Mideast violence again thrusts local pastor into spotlight
Published: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 9:41 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 12, 2012 at 9:50 p.m.
Pastor Terry Jones pulled out his gun.
Reporters had just interviewed the minister of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville about promoting an anti-Islamic film that news reports say contributed to violent protests in Egypt and Libya on 9/11.
After the interview in his office, reporters asked Jones to hold open his gray suit jacket and show the weapon in its holster. He said he carries the weapon with him at all times.
"It's a 40 cal semi automatic," he said.
He was asked about the gun's magazine. He pulled it out and held it open-faced in his palm, toward the reporters. He fiddled with it, and tried to release the magazine. One reporter backed away.
"OK, I'm getting nervous," said another. More reporters backed away.
Reporters filled Jones' church office because once again the pastor was in the spotlight after violent protests in Egypt and an attack on the U.S. consulate in Libya that killed four Americans, including U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens.
Initially, officials thought the violence in Egypt and Libya was a reaction to a provocative, American-made anti-Muslim film that mocks Muslims and the prophet Mohammed, but U.S. officials now say the assault that killed Stevens and the three others may have been a planned terrorist strike linked to Tuesday's 11-year anniversary of 9/11.
Jones and his northwest Gainesville congregation of fewer than 15 captured headlines worldwide when he planned to burn the Quran on Sept. 11, 2010, and again when he actually burned a copy of Islam's holy book in spring 2011.
It was unclear Wednesday whether the violence this time around was sparked in part by Jones' promotion of the film or just by the trailer dubbed in Arabic that made the rounds on the Internet in the days leading up to the protests.
Jones said that on Tuesday, during a planned anti-Islam event, he had Internet problems and didn't show the movie trailer.
"We were going to show (the trailer) last night after our event," Jones said, "but it wasn't possible because I think we were being hacked."
Jones used the media attention Wednesday to further his anti-Islamic message. As to his involvement with the film, Jones said the creator of the movie contacted him a "little while back" and asked him to promote the movie. An Egyptian news website linked Jones to the film as early as Sept. 9.
Also, Jones said Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, called him on Wednesday and asked him "not to show or promote the film."
"He considers the film to be very pornographic," Jones said, "and not fitting for a pastor or Christian to show."
Jones said he hadn't seen the film — just the trailer, and that was all he was promoting.
While Jones courted the media in Gainesville, local leaders spoke out against the violence and controversy.
Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe denounced Jones' public support of the film, saying he feels Jones' actions have been "irresponsibly provocative."
"What we have is a First Amendment that protects freedom of speech," Lowe said. "But just because something is permitted by the Constitution does not make it advisable or a morally defensible action."
Imam Abdul Malik of the Islamic Center of Gainesville said the killings in Libya were shameful and the people behind the violence do not reflect the spirit and the teachings of Islam.
"I think it's very barbaric for the people of the world in the Muslim community to allow for Stevens to be murdered," he said.
Malik attended a Sept. 11 memorial service Tuesday held at Holy Trinity Episcopal Church that hosted representatives from Sikh, Catholic, Jewish, Buddhist, Muslim and Protestant denominations in Gainesville.
He said the atmosphere was warm, welcoming and respectful — a far cry from the unrest and violence overseas that he doesn't understand.
"No one can justify this nonsense," he said.
The Rev. Louanne Loch of Holy Trinity Episcopal said Tuesday's service, which featured readings from sacred texts of each faith, was meant to bring together followers of different faiths.
"We came together for a service of unity," she said.
Back in his office, Jones continued to struggle with his weapon.
"That should just pop out," he said of his gun's magazine. "I'll have to have a look at that later."
The gun wobbled for another second before he holstered it again.
Information from the Associated Press and The New York Times was used in this report. Contact Jon Silman at 374-5038 or firstname.lastname@example.org and Joey Flechas at 338-3166 or email@example.com.
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