Pamela Geller is an anti-Islamic political activist and author of the far-right blog Atlas Shrugs.
Along with the notorious Islamophobic writer Robert Spencer, she is the cofounder of the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) and Stop Islamization of America (SIOA) advocacy coalitions, both of which have been classified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as anti-Muslim hate groups. The groups—and Geller—were primary drivers of the xenophobic backlash against the construction of an Islamic center in Manhattan in 2011. They have also been closely associated with legislative efforts to ban Islamic sharia law from American courts, a campaign critics have characterized as absurd, unnecessary, and provocative.
Geller spurred international attention in May 2015 after a controversial AFDI-organized cartoon contest of drawings of the Muslim prophet Muhammad, where anti-Islam Dutch MP Geert Wilders was the keynote speaker, came under fire by two gunmen who had apparently sworn loyalty to ISIS. The armed men managed to wound one person before being shot and killed by a police officer.
Pundits form across the political spectrum harshly criticized Geller and other conference organizers for being deliberately inflammatory. "When you embolden people, when you empower people, the haters, you're going to get violence," Catholic League President Bill Donohue said after the event. "And so why would anybody who's morally responsible want to intentionally incite other people?" Fox News host Greta Van Susteren added: "Yes, of course, there is a First Amendment right and of course it's very important. But the exercise of that right includes using good judgement." Another Fox pundit, Geraldo Rivera, opined about Geller: "She most reminds me of the Aryan Nation, KKK, racists."
Geller lashed out against her critics, accusing media outlets of being "aligned with the Islamic State." She said: "What's really frightening and astonishing about this threat is that the media in denouncing me is essentially allying with and even cheering on the Islamic State. I expect this from jihadists. I never expected it from my fellow Americans in the mainstream media."
Geller's blog, Atlas Shrugs, which takes its name from the Ayn Rand novel Atlas Shrugged, has gained considerable notoriety as a repository for her harsh political invectives against the Islamic faith. Although Geller occasionally insists that she has "no problem with Islam" or "moderate Muslims," she has written that "Islam is the most antisemitic, genocidal ideology in the world" and insisted that "a moderate Muslim is a secular Muslim." Geller, who frequently refers to Islamists as "savages," classifies the posts on her blog under such categories as "Amerabia: Losing America," "Creeping Sharia: American Dhimmitude," "Islamic Jew hatred," "Slavery: An Islamic custom," and "Islamic/Leftist Alliance," alongside such more general right-wing themes as "Feminism, a phony movement," and "Obama: Post American Immorality."
The blog has attracted controversy for Geller's forays into other subjects as well. "In Atlas Shrugs," reported the Guardian in 2010, "Geller lays bare her sympathies with extremist groups across the globe. She has vigorously defended Slobodan Milosevic, the former Serbian president who died while on trial at The Hague for war crimes, and denied the existence of Serbian concentration camps in the 1990s. She has [also] allied herself with racist extremists in South Africa in promoting a claim that the black population is carrying out a 'genocide' of whites."
Geller's work has attracted considerable criticism from Islamic, Jewish, and secular civil rights groups alike. The Southern Poverty Law Center has called her "relentlessly shrill and coarse in her broad-brush denouncements of Islam" and has accused her of making "preposterous claims," including that President Obama is the son of Malcolm X and a supporter of jihad. In addition to entertaining a host of more idiosyncratic conspiracy theories, Geller has also questioned the validity of the president's birth certificate, suggesting that he may be foreign-born. The Anti-Defamation League has accused Geller of "promot[ing] a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda under the guise of fighting radical Islam."
A May 2015 FiveThirtyEight story reported that Geller is part of a well-financed network that "buys the appearance of a growing movement," but that remains "the product of a small group of leaders acting under many different names and logos." It added that Geller and Robert Spencer "are, between the two of them, the leaders of 17 percent (four of 24) of all the anti-Muslim groups that the SPLC (Southern Poverty Law Center) tracks."
Geller is the author of numerous articles and books, including 2011's Stop the Islamization of America: A Practical Guide to the Resistance, in which Geller discusses how to "fight the mosque-ing of your neighborhood." She is also the coauthor with Robert Spencer of The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America (2010), which includes a foreword by former Ambassador John Bolton. Geller is a frequent contributor to World Net Daily, the late Andrew Breitbart's Big Government and Big Journalism, the American Thinker, Human Events, and other right-wing publications.
Geller, along with her colleague Robert Spencer have also both been banned from entering the United Kingdom, on the grounds that they have made "statements which may 'foster hatred' and lead to 'inter-community violence' in the UK."
On Foreign Policy
Although Geller's anti-Islamist politics are shared by some neoconservatives, her conspiratorial views have led her to oppose U.S. military intervention in several Muslim countries. In fact, she has characterized these interventions as a form of collaboration with terrorists—a charge she commonly levels against the Obama administration, which she has accused more generally of "aiding and abetting the restoring [of] the universal caliphate."
