TIMELINE: Nine months of the right's anti-Muslim bigotry

››› ››› CHRISTINE SCHWEN, JUSTIN BERRIER, ERIC SCHROECK & KATE CONWAY

Cheered on by Fox News and the rest of the right-wing media, conservative activists spent the past year engaged in an anti-Muslim campaign that included efforts to block the planned Islamic center in lower Manhattan and demonize the imam spearheading the project. The bigotry has culminated in a Florida pastor's now-"suspended" plans to burn Qurans on September 11 -- plans that the pastor has explicitly linked to the controversy over the Islamic center.

December 2009

NY Times first reports on the Islamic cultural center. The New York Times first reported on the plans to build an Islamic cultural center in an abandoned Burlington Coat Factory building two blocks away from ground zero in a December 8, 2009, article. The Times emphasized the purpose of the center, which, according to project leader Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, was "to push back against the extremists." The article partially foreshadowed the controversy, reporting that Joan Brown Campbell, the director of the Chautauqua Institution religion department and "a supporter of Imam Feisal," "acknowledged the possibility of a backlash from those opposed to a Muslim presence at ground zero."

Geller writes first Atlas Shrugs post on the center. That same day in an Atlas Shrugs post, Pamela Geller reacted to the Times' article, writing: "I don't know what is more grotesque...jihad or the NY Times preening of it. The New York Times yet again misrepresents, obfuscates, and confuses infidels and kaffirs about Islam." In her post, Geller mostly discussed Sufism, the branch of Islam that Rauf and his followers belong to.

Ingraham tells Daisy Khan, "I like what you're trying to do." As noted by Salon.com's Justin Elliot, who created a timeline of the Islamic Center controversy in mid-August, the first known appearance of the story on Fox News occurred on December 21, 2009, when Fox News contributor Laura Ingraham, while filling in for Bill O'Reilly on The O'Reilly Factor, hosted Daisy Khan, Rauf's wife and executive director of the project. During the interview, Ingraham criticized Rauf's statement that "it was Christians in World War II who bombed civilians in Dresden and Hiroshima." She later added: "But I like what you're trying to do, and Ms. Khan, we appreciate it." Ingraham also stated during the interview, "I can't find many people who really have a problem" with the Islamic center, and told Kahn it's "fantastic" that "your group takes a moderate approach to Americanizing people, assimilating people, which I applaud."

Geller attacks Islamic center as "Islamic domination and expansionism." In a December 21, 2009, post titled, "Mosque at Ground Zero: Adding Insult to Agony," Geller called the center a "giant victory lap" and wrote: "Any decent American, Muslim or otherwise, wouldn't dream of such an insult. It's a stab in eye of America. What's wrong with these people? Have they no heart? No soul?" Geller also claimed of the project: "This is Islamic domination and expansionism. The location is no accident."

January 2010-April 2010

The story goes into hiding. Following Geller's December 21, 2009, post, the story fell from public view. Even Geller did not post on the subject again until May 6, 2010. During this period, Fox News continued its long-standing campaign of anti-Muslim rhetoric, smearing individual Muslims as "terrorists," calling for racial profiling, and fearmongering about Islam in general.

May 2010

Geller resumes attack on Islamic center. Following a unanimous resolution by the New York Community Board 1 to express support for the project, Geller brought the story back into public view with a post titled, "Monster Mosque Pushes Ahead in Shadow of World Trade Center Islamic Death and Destruction." In the post, Geller framed the issue as one of "sensitivity" and claimed the project is a "victory lap," an "insult," and a "stab in the eye of America":

One might think that the Muslim community might be capable of some sensitivity, considering what a manically sensitive bunch they are about everything. Every time there is a jihad attack (which is happening with increasing frequency), they start wailing on us infidels about Muslim sensitivities and anticipatory and imaginary affronts and insults.

What could be more insulting and humiliating than a monster mosque in the shadow of the World Trade Center buildings brought down by Islamic attack?

