As a “Draw Muhammad” cartoon contest in Texas came to an end Sunday night, two men opened fire on a security guard standing outside. They were then killed by police. The event was hosted by an anti-Islam group, the American Freedom Defense Initiative. In the moments after the shooting, Pamela Geller, the group’s founder tweeted, “This is a war.”
The “Draw Muhammad” contest was held at an event center in Garland, Texas, a suburb just north of Dallas. According to a Facebook posting from the City of Garland, the men pulled up in a car and immediately began shooting at the security guard outside, who sustained non-life threatening injuries (according to the New York Times, he was struck in the ankle).
Garland police shot and killed both the suspects, then called in a bomb squad; the city says they suspected their car contained “an incendiary device.” Conference participants were placed on lockdown and then evacuated, as were surrounding businesses. Police are now reportedly searching the home of a Phoenix man who has been identified as one of the suspects; he’s identified as Elton Simpson, and ABC reports he was previously the suspect of a terrorism investigation. He’s also believed to have sent out several tweets using the hashtag #TexasAttack about a half hour before the shooting began.
Pam Geller has been fulminating about Islam for many years, gaining a new audience after September 11. She’s best known recently for posting a series of wildly offensive anti-Islam ads on public transportation in New York City. On her blog, just after the shooting took place, she wrote, “This is a war. This is a war on free speech. What are we going to do? Are we going to surrender to these monsters?”
The shooting is, of course, a horrifying event, and it’s not surprisingly that Geller is making as much Islamphobic hay out of it as possible. As comedian Dean Obeidallah pointed out at the Daily Beast, though, Muslim groups in the Dallas-Fort Worth area had resolved in the weeks leading up to the contest to firmly ignore Geller and the event, recognizing it as a nasty publicity stunt. Obeidallah writes:
I, along with Muslims across America, are hoping and even praying the two gunmen involved in this shooting were not Muslim. But if it turns they were, I can assure you that Muslim-American community and religious leaders will swiftly denounce it as well as make it clear that we absolutely defend freedom of expression. The only hope is that the media covers our responses with the same zeal they cover the attack.
Geller is also firmly ignoring the thousands of Muslim individuals and organizations using the #TexasAttack hashtag to express their outrage at the shooting:
Sarsour, a Palestinian-American activist, points out, too, that the shooting is leading to the usual wave of terrifying anti-Muslim sentiments:
Yep. Welcome to another depressing week in America.
Police sweep the area near the gunmen’s car after the shooting. Screengrab via KTLA