Pam Geller Protests; New York Shrugs

If Pam Geller organizes a protest against the Park51 Islamic community center, but there's no sustained media hype to accompany it, does it make a sound?

Not really. Although Fox News continues to promote Geller, and despite the best efforts of Dick Morris to remind Fox News viewers of Park51 at every opportunity, the issue's draw power has declined remarkably since last August. Geller's first protest against the “Ground Zero Mosque” benefited from a right-wing hype campaign with origins in coverage by the News Corp.-owned New York Post. It soon spread to Fox News and other media, becoming one of the biggest manufactured stories of the summer.

This year the news cycle was less kind to Geller's crusade, which hosted its second rally yesterday timed to the tenth anniversary of 9/11. With the nation focused on remembering and mourning the dead, Geller's protest at its peak drew no more than two hundred people, who barely filled a narrow gated pen on West Broadway, a few blocks from Ground Zero. “Last year's was so much bigger,” said a protestor holding a sign reading, Mohammed was a Terrorist. “The media didn't cover this or our issues this year.” Among those at the protest who also experienced considerably less media attention in 2011 was Terry Jones, the Florida preacher who made headlines last year for burning a Koran.

Geller's groups “American Freedom Defense Initiative” and “Stop the Islamification of America” (which the Southern Poverty Law Center has tagged as a hate group) sponsored the event. The speaker's line-up included radio host Joyce Kaufman, Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch, and René Stadkewitz, the founder and leader of Germany's new far-right, Geert Wilders-inspired Freedom Party. Following the event, Geller moved the festivities to the Theater District, where she introduced a special screening of her documentary, Ground Zero Mosque: Second Wave of the 911 Attacks.

As with last year, Geller -- who is currently the subject of a $10 million libel suit --argued that her opposition to the Park51 development was not a religious freedom issue. (Which is good, because the press release for the event mentioned “freedom” eleven times.) Rather, she described it as a political stand against “the establishment of a beachhead for political Islam and Islamic supremacism.”

The difference between last year's event opposing this “beachhead” and this year's offers a useful split screen. When the issue was in the news, with Geller's voice high up in the media mix, more people cared enough to come and protest. This year, when the issue has had almost no media profile, not so much. A similar effect can be seen in Staten Island, where in 2010 plans for a new mosque elicited howls of protest from locals. As the media discussion of Park51 died down, opposition dissipated, and this year the mosque opened without incident.

Despite the claims of Geller and her followers that they care only about the placement of the Park 51 mosque -- they see the location so close to Ground Zero as an “insult” -- it was clear at yesterday's event that their opposition is about much more than geography. Among those handing out flyers were activists organizing to stop the opening of a mosque in the south Brooklyn neighborhood of Sheepshead Bay, more than ten miles and a world away from Ground Zero.

“Have you tried burying a pig on the site?” joked one attendee as he took a flyer. “That works every time.”