Worse still, the design is a mockery of the World Trade Center building design. Islamic jihad took down those buildings when they attacked, destroyed and murdered 3,000 people in an act of conquest and Islamic supremacism. What better way to mark your territory than to plant a giant mosque on the still-barren land of the World Trade Center? Sort of a giant victory lap. Any decent American, Muslim or otherwise, wouldn't dream of such an insult. It's a stab in eye of America. What's wrong with these people? Have they no heart? No soul?

As of September 10, Geller has written 205 blog posts categorized as "Mosque at Ground Zero: Takbir!"

New York Post: "Mosque Madness at Ground Zero." As Elliott noted in the Salon.com timeline, the New York Post ran a May 6 article referring to the Islamic center as the "'WTC' mosque." The Post's Andrea Peyser also wrote a column in May titled, "Mosque Madness at Ground Zero," quoting Geller. Elliott stated:

Lots of opinion makers on the right read the Post, so it's not surprising that, starting that very day, the mosque story spread through the conservative -- and then mainstream -- media like fire through dry grass. Geller appeared on Sean Hannity's radio show. The Washington Examiner ran an outraged column about honoring the 9/11 dead. So did Investor's Business Daily. Smelling blood, the Post assigned news reporters to cover the ins and outs of the Cordoba House development daily. Fox News, the Post's television sibling, went all out.

Islamic Center of Northeast Florida was firebombed. Jacksonville, Florida's, First Coast News reported that on May 10, a man attempted to firebomb the Islamic Center of Northeast Florida "shortly before evening prayers." The Florida Times-Union later reported that "[a]uthorities found remnants of a crude pipe bomb in the explosion" and that "at the time of the blast about 60 people were inside." The article quoted FBI Special Agent-in-Charge Jim Casey as discussing the potential destruction and death the blast could have caused were it not for "the strength of the mosque building." The article also reported that "law enforcement officials" were surprised that "they had not gotten nearly as many calls as they expected" regarding the identity of the bomber after they released security video of the man.

Fox & Friends runs first of many segments on the center, hosting Rauf and 9-11 firefighter. On May 11, Fox & Friends ran the first Fox news segment following Ingraham's December 2009 interview with Khan. Doocy introduced the story by asking if the plans to build the center were a "great insult." The following segment featured guests Imam Rauf and Tim Brown, a firefighter who responded to the attacks on 9-11. Brown said he didn't "understand the need to put it there," but also said he and Rauf had a "nice relationship," were "learning from each other," and that Rauf was an example of a "wonderful Muslim." Rauf said: "First of all, this is not a mosque; this is a community center ... for the whole community" and said he would "absolutely" allow members of other faiths. Rauf also said he understood Brown's sentiments.

Geller focuses attacks on Rauf. In a May 15 post, Geller began the attacks on the project's leader, Imam Rauf, quoting from a Pajamas Media post by Alyssa Lappen on "[e]verything there is to know about Faisal Abdul Rauf, the wolf in sheep's clothing behind the planned lower Manhattan mega-mosque."

Geller appears on Fox News' Huckabee. On the May 15 edition of his Fox News show, Mike Huckabee hosted Geller to discuss the Islamic community center project. Geller called the Islamic center an "outrage and an insult," and said it was "humiliating to the families and to all Americans."

Geller appears on Fox & Friends. Fox News hosted Geller on the May 27 edition of Fox & Friends, during which Geller defended her billboard advertisements, which provide information on how to "Leav[e] Islam." She said they represented religious freedom and again criticized the Park51 project as "stab[bing] Americans in the eye."

Radio host Michael Berry: "I hope the mosque isn't built, and if it is, I hope it's blown up." On the May 28 edition of his radio show, Michael Berry said that "you can't build a mosque at the site of 9/11." After a caller asked Berry why you couldn't build a mosque at the site of 9-11, Berry responded: "No, you can't. And I'll tell you this: If you do build a mosque, I hope somebody blows it up. ... I hope the mosque isn't built, and if it is, I hope it's blown up. And I mean that." Berry subsequently apologized for the remarks.

