Terry Jones has long breathed fire over his pews in Gainesville, Florida.
In 2011, mullahs in Afghanistan vowed violent retribution after the pastor with a Hell’s Angel-style moustache said he would burn copies of the Quran in front of his church. Jones came back to the public eye on Tuesday after a film he helped promote mocked the founder of Islam—and then has since been cited as the cause of an attack in Libya that took the life of the American ambassador, Christopher Stevens, and three of his staff members. Muslim demonstrators stormed the U.S. embassy in Cairo on Wednesday as outrage over the video spread, and Libyan officials reported that gunmen had stormed the American consulate in Benghazi.
The film, titled Innocence of Muslims was made by a California-based Israeli-American named Sam Bacile, but Jones was quickly tied to it, and The New York Times obtained an email from Jones in which he said that the film “reveals in a satirical fashion the life of Muhammad.” On Tuesday night, Jones told the Wall Street Journal that he would screen the 13-minute trailer that is said to have sparked the violence at his church, Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville. According to the Orlando Sentine, Jones carried out that plan on Tuesday, the eleventh anniversary of September 11, a day he called “International Judge Mohammad Day.” In a photo available online from 2011, Jones appears in front of a sign advertising the day as well as a makeshift gallows from which an effigy of a horned figure in Middle Eastern dress is hung.
To say that the 60-year-old man courts controversy is an understatement. He reportedly works in an office decorated with posters for Mel Gibson’s movie Braveheart, and has produced a series of online videos called “The Braveheart Show.” On the series’s YouTube webpage, the show is said to address “challenging issues of the Christianity, Church and Culture. It is time for the church to stop pulling punches.” Signs erected by his church that proclaim “Islam is of the devil” littered the Gainesville area in 2010 and drew the attention of the county assessors. Jones has also been seen walking around the grounds of his church with a .40 caliber pistol riding on his hip.
His church, which has only about 50 members, has been the megaphone through which Jones has spewed his particular brand of hate since he ascended to leadership of the church in 1996, after founder Don Northrup died. The church was cited by the Southern Poverty Law Center in 2010 as a group that produces “demonizing propaganda aimed at homosexuals and other sexual minorities.” In April of 2011, the Washington Post published an article asking “Is Terry Jones’ Dove World Outreach Center a cult?” While the Dove World Outreach Center is the one that that has been most closely linked with Jones in the United States—especially after Jones announced his intentions to burn the Quran on its front lawn—Jones sharpened his fangs abroad.
A native of Cape Girardeau, Missouri, where he attended the same high school as shock jock Rush Limbaugh, Jones reportedly spent 30 years working as a missionary in Europe. Jones helped found the Christian Community of Cologne in Germany in the 1981, but was tossed from his post at the church in 2008. The church has since tried to distance itself from Jones.
Jones also authored a book titled Islam is of the Devil that was published in August of 2010 through a Florida self-publishing outfit.
Just how much Jones even knows about the religion he despises and has untiringly inveighed against may also be up for question. CBS News reported in 2010 that in a deposition from a court case in the Northern District of Florida, the firebrand is asked if he knows where Sharia law, the religious law of Islam, comes from.
“Not really, no,” Jones responds in the deposition. “I think there’s experts that say it came from the old Mosaic law. But no.”
In the same deposition, Jones is asked whether he knows any Muslims personally. “I don’t think I know any personally,” the man replies. “I haven’t interviewed any.” Jones goes on to say that he believes interfaith dialogue to part of “our problem.”
Jones and his wife Sylvia also own a furniture shipping business called TS and Company that bills itself on its eBay page as “a Christian Company.” The company description, which also specifies that local pickup is only available on Saturdays, goes on to say that, “It is our vision that through this work we will see people led to Jesus Christ and that they can be restored in Body, Soul, and Spirit.” Dove World Outreach Center lost its tax-exempt status in 2010 after it was determined that parts of its campus were being used in the service of the Jones’ business.
And in November of last year, Jones filed documents with the Federal Election Commission putting himself forward as an independent candidate in the 2012 presidential race.