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September 26, 2010
Terry Jones, SuperstarBy Greyhawk
Another Mudville eighth anniversary special - this one from September 26, just last year. "The whole thing's a story I was going to stay out of," I'd written previously. "But I got an email from a friend in Afghanistan..."
At that time, Terry Jones, the "pastor" of an obscure Gainesville, Florida "church" had become an international media sensation. "But how," I wondered, "does the leader of an obscure "church" with around two dozen members (mostly his kinfolk) - a guy who couldn't even stop voters in his own town from electing a gay mayor, a guy virtually no one ever heard of previously, pull off something like that?"
"Easy - he decides to burn a Koran," you might answer. "So if you or I did that," I'd ask back, "we'd get the same result?"
Of course not. What follows is part one of the answer to my first question. I'd finished up part two, also - the part that tracked this obscure character's weeks-long rise from local paper funny pages (as seen below) to the most important global security figure of the year - but never published it. Terry Jones didn't burn his Koran ("We will definitely not burn the Quran," the Rev. Terry Jones told NBC's "Today" on Saturday "Not today, not ever"), and faded back into obscurity without Afghanistan erupting in flames. In my mind it seemed best to let the story fade away.
Of course, the Westboro "Baptist" crowd burned a Koran anyway - but it didn't seem to leave much of a mark on history; see my second question above.
Enough preamble. Jones is back in the news - bigger than ever, but the remainder of this post was (and is as) originally published on 26 September, 2010. Though I hope you read (or re-read) it anyway, I'll give away the ending: "To be continued."
Terry Jones, Superstar
In which we ask the question: How does the pastor of an obscure Florida church become a major player on the global scene?
To me it was a surprise headline: Petraeus Condemns U.S. Church's Plan to Burn Qurans. I'd never heard of Terry Jones or his Outreach Center, but somehow hundreds of Afghans in Kabul were familiar with a story taking place not far from my home:
Hundreds of Afghans attended a demonstration in Kabul on Monday to protest the plans of Florida pastor Terry Jones, who has said he will burn copies of Islam's holy book to mark the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
As for how that information had gotten from Gainesville, Florida, to hundreds of Afghans to the Commander of ISAF troops in Afghanistan to the Wall Street Journal, the September 6 story offered only one clue:
Lt. Gen. William Caldwell, who oversees the effort to train Afghan security forces said he was informed of the planned Florida protests several days ago by a senior minister in the Afghan government.
Following that report, and seemingly from out of nowhere, Pastor Terry Jones and his Dove World Outreach Center were a global sensation - the President of the United States even addressed the issue on national TV. (Side note: interesting typo in that ABC url...) Not since CBS News' Mary Mapes and Dan Rather had introduced Lynddie England to the world in 2004 had such an otherwise obscure and unlikely candidate become such a major player on the international scene.
Here's how that came to be.
More than a year ago the July, 2009 headline in the Gainesville Sun told much of the story of the day: Anti-Islam church sign stirs up community outrage.
The sign in question read "Islam is of the devil" - but not in question was its reception by the church's neighbors in the Florida college town. But while some responded with outrage and vandalism, others expressed a more tolerant view:
Though his message was unpopular with his neighbors, Pastor Terry Jones advised them he was just getting started:
When a local TV station reported the story, CNN picked up their video, and made it a sign seen 'round the world.
Based on the appearance of the sign, few such advertising efforts had achieved a more effective result at less cost.
But the story was quickly forgotten, and if CNN's efforts resulted in any growth for the then-obscure Dove World Outreach Center, it wasn't apparent from this September 11, 2009 report in the Sun documenting the group's protest at a Gainesville shopping mall:
About 30 participants weaved their way through the mall parking lot and went out on the sidewalk on Newberry Road shortly after 5 p.m. They were wearing T-shirts with the slogan "Islam is of the devil" on the back and carrying signs saying such things as "Jesus is not a liberal," "Islam Kills" and "Jesus is the only way."
While a crowd of 30 was described, a photograph accompanying the story captured only 10 protesters.
Though Jones' 15 minutes on the national stage were seemingly over, the local Gainesville press kept a watchful eye on his group. Stories headlined The church behind the signs and How did Dove World Outreach Center get started? followed the Sun's initial July, 2009 report. They offered details of Jones' troubled past in Germany and his use of ebay to sell furniture to raise funds. But by the end of the month, a story headlined New sign for Dove church: For sale indicated the group's difficulties hadn't ended with their departure from Cologne. (A year later, once Jones had become an international celebrity, Der Spiegel reported additional details on that past. In July, 2009, a CBN report on the church in Cologne - apparently from 2006 - appeared on youtube.)
