Top administration officials have sharply criticized Pastor Terry Jones for burning a Koran on March 20, but officials at the Justice Department are now faced with the politically sensitive task of defending his civil-rights against a spurt of death threats, including an announcement by Hezbollah that it would pay a $2.4 million bounty for his death.
The threats “mainly come from e-mail, phone calls and we have gotten a occasional letter … there is absolutely no sign they [Justice Department officials] are doing anything” in response, Jones told TheDC. “They have not arrested anyone.”
However, he said, police forces do pass along warnings and provide him protective details when he visit American cities, and will provide protection when he visits Dearborn, Mich. He plans to visit that city on April 22, to criticize aggressive passages in the Koran, he said. Dearborn has a large population of immigrant Muslims, and his arrival there will likely trigger strong protests. The Department of Justice did not answer questions about the death threats. On April 7, department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa replied, “I refer you to the FBI.”
Officials at the FBI, and the Jone’s local police department in Gainsville., Fla., did not reply.
However, Thomas Perez, who heads head of the department’s civil-rights office, was pushed to discuss the issue in a March 29 hearing when Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl asked if the department was doing enough to protect Muslim critics of Islamic doctrine who are threatened by fellow Muslims. “If we have credible allegations of a potential violation of civil rights law, we will investigate … we”ll follow the facts and make an appropriate judgment,” said Perez.
“We’re happy to answer any questions you might have,” Perez added.
In February, a court sentenced Zachary Chesser to 25 years in jail after he made indirect death threats against the producers of the TV cartoon show, “South Park.” The show had mildly mocked the Muslim prophet. Federal officials had sought a 30-year sentence for the 21-year old.
Since Jones burned the Koran, he’s been sharply criticized by President Barack Obama, Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Gen. David Petraeus, Sen. Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican and other top officials. Local police forces “sometimes they try to charge us [the costs of protection], but that doesn’t work,” said Jones, because his actions are protection by the constitution from government penalty.
Much of the criticism followed the April 1 mob murder of seven U.N. workers in the Afghan city of Mazar-i-Sharif. The attack was instigated by local Muslim preachers, who said they wanted to retaliate for the Koran-burning.
Jones has received a wave of roughly 400 hostile comments. Some criticize him for putting U.S. soldiers in danger, while others welcome his death, and some make direct threats.
The FBI also calls him when it hears of a threat, and told him of the Hezbollah threat, said Jones. Hezbollah is the dominant political faction in Lebanon, has attacked U.S. forces and Israel numerous times, it killed 241 U.S. soldiers in the 1983 Beirut bombings, and it is backed by Iran and Syria.
The FBI calls “every time they have a new death threat [and] every time we have a new threat, we pass it on” to the FBI and the local police, he said.
E-mailed threats sent to Jone’s Dove World Outreach Center include “your dove will be shoved up your arse!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!… you and and you family will be killed!,” as well as “I coming down to kill you and all your mother f…… followers!!!!!!you devil worshipper!” and “very soon you are going to pay dearly..with ur life..hope u f….. burn in hell u maggot,” and “we will kill you.”
Some messages explained the reason for their threat. “O bitch Terry! U have burnt the Quran. Will this will stop the preaching of Islam? Of course never… If we caught u,we will pull ur skin alive and will show u that what is the punishment of doing this…”
Most of the emails use apparently fake web addresses, but some seem personal e-mail addresses.
Some threateners identified themselves, including a person who Louisville, Ky., who left a message on Jones’s machine. His message, according to a e-mail from Jones’s church, said “I f… come down there and murder your f…… ass, you dumbass, all of your and your f….. believing dumb inbred f….. You have the f…… blood of American fucking innocent victims on your hands you f…… ignorant imbiciles, you f…… pieces of s….”
At least one direct threat came from a white-power advocate, saying “N….. lover. I will blow your brains out. “ The e-mail was capitalized, and included the name of the sender.
Not-quite-threats included comments, such as “Sleep with one eye open my friend” and “Jesus Christ will meet you soon my brotha!!”
The e-mails provided to TheDC by Jones’s church contain more aggressive threats than the threat were sent to the “South Park” producers. In his threatening e-mail that earned him a 25-year sentence, Chesser wrote that “we have to warn [producers] Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show… This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them.” Van Gogh was a Dutch movie-maker who was murdered by a Muslim in 2004 following his release of “Submission,” a move critical of Islam.
Jones said his Koran-burning is intended to highlight aggressive portions of the Koran. “We are not protesting Muslims or their right to live in America,” he said. “If they are here in our country legally, they are protected by our Constitution, they are welcome to worship and evangelize … [but] our problem with Muslims is if they come here with a secret agenda to change our constitution, or to institute sharia [Islamic law] courts… we object.”