In downtown Manhattan today, about 1,500 people gathered to protest the planned Park51 Islamic center near Ground Zero. Speakers assured the crowd that it’s not that they’re intolerant, because this isn’t about tolerance, exactly — but so what if it is, because Islam is intolerant? Or something.Security was out in full force for the two-hour rally, with a few dozen police officers patrolling the barricaded crowds. One NYPD officer told me it was the normal amount of security for an event like this, and placed the crowd at about 1500.
Though a cross-country caravan was supposed to be carting people in from all over the U.S., it was unclear just how many people in attendance were from out-of-town. And when host Pamela Geller asked for a show of hands for caravaners, I couldn’t see anyone cop to being a part of it.
Ralliers carried signs like “No Bloomosque, No Obamosque, No Victory Mosque,” and frequently broke out into chants of “No more mosque,” “No-Bama,” and even “USA.” Some wore T-shirts from some smaller anti-Muslim groups — like the British group the English Defence League, who say they’re “against extremist Muslim preachers,” or Youth For Western Civilization, a group of conservative college students. One man even wore an “I’m Mad As Hell Too, Carl” T-shirt in support of Republican gubernatorial candidate Carl Paladino. Another wore a polar bear outfit for no discernible reason.
Hundreds of counter protesters were also nearby, some with signs that said things like “Pamela Geller Marches With Neo-Nazis” and “Jobs Not Hate: Just Say No To The Tea Party Bigots.” They frequently blew airhorns to disrupt the anti-mosque speeches.
[TPM SLIDESHOW: ‘No More Mosque!’: Protesters Rally Against Park51 Islamic Center]
One man who opposes Park 51, Lance Corey of Westchester, New York, carried a sign that said “Muhammad was the first radical Muslim. Osama bin Laden is following directions.” He described himself as a “militant progressive liberal’ who voted for Obama, and who “cannot tolerate intolerance.” But, he said, “I don’t think this is discrimination against Muslims. It’s discrimination against Islam.”
Geller, who hosted the rally with Robert Spencer, told the crowd at one point: “We are standing in the shadow of the world’s largest multi-cultural center. Yes, that was a multi-cultural center of peace, tolerance, and love.”
Geller also introduced the first speakers, family members of 9/11 victims. One woman, an Israeli, asked, “Mr. Bloomberg, tell us please, do you sleep well?” and told the crowd that “this is real America.” She addressed President Obama: “This isn’t about freedom of religion. It’s about geography.” When she said “Mr. President — You are American,” several audience members shouted out: “No he’s not” and “He’s a plant.”
Rosa P. Leonetti, who lost her husband on 9/11, accused Mayor Bloomberg of putting “his business interest in the Middle East” ahead of New Yorkers. Referring to would-be Koran burner Terry Jones, she chided those who talk about freedom of religion, but then “admonish a rogue pastor, who most Americans disagree with, for exercising his freedom of speech.”
Then there was keynote speaker Geert Wilders, a Dutch Parliamentarian, who supports a ban on the Koran, and has previously said Islam is “not a religion, it’s an ideology.” The “ideology of a retarded culture.” Or, as Pamela Geller described him, “a modern-day Churchill.”
Wilders talked about tolerance, and how “a tolerant society is not a suicidal society.” He continued that “New York is rooted in Dutch tolerance. New York is tolerant, not intolerant. What if New York was intolerant?” Then it “would not be New York, it would be Mecca.”
“To those who wish to impose the legal system of sharia on the rest of us,” Wilders said, “America, New York and sharia are incompatible.”
More on Wilders here.
Former Ambassador John Bolton delivered a pre-taped video message. Speaking from a library, in front of a book called “Derivatives” and some others that looked like SAT books, Bolton said that Park51 is a “strange enterprise” that basically is telling the American people, “we’re going to increase religious tolerance and understanding whether you like it or not.”
The other video was from Big Government’s Andrew Breitbart, who Geller introduced as a man “slaying the forces behind the biased mainstream media.” Breitbart assured the crowd:
You’re not controversial. Katie Couric is controversial. Charlie Gibson is controversial. Brian Williams is controversial. The New York Times is controversial. Those people that represent the minority are acting as if you’re somehow doing something that is morally incorrect. Well, I think the term that we’re talking about is politically incorrect.
Conservative radio host Mike Gallagher said he’s proud of his connection to Fox News, but doesn’t think this debate “is about religious liberty.” The main point, he said, is that an “Islamic mosque at this site is wildly inappropriate.” Another conservative talk show host, Steve Malzberg, who also writes for Newsmax, said he respected Terry Jones’ right to burn Korans, just as there have been similar demonstrations against other religions, such as “crucifixes in jars of urine” or when members of the U.S. military “destroy Bibles in Afghanistan.” He added that it’s “baloney” that Jones would have “blood on hands” if he went ahead with his plan: “The terrorists would have blood on their hands.”
“Let them call us bigots,” Malzberg continued, but no matter. Park51 is “a symbol of conquering,” he said, so “they will never ever move the site” because “it would be worthless to them.”
And then there was James Lafferty, of the Virginia Anti-Sharia Task Force, who closed out the speeches. He told an “anecdote” about being called to the White House for a meeting with President Obama and Imam Rauf, when in walks Donald Trump. Trump turned to Imam Rauf and said: “You’re fired.” He then turned to Obama and said: “I’ll see you in November 2012.”
As the crowds dissipated, Geller warned them against talking to members of the media: “Do not give them any ammunition. You know who you are. You know that you’re righteous. Do not give them an opportunity to deride this fine and honorable effort. Remember what I’m saying. They’re looking to catch you. Don’t give it to them.”
“Listen to Mommy,” she said.