By Lizette Alvarez
The New York Times
GAINESVILLE, Fla. — His church’s membership is down to just a few of the faithful. He is basically broke. Some of his neighbors wish him ill. And his head, he said, carries a bounty.
Yet Terry Jones, the pastor who organized a mock trial that ended with the burning of a Koran and led to violence in Afghanistan, remained unrepentant on Saturday. He said that he was “saddened” and “moved” by the deaths, but that given the chance he would do it all over again.
“It was intended to stir the pot; if you don’t shake the boat, everyone will stay in their complacency,” Mr. Jones said in an interview at his office in the Dove World Outreach Center. “Emotionally, it’s not all that easy. People have tried to make us responsible for the people who are killed. It’s unfair and somewhat damaging.”
Violent protests against the burning continued on Saturday in Kandahar, Afghanistan, where 9 people were killed and 81 injured. The previous day, 12 people were killed when a mob stormed a United Nations building in Mazar-i-Sharif, though on Saturday the top United Nations official in Afghanistan blamed Taliban infiltrators for the killings. He said the victims had been deliberately murdered rather than killed by an out-of-control mob.
“Did our action provoke them?” the pastor asked. “Of course. Is it a provocation that can be justified? Is it a provocation that should lead to death? When lawyers provoke me, when banks provoke me, when reporters provoke me, I can’t kill them. That would not fly.”
Terry Jones says the “Braveheart” film poster in his Florida office gives him spiritual sustenance
Mr. Jones, 59, with his white walrus moustache, craggy face and basso profundo voice, seems like a man from a different time. Sitting at his desk in his mostly unadorned office, he keeps a Bible in a worn brown leather cover by his side and a “Braveheart” poster within sight. Both, he said, provide spiritual sustenance for the mission at hand: Spreading the word that Islam and the Koran are instruments of “violence, death and terrorism.”
In recent weeks, Mr. Jones said, he had received 300 death threats, mostly via e-mail and telephone, and had been told by the F.B.I. that there was a $2.4 million contract on his life.
For protection, his followers — the 20 to 30 who are left — openly carry guns (they have licenses, he said) and have become more rigorous about checking their cars and visitors’ bags. Police protection is sometimes required when members travel, he said.
Mr. Jones’s rustic church sits on 20 acres of land, up a long driveway that is dotted with Australian pines. There is a small aboveground pool, and three police cars idled nearby on Saturday.
“I don’t right now feel personally afraid,” he said. “But we are armed.”
Mr. Jones said the decision to hold the mock trial of the Koran on March 20 was not made lightly. “We were worried,” he said. “We knew it was possible. We knew they might act with violence.”
There were similar predictions last year when Mr. Jones threatened to burn the Islamic holy book on Sept. 11. While that decision was being discussed, throngs of reporters descended on the church, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates personally called and asked Mr. Jones not to do it. President Obama appealed to him over the airwaves.
This time would be different — and not just because the event would be held in relative obscurity, before only a small group of sympathizers. This time, Mr. Jones said, there would be a trial, a fact that he said added heft to his decision.
He teamed up with The Truth TV, a satellite channel out of California that is led by Ahmed Abaza, a former Muslim who converted to Christianity and who, Mr. Jones said, sympathizes with the church’s message.
The pastor said The Truth TV reached out to him last year after he canceled his plan to burn the Koran, and a partnership of sorts has since flourished. Mr. Abaza helped provide him with most of the witnesses and lawyers for the mock trial, Mr. Jones said.
“I was not the judge,” said Mr. Jones, who also said he had read only portions of the Koran and not the entire text.
There was a prosecutor and a defense lawyer for the Koran, an imam from Texas. There were witnesses — although the defense did not call any — and a jury.
Yes, he said, he knew some of the jurors, and others came to the event after learning about it through his group’s Facebook page. (“People were afraid, so not many volunteered,” he said.) And yes, perhaps, his Facebook followers made up the majority who sentenced the Koran to burning in an online poll.
Still, he said, “it was as fair a trial as we could have.”
The Truth TV streamed the mock trial live in Arabic but chose not to broadcast the actual burning. Video of the trial can be found at the church Web site.
Mr. Jones’s mission is not a popular one in these parts. The Dove World Outreach Center’s membership evaporated after his preaching began to focus on what Mr. Jones said are the dangers of Islam. “We don’t have any members,” he said. “It’s not something your average person wants to do.
“People want to hear the good news. But the church has a responsibility to speak about the word of God. But it also has to speak out about what is right — be it abortion or Islam. Churches and pastors are afraid.”
He said he was no longer welcome in Gainesville — which he considers too small and unenlightened to understand his message — and is seeking to move.
First, though, he has to sell the church’s property, which is not easy in Florida, which is one of the nation’s foreclosure capitals. And as his personal stake in his mission grows deeper, his bank account is running dry. (One source of income comes from his eBay sales of antique furniture, some of which he stores in the church.)
“Things are not easy at this particular time,” said Mr. Jones, a Missouri native whose first career was as a hotel manager. “This has not been a moneymaking venture.”
Residents in this city, home to the University of Florida, are also less than thrilled.
Out in front of the church, signs that read “Islam Is of the Devil” have been edited by outsiders to say “Love All Men.” In a housing complex across the street, some of the residents said they could not wait for Mr. Jones to leave.
“Why are they trying to incite hatred and anger?” asked Shawnna Kochman. “They are mean. God is meant to have loved everyone. It’s a cult.”
SENTINEL FOUNDER PAT MURPHY
Photo By Luke Thomas FogCityJournal.com