Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center SPLC, said on Monday that he was not surprised that Pam Geller’s anti-Muslim group had been targeted by gunmen in Texas because she seemed to be trying to provoke that response.
On Sunday, two attackers with assault-style rifles reportedly opened fire at an event where people were drawing cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, which is prohibited by Islam. The event was sponsored by the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), which was co-founded by Geller. Both AFDI and Geller’s Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) organization have been labeled hate groups by the SPLC.
Potok told CNN on Monday that the shooting would “give a little boost to Geller and her friends.”
“Absolutely nothing justifies this attack,” he pointed out. “That said, Pam Geller, to describe her as anti-Islam and her groups as anti-Islam barely covers it.”
Potok noted that he and the SPLC were both defenders of the First Amendment, “but Pam Geller and her organization is a hate group today just as they were day before yesterday.”
Geller’s stunt in Texas was similar to Florida Pastor Terry Jones burning Korans, according to Potok.
“Certainly that was protected activity under the First Amendment, but it also led fairly directly to the killing of 10 or 15 people abroad,” he recalled. “These are provocations that are aimed at stirring the pot, and it doesn’t seem terribly surprising that, in fact, that they get the response that they — in a sense — they are seeking.”
“The fact that Pamela Geller and her friends have the right — the absolute right — to make these kinds of presentations and speeches, to hold contests lampooning the Prophet Muhammad and so on is not a contradiction of the principle of free speech. It’s essentially the cost of democracy.”
Watch the video below from CNN, broadcast May 4, 2015.