
It should go without saying that the shooters — and only the shooters — are responsible for their violent actions yesterday.
It is also important to note that Geller’s event, like much of her activism, was designed to incite. (There’s a reason she was banned from entering the United Kingdom in 2013.)
One week after the Hebdo attacks, Geller descended on the same Garland venue outside a conference hosted by American Muslims “frustrated with Islamophobes defaming the Prophet” and “fuming over extremists like ISIS who give a bad name to Islam.” Geller and her supporters claimed Muslims in Texas stood with the Charlie Hebdo murderers, even as participants inside emphatically condemned the attacks. Many of the demonstrators confronted by Geller reported a scene where they felt “real, palpable hatred.” Geller told Fox News her choice of venue for the contest was no coincidence.
Geller, and the network that supports her, gain in notoriety and paychecks from the hateful speech and activism they cloak in arguments about free speech. Her blog posts, bus ads and even her “draw the Prophet” contest are meant to inflame, to enrage. These antics also deliberately distract from the significant social, legal and political discrimination Muslims face every day, including bullying, hate violence, religious discrimination, racial profiling, torture and mass surveillance.
Geller’s invocation of the First Amendment to defend the wholesale maligning of all Muslims, and communities perceived to be Muslim, is a shameful affront to America’s democratic values. As she uses these attacks to elevate her platform — and she will — it is just as important as ever that she be held accountable for her hateful targeting of Muslims.