Geller is an outspoken opponent of U.S. intervention in Syria's civil war. In a 2013 column for World Net Daily, a conservative website popular with conspiracy theorists, she criticized both President Obama and leading Republican hawks for pushing for U.S. action on behalf of Syria's rebel groups. "Barack Obama is wrong and completely isolated on his Syria plan to back al-Qaida and the Muslim Brotherhood opposition," she wrote. "But who do you think is coming to the rescue? RINOs. [Sen. John] McCain and his sidekick, Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are now carrying water for Obama's pro-jihadist intervention in Syria. … Which Muslim Brotherhood operatives are advising McCain and Graham?" she wondered. "Seriously … How otherwise could they possibly have come to the conclusion that Obama's catastrophic Syria plan is good for America?"
Geller characterized the U.S. intervention in Libya's civil war in similar terms. "Our finest, bravest Americans are risking their lives to fight alongside al-Qaeda in Libya," she wrote in April 2011, echoing allegations that al-Qaeda fighters were among the Libyan resistance and seeming to suggest (incorrectly) that the United States had sent ground troops. "That's right, our boys are, in effect, fighting alongside al-Qaeda jihadists and Libyan rebels. Are they forced to pray too? You know, Obama demands that we show respect. Just how far, O?"
However, Geller has expressed some support for attacking Iran. "We can't be everywhere, nor should we be," she concluded at the end of her column about Libya. "So we pick our fights based on where we can do the most good and remove the biggest evil. Iran should have been the target." In other writings, she has referred to Iran as the "Fourth Reich" and criticized an international agreement over Iran's nuclear enrichment program as a "farce."
Geller has also echoed neoconservative rhetoric accusing progressives of "apologizing" for America. In a March 2012 posting on Spencer's Jihad Watch website, Geller penned an insult-ridden response to a Foreign Policy In Focus column by John Feffer, which argued that U.S. foreign policy—especially in Afghanistan—was undermining Obama's rhetoric of outreach to the Muslim world. In response, Geller suggested the real source of America's troubles in the Muslim world was Islam. "We don't apologize for our greatness," she wrote. "We don't apologize for who we are. We are the greatest nation on earth. John Feffer, on the other hand, wants us to surrender: Feffer likes what he sees on the other side of the abyss. Feffer ought to back up his admiration and reluctance to criticize the human rights abuses inherent in Islamic law and go live under the Sharia. Maybe then he wouldn't be such a self-important clown."
Geller takes a hardline "pro-Israel" view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, endorsing the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and urging the violent expansion of Greater Israel. In a 2008 op-ed for Israel's Arutz Sheva, she wrote: "I say to Israel, stand loud and proud. Give up nothing. Turn over not a pebble. For every rocket fired [from Gaza], drop a MOAB. Take back Gaza. Secure Judea and Samaria. Stop buying Haaretz. Throw leftists bums out."
Geller was a particularly vocal supporter of Israel during its 2014 war on Gaza, in which Israeli forces invaded the Gaza strip and killed well over 2,000 Palestinians, the majority of them civilians. With the war coinciding with the rapid advance of forces linked to the extremist Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in the Middle East, Geller organized a New York rally through AFDI in support of Israel's actions and against Islamism more generally. Also at the rally were people Geller claimed to be representatives of religious minorities threatened by Muslims elsewhere in the world. "Hamas is al-Qaeda," she said, willfully conflating a series of Islamist movements. "Hamas is Boko Haram. Hamas is Islamic State in Gaza. We must stop the enemedia [Geller's apparent term for most media outside Atlas Shrugs] from separating the threat to the Jews from the threat to everybody else."
"Onlookers couldn't have missed the difference between our rally for life and the pro-Palestinian rallies for death," Geller claimed after the August 2014 event: "our rally was a true celebration, with singing and dancing and joy in living—a stark contrast to the genocidal Jew-hatred that at the rallies of supporters of jihad. … All the speakers," she said, "brought home the gravity of the situation we face: the grim reality of the global jihad that Obama is determined to abet and our other politicians are determined to ignore." (When a writer for the Huffington Post estimated in a mocking write-up that about 150 people had attended the event—in contrast to Geller's claim of "thousands"—Geller wrote commented, "Who is the Huffington Post shilling for—the Islamic State? Clearly, they'd like to see my severed head on a pole.")
Geller likens critics of Israel and supporters of Palestinian rights to the Nazis. When Palestinian solidarity activists displayed a Palestinian flag on the Brooklyn Bridge during the 2014 Israeli war on Gaza, for example, Geller wrote, "The flag represents annihilation, genocide, and the jihad against the Jews. Welcome to this century's reich. Imagine the flag of the Nazi party being flown off the bridge in 1938." She has similarly likened liberal Jews to "neo Kapos." What "ails the Jews in this country, and as a people," she wrote in August 2014, are the "Jews who elected a Jew-hater [presumably Obama], not once but twice. The Jews who attack and betray Israel. The Jews who smear and libel proud Zionists like me. The Jews who shine the boots of our executioners — the self-haters are a pox on our people. Vicious miscreants like Max Blumenthal, Peter Beinart, Mondoweiss, Richard Silverstein and the quisling self-loathing Jews who stand against Israel are a pox on our house."