In August, Dove made local headlines again:
More children from the Dove World Outreach Center arrived Tuesday at area public schools with shirts bearing the message "Islam is of the Devil" and were sent home for violation of the school district's dress code when they declined to change clothes or cover the anti-Muslim statement on their clothing.
...but following the September "mall walk" even local interest in the group's anti-Islam stance began to fade.
But Jones soon made good on one of his earlier prophesies:
The church has also angered the gay community by staging an "anti-gay pride parade" at the Gainesville Pride Parade and Festival last fall, according to the Independent Florida Alligator. Participants held signs with messages such as "Homos lead to Hell" -- a sentiment repeated on a sign near the church last month. Two gay rights groups took part in a Jan. 10 protest against the church, according to the Gainesville Sun. Shortly after that protest, the church tried to exploit the recent tragedy in Haiti, posting a sign reading, "Haiti Turn to God!" A post on the church's blog suggested that the Jan. 12 earthquake might have occurred because the country made a pact with the devil.
That anti-gay activity attracted the attention of the Southern Poverty Law Center in February, 2010 - but in Gainesville, Jones' activities provided a minor background story played out during an ongoing mayoral campaign. Among the candidates, openly gay Gainesville City Commissioner Craig Lowe. The drama would intensify - the result of the March 16th election would be another election:
Within days, Dove World Outreach Center had a new sign:
That message raised questions about the group's tax exempt status.
Unlike the Islam sign, the "no homo mayor" message didn't make a national splash. But in the wake of the Koran burning story, CBS (without reference to the political issue) would report:
Though the church once enjoyed tax-exempt status, it lost part of that status this spring, according to the Alachua County Property Appraiser's office. A representative from the appraiser's office visited Dove World Outreach Center March 25th, and determined the church must pay taxes on the 1,700 square feet of its property that is being used for the Jones' for-profit business. The church will pay $3,200 in property taxes this year.
At the same time the church drew the attention of the group "Americans United for Separation of Church and State":
The group adjusted it's attitude - slightly. Church changes 'No homo Mayor' sign to read 'No homo' said an early-April headline in the Gainesville Sun. Still other reports indicated the Church's financial woes were mounting. "Papers mailed to the church from RBC bank state due to the center's financial situation, they no longer want them as a client." - according to Jones, the bank was foreclosing.
Meanwhile, the SPLC continued tracking the group's activities:
Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville has been attacking City Commissioner Craig Lowe, one of two candidates vying for mayor in an April 13 run-off election. The church erected a sign on its property last month that declared, "No Homo Mayor." That was followed by a YouTube video in which Wayne Sapp, a pastor at the church, targets Lowe, whom he doesn't identify by name. The video begins with Sapp proclaiming "No Homo Mayor" and asserting that Gainesville is the 11th gayest city in America. "We're talking about the homos, the fags, the queers, and now we got one running for mayor of Gainesville, trying to convert Gainesville into Homoville," he says. "We can't have it." In the video, Sapp complains that Dove World Outreach Center called more than 100 churches to ask that they join a protest against homosexuals running for office, but none would do so. Sapp lashes out at some ministers and churches by name and urges churchgoers to oust pastors who won't take a stand. "Vote'em out of there," he says. "They're leading you to Hell, and you're following."
But as if God hadn't already punished Jones and Company enough, within days Craig Lowe won the runoff election, and became Gainesville's first openly gay mayor-elect. While the city somehow managed this without attracting any international news, that result did bring in more out-of-town attention - and the Dove group finally found someone who understood them:
But one month later, on May 20, 2010, in a ceremony uninterrupted by earthquake, flood, hellfire, or global media attention, Craig Lowe was sworn in as mayor of Gainesville.
Within weeks, the nutjob down the road who couldn't even stop a deep southern town from electing a gay mayor would be a major factor in global security strategy.
(To be continued...)
Posted by Greyhawk / September 26, 2010 3:20 PM | Permalink
November 26, 2010
I think anyone who's ever pondered the "comment" option - once only available on blogs and bulletin boards, now ubiquitous on almost any web site - will appreciate this:
The so-called faculty of writing is not so much a faculty of writing as it is a faculty of thinking. When a man says, "I have an idea but I can't express it"; that man hasn't an idea but merely a vague feeling. If a man has a feeling of that kind, and will sit down for a half an hour and persistently try to put into writing what he feels, the probabilities are at least 90 percent that he will either be able to record it, or else realize that he has no idea at all. In either case, he will do himself a benefit.
