Stop Islamization of America
Pamela Geller, co-founder and President of Stop Islamization of America
|American Freedom Defense Initiative|
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Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), also known as the American Freedom Defense Initiative, is a far-right American organization that has been widely described as Islamophobic. It describes itself as a "human rights organization dedicated to free speech, religious liberty and individual rights." The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) lists SIOA as a hate group.
SIOA was founded in 2010 by its current leaders, Pamela Geller and author Robert Spencer, at the request of Anders Gravers Pedersen, the leader of Stop Islamisation of Europe, of which it is the American affiliate. It is also known as the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI). It has launched ad campaigns in urban public transit systems, including one in New York City opposing Park51, a Muslim community center proposed for lower Manhattan near the World Trade Center site.
SIOA first entered the public eye with its early opposition to the construction of Park51, originally named Cordoba House, a 13-story Muslim community center proposed for a location two blocks from the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan. On May 6, 2010, Geller posted a blog piece calling the building a "monster mosque" and a "stab in the eye of America" and comparing it to the reconsecration of the Hagia Sophia as a mosque by the Ottoman Turks after they conquered Constantinople in 1453. In another blog post Geller encouraged readers to protest its construction.
In July 2010, the organization purchased bus advertising in New York and other American cities promoting a website purporting to advocate for Muslims who wanted to disclaim their religion but who feared they might be killed by other Muslims if they did so. The Council on American-Islamic Relations criticized the premise of the ads, that there were any such Muslims, calling it "a smoke screen to advance [Geller's] long-standing history of anti-Muslim bigotry".
The Anti-Defamation League, beginning in 2010, included SIOA in their online resource on extremist groups, saying that it "promotes a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda under the guise of fighting radical Islam" and "seeks to rouse public fears by consistently vilifying the Islamic faith and asserting the existence of an Islamic conspiracy to destroy 'American' values."
In 2011, the Southern Poverty Law Center named SIOA an anti-Muslim hate group, calling it a "propaganda powerhouse" that paints moderate Muslims as radical terrorists. Geller described the SPLC listing as a "badge of honor" and later, in 2015, stated to CNN, "Who designated the SPLC as a legitimate authority? They are a radical leftist group who targets patriots, vets and even GOP presidential candidates. They have never named a jihadi group as a hate group."
In July and August 2011, Geller and Spencer were discussed in the media because Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Behring Breivik's anti-Muslim manifesto quoted Spencer at length, and also cited Geller's blog. According to Heidi Beirich, Deputy Director of SPLC, Geller and Spencer's writings were "the primary sources for the anti-Muslim propaganda that had helped give voice" to Breivik's 1500+ page manifesto. SIOA published a statement jointly with Jihad Watch and Stop Islamisation of Europe condemning Breivik's attack.
In 2012, SIOA sponsored ads in the public transit systems of New York City, Washington, D.C., and Chicago reading, "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad." The New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) initially refused to display them. The authority's decision was ruled unconstitutional by Judge Paul A. Engelmayer of the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York in July 2012. Judge Engelmayer held that AFDI's ad was "core political speech" protected by the First Amendment.
Rabbis for Human Rights, the Sojourners Community, and United Methodist Women all sponsored subway ads to countering SIOA's original ad and promoting religious tolerance. The Jewish Council for Public Affairs called SIOA's ad "bigoted, divisive, and unhelpful", and Steve Gutow, its president, said, "The fact that ads have been placed in the subway attacking Israel does not excuse the use of attack ads against Muslims." William McGurn, former speechwriter for President Bush, wrote an editorial in the Wall Street Journal supporting the ads.
During the 2012 tax year, the organization reported total revenue of $157,870.00, no employee salary or compensation, and total operating expenses of $296,044.00.
In early January 2013, the AFDI placed advertisements in New York City subway stations. that juxtaposed images of the September 11 attacks with a quote from the Quran: "Soon shall we cast terror into the hearts of the unbelievers." By that time the New York City Transit Authority, had changed its advertising policy to accept what it called "viewpoint advertisements" but to require a disclaimer saying that the Transit Authority did not endorse the advertiser's views.
During the 2013 tax year, the organization reported total revenue of $958,800.00, employee salary and compensation at $243,150.00, with total operating expenses at $419,652.00.
In response to an ad by the American Muslims for Palestine that the AFDI called "Jew-hating", the AFDI sponsored an ad on Washington, D.C., buses with a photograph of Adolf Hitler and Haj Amin al-Husseini, the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem who supported the Nazi dictator before and during World War II.
In May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit ruled that the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office was not required to grant SIOA a trademark registration for its name because it could be disparaging to American Muslims. Geller criticized the ruling, calling it a "complete whitewash" and describing the court as having a politically correct bias.
In 2015 AFDI started a new ad campaign in New York, that included one parody billboard with a quote from Hamas stating 'Killing Jews is worship that draws us close to Allah.' A court judgement in April 2015 ruled that New York's Metropolitan Transportation Authority cannot prevent the ads from running on buses.
In January 2015 a Muslim group organized a fundraiser called "Stand With the Prophet in Honor and Respect" at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas. Pamela Geller spearheaded about 1,000 picketers at that event. The Garland Independent School District board president Rick Lambert said in January, "The Culwell Center is available for rental as long as you comply with the law. Because it is a public facility, the district is not allowed to discriminate based upon viewpoint."
On May 3, 2015, the group invited Geert Wilders to an art exhibit in Garland, Texas that offered a $10,000 prize for the best cartoon of Muhammad. During the event, a shooting incident occurred. Both gunmen were shot and killed by police shortly after the suspects shot a security guard.
The group says they spent $10,000 on security, and had 40 police officers and private security guards present. The event was hosted at the Curtis Culwell Center, rented from the Garland Independent School District, which hosted an event in January called "Stand with the Prophet".
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Geller heads a small but vocal extreme right-wing group, called Stop Islamization of America. cf. note 4 (p.374) SIOA is associated with Stop Islamization of Europe, an organization with branches in nearly a dozen countries (mostly in Western Europe), founded by an eponymous Danish group that opposes immigration of Muslims to Europe.
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...the other leading sources of anti-Muslim racism are... Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer's Stop Islamization of America...
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In the Bay Area, more than 125 religious leaders of various faiths signed a statement in July denouncing the ads as "Islamophobic"
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A statement published on July 25 on Jihad Watch, by Spencer and Geller ’s SIOA and Stop Islamisation of Europe, their group’s European ally, condemned the attacks. The statement went on to say that Breivik had attempted to join SOIE, but had been kept out of the organization 'because of his Nazi ties.'
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