In front of the mosque in Phoenix that the two jihadists who attacked the Mohammed cartoon exhibit in Texas earlier this month attended, anti-Muslim protestors — many of them armed — faced off against a larger crowd of pro-Muslim demonstrators for several hours on Friday night.
Police in riot gear kept the two sides apart, as the protest also featured its own Mohammed cartoon contest.
The New York Daily News reports that the organizer of the rally has received so many death threats that he sold his house and moved his family for safekeeping:
The ex-Marine who organized an anti-Muslim rally outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix Friday evening said he’s going into hiding after receiving several death threats.
“This is proof tyranny is in America,” said Jon Ritzheimer, revealing he’s come under siege since taking to Facebook to organize the event.
Up to 500 protesters gathered in 100-degree heat — some clutching assault rifles, American flags and placards — in the latest flashpoint in the U.S. anti-Islam movement.
Ritzheimer planned the protest, billed as “Freedom of Speech Rally,” in response to an ISIS-inspired attack outside a controversial Prophet Muhammad cartoon contest May 3 in Texas.
Two gunmen were shot dead by SWAT team members as they attempted to storm the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, an event organized by anti-Islamic activist Pamela Geller.
But now Ritzheimer claims he’s been targeted by terrorists.
I’m having to sell my house. My family is going into hiding,” an armed Ritzheimer, flanked by burly men wearing “F— Islam!” T-shirts, told reporters at the rally. “They’re calling for lone wolves to behead me. That’s terrorism right here in America.”
Interestingly, Ritzheimer says that he realizes the protest was “stupid and ridiculous” but thinks it was necessary to combat Islam:
The rally was to start about the same time evening prayers were taking place inside the center. The rally was to feature its own cartoon contest, similar to the one targeted in Texas.
“I think the whole thing, the cartoon contest especially, I think it’s stupid and ridiculous,” Ritzheimer said beforehand, “but it’s what needs to take place in order to expose the true colors of Islam.”
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Local Muslim leaders say they won’t be intimidated.
“The Muslim community in America is here to stay and we are also well aware of the right to speak our mind and worship how we please,” Dr. Yasir Shareef, a board member of the Arizona chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said at a press conference.
The White House says there’s no justification for violence at the rally.
“Even expressions that are offensive, that are distasteful, and intended to sow divisions in an otherwise tight-knit, diverse community in Phoenix cannot be used as a justification to carry out an act of violence,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
Islamic State threats turned out to be empty bluster, but who knows if any would-be martyrs were deterred by the presence of so many weapons among the anti-Muslim protestors. We’ll never know.
This was not an exercise in free speech — unless you consider expressing your hatred for a religion a matter of freedom. You can certainly disagree with the tenets and beliefs of Islam — especially as they are imported into a poisonous and dangerous political ideology.
But it is un-American to single out any religion for persecution. And that’s exactly what these protestors were doing. They wish to make it impossible for Muslims to practice their religion — just like Islamic State is doing with Christians in the Middle East.
Celebrating free speech is one thing. Using it to undermine one of the fundamental principles of the Constitution is quite another.