A former U.S. Marine is planning a “Draw Muhammad” contest at a free speech rally planned for Friday at a Phoenix mosque.
The “Freedom of Speech Rally,” organized by Jon Ritzheimer, comes nearly one month after police killed two gunmen, who were suspected Islamic State sympathizers, during an attack outside a similar contest in Garland, Texas, a local NBC affiliate reported.
Friday’s event is to be held outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, the same mosque that Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi attended several years before their attack in Garland. Mosque leaders said the men never expressed extremist or violent views before.
Mr. Ritzheimer has held two anti-Islam protests in Phoenix since the Texas shootings, telling NBC that he’s using provocative methods to draw attention to a religion he believes is inherently violent.
“I want this to be about pushing out the truth about Islam,” Mr. Ritzheimer said. “I’ve read the Koran three times… the ones flying the planes into the tower, those are Muslims following the book as it is written.”
A Facebook page for the event, to be held at the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, states: “This will be a PEACEFUL protest in front of the Islamic Community Center in Phoenix AZ… Everyone is encouraged to bring American flags and any message that you would like to send to the known acquaintances of the 2 gunmen.”
“People are also encouraged to utilize their second amendment right at this event just in case our first amendment right comes under the much anticipated attack,” the invite says.
More than 300 people had confirmed by Thursday afternoon that they planned to attend the rally.
The president of the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix said he has been notified by local police and the FBI about the event.
“Everybody has a right to be a bigot. Everybody has a right to be a racist. Everybody has a right to be an idiot,” Usama Shami told NBC, adding that prayer services Friday evening will go on as planned.
“It will be the same as every Friday evening and we’re going to tell our members what we’ve told them before: not to engage them,” he said. “They’re not looking for an intellectual conversation. They’re looking to stir up controversy and we’re not going to be a part of it.”