That's wisdom from the past, captured for posterity at the US Naval Institute, shared via the web on the institute's 137th anniversary.
From their about page:
"The Naval Institute has three core activities," among them, History and Preservation:
The Naval Institute also has recently introduced Americans at War, a living history of Americans at war in their own words and from their own experiences. These 90-second vignettes convey powerful stories of inspiration, pride, and patriotism.
Take a look at the collection, and you'll see it's not limited to accounts from those who served on ships at sea, members of the other branches are well-represented.
I'm fortunate to have met USNI's Mary Ripley, she's responsible for the institute's oral history program (and she's the daughter of the late John Ripley, whose story is told here). She also deserves much credit for their blog. ("We're not the Navy nor any government agency. Blog and comment freely.") We met at a milblog conference - Mary knew (and I would come to realize) that milbloggers are the 21st-century version of exactly what the US Naval Institute is all about. Once that light bulb came on in my head, I mentioned a vague idea for a project to her - milblogs as the 21st century oral history that they are.
"Put that in writing," she said (of course - see first paragraph above!) - and here's part of the result.
Shortly after the first tent was pitched by the American military in Iraq a wire was connected to a computer therein, and the internet was available to a generation of Americans at war - many of whom had grown up online. From that point on, at any given moment, somewhere in Iraq a Soldier, Sailor, Airman or Marine was at a keyboard sharing the events of his or her day with the folks back home. While most would simply fire off an email, others took advantage of the (then) relatively new online blogging platforms to post their thoughts and experiences for the entire world to see. The milblog was born - and from that moment to this stories detailing everything from the most mundane aspects of camp life to intense combat action (often described within hours of the event) have been available on the web...
And et cetera - but since you're reading this on a milblog, you probably knew that. And you know that milblogs aren't just blogs written by troops at war, that many friends, family members, and supporters likewise documented their story of America at war online in near-real time, as those stories developed.
The diversity in membership of that group is broad, the one thing we all have in common is the impulse to make sense of the seemingly senseless, and communicate the tale - for each of us that impulse was strong enough to overcome whatever barriers prevent the vast majority of people from doing the same. Everyone at some point has some vague idea they believe should be shared - we were the people who, from some combination of internal and external urging, found and spent those many half hours persistently trying to write it down.
But where will all that be in another 137 years? Or five or ten, for that matter. That's something I've asked myself since at least 2004 - when I wrote this:
Membership in the ghost battalion has grown in the years since, and an ever growing majority of those abandoned-but-still-standing sites are vanishing. Have you checked out Lt Smash's site lately? How about Sgt Hook's? If you're a long-time milblog reader you know the first widely-read milblog from Operation Iraq Freedom and the first widely-read milblog from Afghanistan are both gone from the web. If you're a relative newcomer to this world you may never even have heard of them - or the dozens upon dozens of others who carried forth the standard they set down.
If you have a vague notion that something should be done about that, (a notion I've heard expressed more than once...) then you and I and the good folks at the US Naval Institute are in agreement. Preserving the history documented by the milbloggers is just one of the goals of the milblog project, the once-vague idea that we're now making real.
And it's a big idea, if I say so myself - too big to explain in one simple blog post, so stand by for more. Likewise, it's too big a task to be accomplished by just one person. So if you're a milblogger (and exactly what is a milblogger? is a topic for much further discussion on its own) I'm asking for your help. All I'll really need is just a little bit (maybe just one or two of those half hours...) of your time, and your willingness to tell the tale.
We've already made history, it's time to save it.
(More to follow...)
The Mudville Gazette is the on-line voice of an American warrior and his wife who stands by him. They prefer to see peaceful change render force of arms unnecessary. Until that day they stand fast with those who struggle for freedom, strike for reason, and pray for a better tomorrow.
Furthermore, I will occasionally use satire or parody herein. The bottom line: it's my house.
I like having visitors to my house. I hope you are entertained. I fight for your right to free speech, and am thrilled when you exercise said rights here. Comments and e-mails are welcome, but all such communication is to be assumed to be 1)the original work of any who initiate said communication and 2)the property of the Mudville Gazette, with free use granted thereto for publication in electronic or written form. If you do NOT wish to have your message posted, write "CONFIDENTIAL" in the subject line of your email.
Original content copyright © 2003 - 2011 by Greyhawk. Fair, not-for-profit use of said material by others is encouraged, as long as acknowledgement and credit is given, to include the url of the original source post. Other arrangements can be made as needed.
Contact: greyhawk at mudvillegazette dot com