Geller's pro-Israel, anti-Islam sympathies appear to be partly inspired by Ayn Rand, a controversial novelist whose ideas—which include celebrating greed and deriding altruism as evil—have been lauded by other public figures, including the 2012 GOP vice presidential candidate Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) and former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan. Rand once argued that "Arabs are one of the least developed cultures. They are typically nomads. Their culture is primitive, and they resent Israel because it's the sole beachhead of modern science and civilization on their continent. When you have civilized men fighting savages, you support the civilized men, no matter who they are."
Geller has repeatedly paraphrased this quote in her public statements about Israel. In an October 2010 interview with the New York Times, she said: "[D]o I see everything through the prism of Israel? No, I don't, but I do think it's a very good guide." She then added: "It's a very good guide because … in the war between the civilized man and the savage, you side with the civilized man." Geller has also raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to have the quote placed in advertisements displayed on public buses and in metro stations in San Francisco, New York, and Washington, DC, among other major cities.
On Extremism and Park51
Geller's SIOA gained attention as an early driving force behind the controversy surrounding the construction of Park51, a planned 13-story Muslim community center located two blocks from the World Trade Center site. SIOA's campaign to "Stop the 9/11 Mosque!" was remarkably successful for setting the negative tone of the Park51 debate nationally, noted the New York Times, even though Geller and her allies were "operating largely outside traditional Washington power centers—and, for better or worse, without traditional academic, public-policy or journalism credentials."
Geller's assertions about Islam and the Park51 community center became common talking points for Republican leaders. Rick Lazio, for example, a former U.S representative from the state of New York, echoed Geller's characterization of Park51 imam Feisal Abdul Rauf as a "terrorist sympathizer." In late March 2011, she was even invited by the Alaska House of Representatives to testify on a proposed anti-sharia bill under consideration in the state.
At a demonstration organized by SIOA against the building of Park51 on September 11, 2010, Geller introduced Geert Wilders, the keynote speaker, as her "hero."Wilders is a Dutch parliamentarian who has described Muslims as a threat to European democracies and has advocated banning immigration to Holland from Muslim-majority countries. Wilders called on New York to "defend itself against the powers of darkness" while claiming "America, New York, and shari'a are incompatible." In 2010, Wilders was accused of criminally insulting religious and ethnic groups and inciting hatred and discrimination.
At the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in January 2011, SIOA and its parent organization, the American Freedom Defense Initiative, premiered a film on the subject entitled The Ground Zero Mosque: Second Wave of the 9/11 Attacks. "All through the world, whenever Islamic jihadists conquered a land, they would build a mosque of triumph," claimed Robert Spencer in his opening remarks at the conference. "All of [these mosques] are understood universally in the Islamic world, in the areas where they are, as marking the triumph and superiority of Islam." If the center were completed, Spencer warned, "the average Muslim on the street … will be more emboldened, will say America is weak, America is conquered, and America is ripe for the plucking. This mosque will be the most encouraging development for the Islamic jihad since 9/11 itself."
The center opened in September 2011 without incident.
Geller's anti-Muslim stance has drawn the admiration of white nationalist and neo-Nazi proponents on the extreme right—"a rather remarkable feat," notes the SPLC, "considering she is Jewish."
Her work was cited at least 12 times in the white nationalist, anti-Islamic manifesto of Anders Breivik, the Norwegian mass murderer who killed 69 people at a Social Democratic youth camp in Norway in 2011. (Geller protested that efforts to link her work to Breivik were "absurd and offensive," though she subsequently characterized the camp as "a Communist/Socialist campground" with a clear "pro-Islamic agenda," describing many of its attendees as "more Middle Eastern or mixed than pure Norwegian.")
Geller has also collaborated with the notorious English Defence League (EDL), which sent a delegation to a September 2010 anti-mosque rally Geller held in New York. EDL leader Tommy Robinson had originally planned to attend the demonstration, but due to concerns about the EDL's ties to the far right and neo-Nazi groups, Robinson was denied entry at JFK Airport in New York and sent back to England. A May 2010 report by the Guardiannoted EDL's tactic of targeting British Muslim communities with aggressive and confrontational protests to "provoke mayhem and disorder."
Geller later claimed to have parted ways with the EDL, writing in June 2011 that the group had "morphed and diverged from its original course" and had "clearly been infiltrated by the worst kind of influences." However, in June 2012, the international group "Stop Islamization of Nations" announced that Geller would appear in August 2012 with EDL leader Robinson at the "First Annual Global Counter Jihad rally" in Stockholm. In June 2013, Geller and Robert Spencer were denied permission to attend an EDL rally in the UK on the grounds that their presence was not "conducive to the public good," as a statement from the UK Home Ministry explained.