A protest organized by an inflammatory right-wing blogger and planned for New York’s Ground Zero on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks appears to have severely tweaked the leader of a 9/11 family support group, who sent out an open letter on Tuesday castigating the organizer’s “disrespect” for those who died.
The protest is over plans to build an Islamic community center mere blocks away from the site.
The family support group “Where to Turn” was launched by New York resident Dennis McKeon, who is not related to any of the victims. His site quickly became what Politico’s Maggie Haberman called “a clearinghouse of information related to the attacks and to Ground Zero,” and numerous families have flocked to the email list and forums.
The site offers assistance with finding grief counseling, government services and community outreach programs in Staten Island. McKeon’s message on Tuesday took the protest organizers to task for being disrespectful to “the memories of our loved ones on this sacred day at this sacred site.”
Of course, not all 9/11 families feel this way. Some relatives of those who died in the attacks even plan to speak at the rally.
Similarly, Patricia Bingley, a resident of the U.K. whose son died on Sept. 11, 2001, told the BBC on Tuesday that she considers the planned community center to be “an insult.”
“We always protect our children and at the moment I’m protecting my son’s memory,” she’s quoted as saying. “I just said to him [President Obama] that Ground Zero is my son’s only grave and it’s being debased by building a mosque so close to the site.”
On the other side is Herb Ouida, who lost a son in the attacks. He told AOL News earlier in August that opposing the community center helps convince the world that the U.S. is “at war with Islam.”
“To say that we’re going to condemn a religion and castigate a billion people in the world because they’re Muslims, to say that they shouldn’t have the ability to pray near the World Trade Center — I don’t think that’s going to bring people together and cross the divide.”
He blamed “pain” for causing his fellow New Yorkers to “lash out.”
The Sept. 11, 2010 protest is being organized by right-wing blogger Pamela Geller, who calls President Obama America’s “worst nightmare” and charges that the community center is being set up by “predators” and “Islamic supremacists” who seek to mark their “victory” over the U.S.
Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who would run the proposed Islamic community center, worked with the FBI on counter-terrorism issues in 2003.
“A longtime Muslim presence in New York City, Feisal Abdul Rauf has been a participant in the geopolitical debate about Islamic-Western relations well before 9/11,” Huffington Post’s Sam Stein noted. “In 1997, he founded the American Society for Muslim Advancement to promote a more positive integration of Muslims into American society. His efforts and profile rose dramatically after the attacks when, in need of a calm voice to explain why greater Islam was not a force bent on terrorism, he became a go-to quote for journalists on the beat.”
On her blog, Geller writes:
Speakers will include 9/11 family members, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN John Bolton (via video statement); Dutch freedom fighter Geert Wilders (LIVE!); journalist Andrew Breitbart (either live or via video stream); NY Senate candidate Gary Berntsen; war hero and NC Congressional candidate Ilario Pantano; nationally syndicated conservative talk show host Mike Gallagher; actress and activist Susan Olsen (Cindy Brady on TV’s Brady Bunch); NY Congressional candidate and 9/11 first responder Michael Grimm; Muslim Iranian activist Ray Kafi; Coptic Christian activist Joseph Nassralla; Jordan Sekulow of the ACLJ, other freedom fighters and proud Americans.
The “Dutch freedom fighter” is actually a rising star in Dutch politics and a well-known opponent of Islam. He released a short-film in 2008 that paints the religion as “fascist,” and told the media that he believes Muslims carry “the ideology of a retarded culture.”
Right-wing Internet mogul Andrew Breitbart and former United Nations ambassador John Bolton have also recorded videos to be played at the protest.
“We have always stood against any rallies scheduled for September 11th and we will do so again with these events,” McKeon wrote. “We will be joining other 9/11 organizations in asking that the organizers change the date for these events. If they refuse to change the date we will also ask those scheduled to appear to withdraw from the events.”
A Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found that 71 percent of New Yorkers want the community center built somewhere else.
The survey found New Yorkers agreed by a 54-40 percent margin that “Muslims have the right to build the mosque near Ground Zero” — but also agreed by a 53-39 margin that “because of the sensitivities of 9/11 relatives, Muslims should not be allowed to build the mosque near Ground Zero.”