Florida's Quran-Burning Pastor

By Lynn Waddell
The Daily Beast
September 8, 2010

Rev. Terry Jones gained infamy this week for his call to burn hundreds of Quran. Lynn Waddell on his obsession with Braveheart and accusations that he took money from his own church.

To most Gainesville, Florida locals, Rev. Terry Jones is a fringe extremist with a tiny congregation at the Dove World Outreach Center, a church whose existence they have long tried to ignore. But Jones's latest widely publicized campaign to burn hundreds of copies of the Holy Quran on the anniversary of 9-11 has made that all but impossible -- and elevated him from relative obscurity to international infamy.

"He felt that no one was speaking out about Islam. He was beginning to preach and speak out about that and that was not popular."

The initially small "International Burn a Koran Day" event has sparked international outrage at a time when anti-Muslim rhetoric and conspiracy theories are at a high. News of Jones's planned event reached Afghanistan, where hundreds took to the street in protest. In Gainesville, the fire department refused to give Jones' a permit. General David Petraeus himself has asked Jones to stand down.

But Jones is sticking to his plan. "We must send a send a clear message to radical Islam," Jones said to news cameras outside his church this week. "We will not be controlled by their fear, we will not be dominated. We feel it is time for America to be America."

In response to the acid response his campaign has received, the lanky 58-year-old with a bushy, grey handlebar mustache now walks his 20-acre church campus with a pistol holstered to his hip. "We've gotten 100 or more death threats, some of them graphic," Jones told the Tampa Tribune last week. "The latest one was from some people heading here, a group of three, armed with automatic weapons, armed with explosives. They said they were going to kill me and blow up the building."

Jones, who would not make himself available for comment for this story, has long been a radical provocateur and successful in gathering a following, albeit a small one, of those willing to soak up his extremist messages. His fear of a Muslim takeover dates back long before 9-11, to when he ran a sister church in Cologne, Germany, said long-time parishioner Fran Ingram, who sometimes blogs on Jones's church website. For 30 years, Jones led about 1,000 parishioners at the church in a poor German community. As the community grew with more Turkish immigrants who were predominately Muslim, his sharp message condemning their faith wasn't well received, Ingram says. "At the time, political control by Islam was rising," Ingram says. "He felt that no one was speaking out about Islam. He was beginning to preach and speak out about that and that was not popular."

His estranged daughter by his first wife has given a different take on why he and his second wife Sylvia left Cologne. In an interview last year with the Gainesville Sun Emma Jones claimed that her father left after church members questioned his frequent dips into the church kitty for personal luxuries and salaries for his eBay business. She called the church a "cult," saying parishioners were persuaded to give up their belongings and work for his business, TS and Company.

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