Many Americans are probably more familiar with Pamela Geller than they realize. As co-founder and president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative—the group that organized the “Draw Muhammad” event where Sunday night’s Garland, Texas, shooting took place—Geller has worked to spread anti-Islam sentiment in a variety of ways. Here’s a quick look back at some of her most controversial campaigns.
1. Blocking the "Ground Zero Mosque"
In 2010, Geller came to national prominence through her efforts to block the construction of Park51, a 15-story Muslim community center and prayer space that would be built within blocks of the World Trade Center.
Believing that the “911 monster mosque…built on hallowed ground zero” was an insult to the victims of the 9/11 terror attacks, Geller organized protests against the building through her website and spread anti-Park51 sentiment nationwide through her many media appearances.
As of 2014, Park51 was no more, but the developer told The New York Times that he still hopes to build a smaller museum and prayer space “dedicated to exploring the faith of Islam and its arts and culture.”
2. Debbie Almontaser and the Khalil Gibran International Academy
The Southern Poverty Law Center says that Geller advocated against the opening of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, a proposed secular, English-Arabic public school in Brooklyn. The school still opened in 2007, but its founding principal, Debbie Almontaser, was forced to resign amidst the controversy.
3. Subway, train, and bus ads
These ads have denounced U.S. aid to Muslim-majority countries, compared Islam to Nazism, and promoted support for the “civilized man” of Israel over the “savage” Islamic world.
These incendiary messages come coupled with equally incendiary imagery, like the World Trade Center burning on 9/11, Adolf Hitler shaking hands with Haj Amin al-Husseini, and James Foley, a journalist beheaded by the Islamic State.
4. The Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest
On Sunday night, the AFDI held an event titled the Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland, Texas, with Dutch politician Geert Wilders as its keynote speaker.
Contestants were asked to submit artistic depictions of the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. A top prize of $10,000 would be awarded to the winner.
The contest was organized in response to both the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ recent Stand by the Prophet conference, held at the Garland venue in January, and general prohibitions against depicting the Prophet Muhammad. These prohibitions, which were given increased media attention following the Charlie Hebdo killings in Paris earlier this year, are believed to have been put in place to prevent idolatry, and violations of them are considered extremely offensive by some Muslims.
Two men began shooting outside the center just as the event was ending last night, Garland police spokesman Joe Harn told CNN. Police present at the event returned fire, killing both suspects. A security guard was injured in the shooting, but none of the event’s estimated 200 attendees were harmed.