PHOENIX (TIP): An anti-Muslim activist is planning a “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest and rally Friday, May 29 at a Phoenix mosque.
The event is being dubbed a “Freedom of Speech Rally” and comes three weeks after a similar event in Garland, TX., that prompted violence by two alleged ISIS sympathizers who attended the mosque.
The president of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix said he has been notified by Phoenix police and the FBI about the event. Usama Shami said he respects the protesters’ right to free speech.
“Everybody has a right to be a bigot. Everybody has a right to be a racist. Everybody has a right to be an idiot,” Shami said. He added that members of the mosque have been encouraged to attend prayer services Friday evening as scheduled.
“It will be the same as every Friday evening and we’re going to tell our members what we’ve told them before: not to engage them,” said Shami. “They’re not looking for an intellectual conversation. They’re looking to stir up controversy and we’re not going to be a part of it.”
The organizer of the event, Jon Ritzheimer, has held two protests in Phoenix since the Texas shootings. The chants and slogans at the protests are brash and hateful. Some supporters wear t-shirts that state, “(expletive) Islam.” Ritzheimer says he is using provocative methods to draw attention to a religion he believes at its core promotes violence.
“I want this to be about pushing out the truth about Islam,” said Jon Ritzheimer. “I’ve read the Koran three times… the ones flying the planes into the tower, those are Muslims following the book as it is written.”
A Facebook page dedicated to the event, titled “Freedom of Speech Rally Round II,” states: “This will be a PEACEFUL protest in front of the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix AZ… Everyone is encouraged to bring American flags and any message that you would like to send to the known acquaintances of the 2 gunmen.”
Phoenix roommates Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi drove to Texas and shot a security guard during the May 3 “Draw Muhammad” contest there. Police shot and killed the two men.
Simpson and Soofi attended the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix until 2010 and, according to mosque leaders, never expressed extremist or violent views while attending during that time.
The Facebook announcement for the rally also encourages participants to “utilize their second amendment right at this event just in case our first amendment right comes under the much anticipated attack.”
As of Wednesday afternoon, the website showed 131 people confirming their attendance.
One Facebook post on the page states, “Death to Islam! No coexistence!” Another comment states, “I am proud to be part of this rally and will continue to be a part of it until we have the freedom that all our vets and current military fight for!!! This is my way of joining their efforts!”
Phoenix police declined to comment about security measures for the protest.
Muslims consider images of the Prophet Muhammad offensive for various reasons. They compare drawn depictions of the religious figure to how Christians might view the burning of a cross.