June 2010

Geller holds June 6 protest against Islamic center. On June 6, Geller and her organization, Stop Islamization of America, held a rally to protest the Islamic center. While news reports put crowd estimates of the protest between 350 and "more than 1,000," Geller herself claimed that "some estimates ranged as high as 10,000."

Mark Davis compares Islamic center to a "Japanese plan to build a cultural center at Pearl Harbor." Filling in for Rush Limbaugh on the June 9 edition of his syndicated radio show, Texas radio host Mark Davis said that even with "the noblest of intent," building the center would be like a "Japanese plan to build a cultural center at Pearl Harbor."

Geller appears on CNN to call Islamic center a "kick in the head" to Americans. During the June 6 edition of CNN Newsroom, Geller said that for Muslims to "pray next to" ground zero is "repugnant" and a "kick in the head" to Americans.

Geller: "Islamic supremacists want to build a monster mosque ... on the cherished site of land they think they conquered." In a June 23 post, Geller wrote: "We are still finding bodies of Americans murdered by Muslim terrorists on September 11th. Still. And the Islamic supremacists want to build a monster mosque on that sacred burial ground, a giant symbol of Islamic supremacism on the cherished site of land they think they conquered?"

July 2010

Palin asks Muslims to "refudiate" the Islamic center. On July 18, Fox News contributor Sarah Palin tweeted: "Ground Zero Mosque supporters: doesn't it stab you in the heart, as it does ours throughout the heartland? Peaceful Muslims, pls refudiate." Following criticism of her use of the made-up word "refudiate," Palin deleted the post from her Twitter account and replaced it with the following message: Peaceful New Yorkers, pls refute the Ground Zero mosque plan if you believe catastrophic pain caused @ Twin Towers site is too raw, too real."

Florida church announces plans to burn Quran on 9/11 anniversary. Religion News Service reported on July 21 that the Dove World Outreach Center, a Florida church, "plans to host an 'International Burn A Quran Day' on the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks this year." The group promoted the event on Facebook.

Gingrich: "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia." On July 21, Fox News contributor Gingrich posted a message on his website stating, "There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia. The time for double standards that allow Islamists to behave aggressively toward us while they demand our weakness and submission is over." He also falsely claimed that the site for the Islamic center would be "overlooking the World Trade Center site."

Geller continues anti-Islam media tour. During the month of July, numerous mainstream media outlets hosted right-wing blogger Pamela Geller to discuss the controversy surrounding a proposed Islamic community center and her group's campaign to stop it, despite Geller's history of outrageous, inflammatory and false claims, particularly when it comes to issues related to Islam. For example: MSNBC News hosted Geller on July 14, NBC Nightly News gave Geller platform to discuss the community center controversy on July 13, CNN Geller hosted on the July 14 edition of American Morning, and Geller appeared on the July 27 edition of Hannity.

Anti-Defamation League released statement opposing Islamic center. On July 28, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) issued a statement opposing the Islamic cultural center: "The controversy which has emerged regarding the building of an Islamic Center at this location is counterproductive to the healing process. Therefore, under these unique circumstances, we believe the City of New York would be better served if an alternative location could be found." The statement also stated "that some legitimate questions have been raised about who is providing the funding to build it, and what connections, if any, its leaders might have with groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values."

National Republican Trust makes anti-mosque TV ad; NBC and CBS refuse to air it. On July 15, Media Matters' Joe Strupp reported that an ad sponsored by the National Republican Trust Political Action Committee, created a controversial ad that "begins with a Muslim call to prayer, then images of terrorism. The narrator then proclaims mosque supporters rejoice in the 9/11 murder." The networks reportedly refused the ad because it "confuses moderate Islam with violent Jihad."

