Rep. Pete King (R-NY) on Wednesday joined a growing number of conservatives who refuse to lionize Pamela Geller, the organizer of a Muhammad cartoon-drawing contest where two gunmen opened fire Sunday in Garland, Texas. It was also a complete 180 from King’s initial, full-throated defense of the event.
“I think that — listen, she has the right to do what she did,” King said in an interview with local radio station WNYM that was flagged by Buzzfeed. “Just because you have the right to do it doesn’t mean you should do it.”
“We want to insult and attack and ridicule Islamist terrorism, and that’s fine,” King added. “That makes sense, but to go after a religion in this way, you’re just inviting trouble and there’s no reason. Its one thing to be courageous if you’re doing it for a valid cause, but for the cause of doing a cartoon of Mohammad to me that’s, you’re putting people’s lives at risk for no good reason.”
King’s initial reaction to the Garland shooting was more bombastic. He took a shot at Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton for wanting to take “weapons of war” away from the police in a Monday interview with Fox News. He also praised the cop who killed the gunmen after they wounded a security officer and defended Geller’s free speech rights.
“We shouldn’t be having a debate about whether or not that exhibition was provocative,” King said on “Fox & Friends.” “Being an American means you can be provocative. This is the First Amendment. We can’t sacrifice our Constitution to Islamists or politically correct commentators.”
The about-face is curious, considering that King has been far from an advocate for the Muslim-American community. He and Gellar were once on the same side of the 2011 debate over a proposed Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero, dubbed Park51. King called the project an “affront to the memory of all those who were murdered on 9/11.” He was also notorious for holding hearings on the radicalization of Muslims while serving as chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, which drew comparisons between the Long Island Republican and Joe McCarthy.