Pamela Geller is president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative
Critics say she's anti-Muslim; Geller says she opposes "savagery"
"This is a showdown for American freedom," she says
The way Pamela Geller sees it, a beheading plot that targeted her is another ominous volley in a battle that has no end in sight.
“This is a showdown for American freedom,” she told CNN on Wednesday after sources revealed that a man officers shot dead in Boston this week had been plotting to kill her.
“Will we stand against this savagery or bow down to them and silence ourselves? It won’t end with me no matter what happens to me, or the cops,” she said. “This is just the beginning.”
Geller, a conservative blogger and president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, drew national attention last month when two men opened fire outside an event she’d organized in Garland, Texas. An off-duty police officer working security killed the attackers and thwarted their plan to ambush the group’s controversial contest of Prophet Mohammed cartoons.
Geller, 56, says she’s been forced to ramp up efforts to protect herself ever since.
“I’ve had an army of security. This is what is required just to show a cartoon in America, 2015,” she told CNN’s “Erin Burnett OutFront.”
“It’s striking, it’s devastating and people need to understand what’s at stake. I mean, if we surrender on this point, what will we surrender next?”
Now Geller is back in the spotlight, with critics once again accusing her of deliberately inciting attacks and supporters painting her as a heroic advocate for free speech.
Criticized as ‘anti-Muslim’
Critics consistently slam Geller as anti-Muslim, an accusation she denies.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, describes Geller as “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.”
It’s a monicker that Geller disputes, decrying the organization as “a notorious uber-left communist group.”
After last month’s attack in Texas, the Anti-Defamation League also called her an “anti-Muslim activist.”
Geller accuses the media of siding with her critics rather than taking free speech issues seriously. But she says it’s no surprise that extremists would home in on her.
“Of course I’m not surprised that they would target me,” she said. “This is a war.”
‘Savagery’ draws Geller’s ire
Geller publishes her own blog, Atlas Shrugs, and has written several books, including “Stop the Islamization of America” and “Freedom or Submission.”
“Savagery” is how Geller often describes the actions of extremist followers of Islam.
While she is accused of Islamophobia, she insisted in a recent interview with CNN that her criticisms are not intended for Muslims in general.
“Civilized men can disagree,” Geller said after last month’s thwarted attack in Texas. “Savages will kill you when they disagree.”
Started blogging after 9/11
Geller, a frequent TV and radio commentator, is a veteran of the media and publishing industry. She got her start in publishing at The New York Daily News, and went on to become associate publisher of the New York Observer.
According to a 2010 New York Times profile, Geller’s catalyst to blogging came after 9/11. Her blog hits increased the more she tackled extreme Islam.
She eventually fell in with the English Defence League, a far-right British organization that pushes an anti-Islamic message. Critics point to her association with the group to suggest she’s more radical than she claims.
The Southern Poverty Law Center says Geller’s public activism took root in 2007 when she joined a group pushing to block the opening of a public Arabic-English school in Brooklyn.
In 2010, she co-founded the American Freedom Defense Initiative.
The group includes subsidiary programs Stop the Islamization of America and Stop Islamization of Nations. It says it has several tenets, including freedom of speech “as opposed to Islamic prohibitions of ‘blasphemy’ and ‘slander.’”
Geller played a key role in pushing the so-called “ground zero mosque” debate. Her group planned rallies against a proposed mosque and community center – with Geller at the helm.
Controversial subway ads
Geller and the American Freedom Defense Initiative were behind a campaign to place a controversial advertisement series in New York’s subways. The ads went up on the heels of the September 11, 2012, deadly attack on an American diplomatic compound in Benghazi, which killed the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans.
“In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat jihad,” the ad read.
“We don’t think it’s controversial,” Geller told CNN in 2012.
The ads were initially rejected by the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. Geller’s organization sued, and a federal judge ruled that the ad was protected speech under the First Amendment.
Critics called the ad hateful, but Geller called the legal win a “triumph.”
“There’s no ‘Islam’ in the ad or ‘Muslim’ in the ad,” Geller said.
Jihad, Arabic for “struggle,” is considered a religious duty for Muslims, although there are peaceful and violent interpretations of what it means.
In the 2012 interview with CNN, Geller cited “increasing sharia” and a growing fear of blasphemy laws.
What is the American Freedom Defense Initiative?
CNN’s Holly Yan contributed to this report.