Anti-Islam graffiti found at Texas mosque, and is reportedly thought to be related to Park51 protests. According to a local WFAA News 8 report, vandals spray-painted "[s]tick-figure graffiti ... depicting Uncle Sam sexually assaulting Allah" on the parking lot of a mosque in Arlington, Texas. The report also noted that a playground behind the mosque was set on fire, and quoted the mosque's president, Jamal Qaddura, as saying that "whoever did this might also have tried to burn the mosque itself by pulling apart old gas lines." Qaddura also said "that he believes the damage may be linked to resentment over a planned Islamic community center near Ground Zero in Manhattan."

August 2010

Fox News guests opposing Islamic center outnumber supporters 35 to 11. An August 13 Media Matters for America review of Fox News' evening coverage of the planned building of an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero found that, since May, the shows have hosted at least 47 guests to discuss the project, nearly 75 percent of whom opposed the center.

Ingraham flip-flops on Park51. Eight months after her interview in which she told Daisy Khan, "I like what you're trying to do," Laura Ingraham went on the offensive, appearing on ABC's Good Morning America to claim, "I say the terrorists have won with the way this has gone down. Six hundred feet from where thousands of our fellow Americans were incinerated in the name of political Islam, and we're supposed to be -- we're supposed to be considered intolerant if we're not cheering this?" She added that "it's a finger in the eye, I think, of New York. ... This is sacred ground, OK? And I don't think people across the country are protesting" mosques. Ingraham continued: "I think the question we have to ask, George [Stephanopoulos], is why? Why do they want to build a $100 million, 15-story mosque, Islamic center?"

Kuhner smears Rauf as an "unrepentant militant Muslim." In an August 5 Washington Times column, Jeffrey Kuhner baselessly smeared Rauf as an "unrepentant militant Muslim."

Right-wing media attack Rauf over State Department trip. In an August 6 Forbes column, Claudia Rosett reported on Rauf's State Department-funded trip to the Middle East and said, "All this comes at a moment when Rauf and his partners in New York are preparing to raise $100 million to build a 13-story Islamic center and mosque near Ground Zero." Right-wing media subsequently attacked Rauf over the trip -- during which he went to the Middle East to "discuss Muslim life in America and religious tolerance" -- by baselessly claiming he would use it as a "taxpayer-funded fundraising jaunt" to finance construction of Park51. In fact, the State Department had made clear that fundraising of any kind was prohibited during the trip, and Rauf had previously participated in this program under President Bush.

AP: "Foes of proposed mosques have deployed dogs to intimidate Muslims holding prayer." On August 8, The Associated Press reported on incidents of anti-Muslim vandalism in Tennessee and California, noting that "[f]oes of proposed mosques have deployed dogs to intimidate Muslims holding prayer services and spray painted 'Not Welcome' on a construction sign, then later ripped it apart."

Geller falsely claims Rauf made comment blaming "the Jews" for 9-11. In an August 11 post, Geller falsely claimed that Rauf once blamed "the Jews" for 9-11 and said, "If Americans only know it was the Jews' fault, they would have done to the Jews what Hitler did." But those comments had been widely attributed to Sheik Muhammed Gemeaha, a one-time imam at the Islamic Cultural Center in New York City who reportedly made those inflammatory remarks after resigning and returning to Egypt in 2001. Center officials roundly condemned the comments.

Fox, NY Post invent controversy over Rauf's 9-11 comments. Right-wing media, including Fox News' Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity, repeatedly attacked Rauf for his remark that "the United States' policies were an accessory" to the 9-11 attacks. However, Rauf's comments were not outside the mainstream; indeed, the former chairman and vice chairman of the 9-11 Commission have stated that U.S. "actions have contributed" to "a rising tide of radicalization and rage in the Muslim world." Beck himself had previously said that while the U.S. did not "deserve 9-11," the U.S. was "in bed with dictators" and "that causes problems."

Right-wing media blast Obama for supporting freedom of religion. Right-wing media attacked President Obama over his August 13 statement that he "believe[s] that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country" and are entitled to build a mosque in lower Manhattan. Frank Gaffney asserted that Obama "stands with shariah," and Geller said Obama "has, in effect, sided with the Islamic jihadists."

