Cartoon contest organizer defends decision to hold event
02:07 - Source: CNN

Story highlights

Pamela Geller is the president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative

Geller accuses those who attack free speech of being "savages"

Anti-Defamation League calls Geller an "anti-Muslim activist"

CNN  — 

When two men opened fire outside a contest for Prophet Mohammed cartoons in a Dallas suburb Sunday night, Pamela Geller was the first to call it an attack on free speech.

“Civilized men can disagree,” Geller said Monday on CNN. “Savages will kill you when they disagree.”

Geller, a conservative blogger, is the president of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, which organized Sunday’s event in Garland, Texas.

Read more: What is the American Freedom Defense Initiative?

The group includes subsidiary programs Stop the Islamization of America and Stop Islamization of Nations.

“Savagery” is how Geller often describes the actions of extremist followers of Islam.

While she is accused of Islamophobia, she insisted Monday on CNN that her criticisms are not intended for Muslims in general.

She publishes her own blog, Atlas Shrugs, and has written several books on freedom of speech and what she calls Islamization. Their titles, “Stop the Islamization of America” and “Freedom or Submission,” point strongly to her overall narrative.

In an interview with “New Day,” Geller told CNN’s Alisyn Camerota: “The jihad is raging.”

“I am anti-jihad. I am anti-Sharia,” Geller said, referring to Islamic law.

The Dutch keynote speaker at the Texas event, Geert Wilders, told attendees that Muslims don’t have humor.

“Our Judeo-Christian culture is far superior to the Islamic one,” Wilders said Sunday in Garland. “I can give you a million reasons. But here is an important one: We have humor and they don’t. … Islam does not allow free speech, because free speech shows how evil and wrong Islam is. And Islam does not allow humor, because humor shows how foolish and ridiculous it is.”

“He’s entitled to his opinion,” Geller told Camerota. “End of story. So what? So he said that. And frankly, what he said was true. There is no humor.”

Camerota read Geller a quote from Linda Sarsour, a New York City Muslim community leader who disagreed with Geller but supported her freedom to host the Garland event.

Pamela Geller can draw “any damn cartoon she wants and I defend her right to do so,” Sarsour told Dean Obeidallah for a column in the Daily Beast. “I have always fought for her right to be a bigot and I have the right to counter her bigotry with my own free speech.”

“This is a Muslim leader who is attacking me, insulting me, in – in ad hominem attacks, and isn’t that generous of her?” Geller said.

“The problem is that a group … attempted to open fire on a gathering of free speech. … No one is saying that there aren’t peaceful Muslims, but there is a problem in Islam, as illustrated last night. And anyone that addresses it gets attacked in this same way.”

Controversial subway ads

Geller and the American Freedom Defense Initiative were behind a campaign to place a controversial advertisement series in New York City’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 told CNN’s “Erin Burnett Outfront.”

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.

Started blogging after 9/11

Geller, a frequent guest on TV and radio news and commentator programs, 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 that she’s more radical than she claims.

Geller co-founded the American Freedom Defense Initiative in 2010.

Geller played a key role in pushing the so-called “Ground Zero mosque” debate into the national lexicon. Her group planned rallies against a proposed mosque and community center – with Geller at the helm.

Critics consistently slam her as anti-Muslim – a claim she denies. The Anti-Defamation League, in a statement condemning Sunday’s “attempted violent attack,” described the event as being organized by “anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller.” And the ADL said Wilders has “advanced a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda for many years.”