The woman at the center of Sunday’s Draw Muhammad event, where three people were shot, is controversial blogger and activist Pamela Geller, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center has described as “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.”
Geller, who began her career as a journalist for the New York Daily News and went on to become associate publisher of the New York Observer, first came to the attention of many Americans in 2010, when she helped to derail the Park51 Project near the former site of the World Trade Center, condemning the proposed Islamic community center as “shrine to the very ideology that inspired the jihadist attacks” of 9/11 and campaigning for protests throughout the country. Geller continued to rail against the spread of Islam through her blog, Atlas Shrugs, where she wrote of her belief that President Obama is a secret Muslim who wants to destroy the United States from within the White House and is the love child of Malcolm X.
The blogger is also a co-founder, along with Robert Spencer, of the New York-based American Freedom Defense Institute, which says it is committed to preventing “specific Islamic supremacist initiatives in American cities.” The organization rose to international fame when a federal court ruled on grounds of free speech that New York City was required to run the anti-Muslim ads Geller had purchased in 2012. “In any war between the civilized man and the savage,” Geller’s ad read, “support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad.” Critics, among them prominent national Jewish organizations, were quick to condemn the ads as Islamophobic, but Geller continued to push her anti-Muslim rhetoric through a series of transit ads, including a recent bus billboard containing the phrase “Hamas Killing Jews.” In response, the city’s MTA board voted last week to ban all political ads on its subways and buses.
Geller’s rise to stardom as the queen of anti-Muslim activism is amplified by her international influence and well-funded network of Islamophobes around the world. Anders Behring Breivik, the Norwegian extremist who killed 76 people in a shooting rampage in 2011, cited both Geller and Spencer in his 1,500-page manifesto. The United Kingdom’s home secretary banned both Geller and Spencer ahead of a speaking engagement in 2013, labeling the AFDI a hate group.
Earlier this year, a pair of Muslim extremists killed 12 people in an attack on the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo. In a response thinly veiled as a free-speech event, Geller hosted the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest on Sunday, calling for submissions of cartoon depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. The Garland, Texas, event awarded $10,000 to the best cartoon, but as it was ending two men pulled up in a vehicle and shot a security officer. The suspects were shot and killed, and all the attendees were evacuated to safety, but Geller’s “creeping sharia” activism has gained more fodder for its followers. “This is a war on free speech,” she wrote on her site following the event. “The war is here.”