Gingrich compares Islamic center to "Nazis" putting a "sign next to the Holocaust museum." On the August 16 edition of Fox & Friends, Newt Gingrich said: "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust museum in Washington. We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor. There's no reason for us to accept a mosque next to the World Trade Center."

Morris: Park51 would be a "command center for terrorism." On the August 18 edition of Fox News' The O'Reilly Factor, during a discussion of Park51, Fox News contributor Dick Morris claimed "these Sharia mosques ... have become the command centers for terrorists," adding, "so this one would be, too."

Wash. Times: "If the mosque is constructed, the terrorists win." In an August 19 editorial, The Washington Times stated of Park51: "The Ground Zero Mosque is not healing a rift but deepening a wound. If the mosque is constructed, the terrorists win."

Anti-Park51 protests full of right-wing hate. Following relentless right-wing media opposition to Park51 that included inflammatory, anti-Muslim rhetoric, and comparisons of Muslims to Nazis, anti-Park51 protests, including one on August 22, echoed the right-wing media's rhetoric and imagery, invoking Nazis and anti-Muslim smears.

Beck responds to "good Muslim" Rauf interview with mockery and lies. On August 23, Media Matters posted video of a 2006 Good Morning America segment with Beck and Rauf in which Beck agreed with Rauf's position that violent radical Islam is not representative of all Islam and appeared to call Rauf a "good Muslim." On his radio show that day, Beck and his co-hosts mocked the idea that Beck ever "endorsed" Rauf, and said instead that Beck endorsed the idea that "it's not all Islam, it's a small minority of Muslims" that commit violence.

Beck falsely claims Rauf's wife said "all Americans hate Muslims." On the August 24 edition of his Fox News show, Beck falsely claimed that Daisy Khan said that "all Americans hate Muslims." In fact, while discussing the strident opposition to the center, Khan said that hatred for Muslims in America is a cause for concern.

Vandalism at California mosque reportedly investigated as a hate crime; vandalism made reference to "Temple for the God of terrorism at Ground Zero." An August 25 Fresno Bee article reported that "[v]andalism to a Madera Islamic center and signs found on the property are being investigated as a hate crime." The article stated that a brick was thrown through a window and that signs reading, "No Temple for the God of terrorism at Ground Zero. ANB"; "Wake up America, the Enemy is here. ANB"; and "American Nationalist Brotherhood" were found at the mosque.

Vandals set fire to site of future mosque in Tennessee. ABC reported on August 29, "A fire early Saturday morning at the construction site of a new Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is being investigated by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives" and "One construction vehicle was significantly damaged, while several others were doused with an accelerant but not set ablaze." The Associated Press later reported that federal investigators said the fire "was arson and offered a $20,000 reward for information leading to an arrest."

September 2010

Right-wing media criticize Petraeus' condemnation of pastor's plan to burn Qurans. After General David Petraeus released a statement on September 7 condemning Florida pastor Terry Jones' plan to burn Qurans on September 11, right-wing figures Pam Geller, Robert Spencer and Frank Gaffney - who oppose Quran burning -- declared Petraeus' statements to be "deeply troubling" and a "recipe for surrender." Petraeus opposed the burning on the ground that "it could endanger troops and it could endanger the overall effort in Afghanistan" and that it is "precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems."

Right-wing equates burning Qurans with building Park51. Led by Fox News' Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, the right-wing media compared Pastor Jones' plan to burn Qurans on September 11 to plans to build the Park51 community center, stating that both groups have the right to go through with their plans but shouldn't do so. Palin wrote in a September 8 Facebook post that "[p]eople have a constitutional right to burn a Koran if they want to, but doing so is insensitive and an unnecessary provocation -- much like building a mosque at Ground Zero." Beck said that burning Qurans is "just like the Ground Zero mosque plan."

