What is the American Freedom Defense Initiative?
The American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) is an Islamophobic hate group led by Pamela Geller. The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) identifies the organization as an anti-Muslim hate group. At one time, SPLC considered Geller “the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead.”
According to Reza Aslan, “Stop Islamization of America is actually an affiliate of a European organization called Stop Islamization of Europe, an anti-Muslim hate group whose motto is “Racism is the lowest form of human stupidity, but Islamophobia is the height of common sense.” Robert Spencer, a notorious anti-Muslim blogger and founder of Jihad Watch, co-founded the organization along with Geller.
A 2022 CAIR report detailing nearly $106 million of philanthropic funding into anti-Muslim groups shows that philanthropic organizations gifted AFDI more than $110,000 in grants between 2017 and 2019.
AFDI played a prominent role in protests against the construction of Park51, an Islamic cultural center in New York, in 2010 alleging the project would “establish a beachhead for political Islam and Islamic supremacism in New York.”
AFDI has pursued an aggressive print media advocacy campaign with the goal of promoting anti-Muslim sentiments. In 2012, the organization placed inflammatory posters on subway lines in major cities such as New York, Washington D.C., and San Francisco, using provocative language that likened Muslims to savages: “in any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad.”
As early as 2013, two years before then Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump proposed his Muslim Ban, AFDI advocated for “an immediate halt of immigration by Muslims into nations that do not currently have a Muslim majority population.”
In 2015, AFDI held an event in Garland, Texas, called the “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest,” featuring prizes for artistic depictions of the Islamic prophet. Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who shares AFDI’s anti-Muslim views, served as the keynote speaker.
AFDI appointed Nonie Darwish as its first fellow in 2015, absorbing her organization, Former Muslims United, under its wing. During a speech in 2011, Darwish asserted that “Islam should be fought and should be conquered and defeated and annihilated.” Darwish told the New York Times, “A mosque is not just a place for worship. It’s a place where war is started, where commandments to do jihad start, where incitements against non-Muslims occur. It’s a place where ammunition was stored.”
In 2018, the group released an Islamophobic film in an attempt to spread their message and increase their public influence. In 2019, the Supreme Court rejected the AFDI’s request to consider their case for displaying more anti-Muslim ads in the D.C. Metro system.
In 2010, the organization’s president, Geller denied the Srebrenica genocide of Bosnian Muslims, arguing its recognition is the result of Muslim pressures to create an Islamic state in Europe. In her own words: “what we are witnessing is an unprecedented, coerced mourning — of an enemy people.”
In 2013, Geller was banned from entering the UK as Home Secretary Theresa May identified Stop Islamization of America “as an anti-Muslim hate group” and said Geller’s views are “not conducive to the public good.”
While some of AFDI’s efforts have been shut down by courts, others have been upheld. Notably, in 2015, a US District Judge ruled that AFDI’s bus campaign, which included posters stating, “Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah” and “Islamic Jew-Hatred: It’s in the Quran”, were protected under the First Amendment.
Despite Geller’s notoriety as an Islamophobe, she has enjoyed a close relationship with President Trump’s national security advisor John Bolton. Geller has maintained this rapport since Bolton’s time as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations during the Bush administration.
Anders Behring Breivik, the far-right terrorist responsible for the tragic killings of 77 people in Norway, cited Geller and her blog in his manifesto. In the aftermath of the attack, Geller described Utøya island (one of the locations of the attack) as a summer camp indoctrination training center with a “pro-Islamic agenda.”
Juan Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor asserts that Pamela Geller (amongst others) influenced the views of American white supremacist terrorist Dylann Roof, who carried out the murders of nine church goers in a Charleston church in 2015.
Cole wrote in an article for The Nation that: “The trope that Europe is being overwhelmed by immigrants or the absurd charge that Muslims will shortly make up 50 percent of the continent’s 500 million residents is pushed by an elaborate and well-heeled Islamophobic network on both sides of the Atlantic, spearheaded by far-right neo-fascist parties such as Marine Le Pen’s National Front in France or the UKIP in Britain, and by professional stalkers of Western Muslims such as Geert Wilders. Among Wilders’s enthusiastic cheerleaders are Pamela Geller and Daniel Pipes.” Mentioning Geller as part of the Islamophobia network in the article, Cole determines that: “…this Islamophobic network appears to have contributed to some of Dylann Roof’s anxieties about the fate of white people in their supposed European homeland.”