Geller calls Imam Rauf quote "disgusting" and claims that "anti-semitism is a basic tenet of Islam." In a September 8 blog post, Pamela Geller quoted Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf's statement that "[t]he very word 'islam' comes from a word cognate to shalom, which means peace in Hebrew." Geller wrote: "Considering that Islamic anti-semitism is a basic tenet of Islam. This is particularly disgusting. Talk about giving us the middle finger."

Imam Rauf warns of "the danger from the radicals in the Muslim world to our national security." On the September 8 edition of CNN's Larry King Live, Rauf warned of the dangers of perceived anti-Islam sentiment in the United States, especially pertaining to opposition to his Park51 project. He stated: "If we move from that location, the story will be that the radicals have taken over the discourse. The headlines in the Muslim world will be that Islam is under attack. And I'm less concerned about the radicals in America than I'm concerned about the radicals in the Muslim world." He then clarified that he was concerned about "the danger from the radicals in the Muslim world to our national security, to the national security of our troops."

Rauf reportedly told ABC News' Christiane Amanpour on September 9 that "My major concern with moving it is that the headline in the Muslim world will be Islam is under attack in America, this will strengthen the radicals in the Muslim world, help their recruitment, this will put our people -- our soldiers, our troops, our embassies, our citizens -- under attack in the Muslim world and we have expanded and given and fueled terrorism." (Accessed via Nexis)

Media distort Rauf remarks to claim he "threaten[ed] America." After Imam Rauf warned of "danger from the radicals in the Muslim world to our national security," the right-wing media distorted his comments, with Laura Ingraham claiming he had issued a "veiled threat." Michelle Malkin, Gretchen Carlson, Pam Geller, Jim Hoft and the website Fox Nation all made similar claims about Rauf's meaning despite agreement among experts -- including top military and law enforcement officials -- that anti-Muslim protests like those against Park51 are aiding extremists. Responding to Rauf's September 9 comments, Fox & Friends' repeatedly pushed the claim that Rauf made a "threat" against America, with hosts Gretchen Carlson, Steve Doocy and Brian Kilmeade referring to Rauf's comments as a "threat" at least 10 times during the September 10 broadcast.

Obama, Clinton, Gates urge pastor not to go through with Quran burning. President Obama stated of Jones on Good Morning America: "I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan." Obama urged Jones to listen "to those better angels." Secretary of State Hilary Clinton also denounced Jones' plans and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates reportedly called Jones on September 9 to ask that he cancel the Quran-burning event.

Pastor agrees to "suspend" Quran burning, which he explicitly links to Park51 controversy. As the Associated Press reported, Jones agreed to suspend his plans to burn the Quran on the September 11, and that he would instead fly to New York and meet with Imam Rauf. Jones initially claimed that he had received a promise from Rauf that the Islamic center would be moved. After Rauf denied that claim, Jones had suggested that he would go ahead with the burning. Later, Jones told NBC's Today show that if he meets with Rauf in New York he won't burn the Quran on 9/11. The AP noted, "It wasn't clear if he meant the burning would be halted indefinitely or just for Saturday."

Others threaten to burn the Quran. Following the announcement that pastor Terry Jones had suspended his plan to burn copies of the Quran on the ninth anniversary of 9-11, figures in Kansas and Wyoming reportedly revealed their own plans to burn the Muslim holy book.

Randall Terry, Tea Party group plans to tear pages out of Quran at White House on 9/11. Andrew Beacham, an Indiana tea party leader announced that "Tea Party and Religious rights activists will gather in front of the White House to tear out egregious passages from the Quran that call for violence against Christians and Jews." According to the press release, Randall Terry, anti-abortion fanatic and "host of daily TV show Randall Terry: The Voice of Resistance," is involved in organizing the event, at which protestors will ask:

"President Obama, do you support the Sharia law, the Quran, and Islamic violence; or do you stand with religious freedom, American liberty, your professed Christianity, and peaceful protest?

"Mr. President, you stand with the 'constitutional freedom' of Muslims to put a Mosque at ground zero. Do you stand with the 'constitutional freedoms' of those who protest against Sharia law, and burn a book that calls for killing infidels?"

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