Rev. Terry Jones, the man who rose to national prominence last fall when he announced (but later backed off off) a plan to burn copies of the Koran, was clad in a beat-up black leather jacket when he showed up to a park across the street from the White House a few minutes before noon on Thursday.
His black sunglasses resting a few inches above his signature handlebar mustache, Jones hopped up on a bench in Lafayette Park and announced that his organization Stand Up America was holding a rally.
An aide to Frank Gaffney, the founder and president of the American Center for Security Policy, didn’t take kindly to that and quickly told the National Park Service that Jones wasn’t a part of their group and didn’t have a permit for his rally. So Jones and his crowd, many of them decked out in biker gang gear, set up shop in the midst of Pennsylvania Avenue.
The common enemy of both groups was radical Muslim Anjem Choudary, a London-based preacher who has been dubbed a “media whore” and has already made the rounds on Fox News promoting his “Sharia4America” rally, which was postponed just a few hours before it was supposed to begin on Thursday.
Jones claimed credit for Choudary’s decision not to show up. But the Gaffney team apparently wasn’t eager to have their event usurped by the mustachioed pastor from Florida.
“I don’t know who they are. We were just going to stand there on the bench, seemed like a good place to speak, but I guess they had reserved that,” Jones told TPM. “Then I heard somebody jump up and say ‘they’re not associated with us!’ So I honestly don’t know who they are.”
Gaffney told TPM after his press conference that he “didn’t see any squabble” when Jones showed up to the park, but said Jones “is not associated with us” and “didn’t have a permit.”
“I have no association with him at all,” Gaffney said, adding that he “was not inclined to share” his view on Jones.
So despite their common enemy, there is a ideological and tactical divide between the Gaffney and Jones camps.
“It’s a difference of approach, and some of it is territorial,” said one member of team Gaffney who requested anonymity. “One is more comprehensive and professional — he’s got his whole group behind him — whereas Terry just has his biker crew. One is more intellectual, the other is more agitated. One is based on patriotism and constitutional law, the other is based on theology.”
The formal events had both ended but attendees were still hanging around by the time a Muslim man holding a Starbucks cup and wearing a bluish winter coat with writing on the back began chanting Arabic prayers in front of the White House. That’s when attendees of both rallies merged around the man soon breaking into chants of “U.S.A.” and “Jesus” and renditions of “Amazing Grace.” Those throwing tiny crosses at the man’s feet appeared to be from the Jones camp.
“Is he yelling U.S.A.?” asks one man in the crowd. “It doesn’t matter — he’s anti-women, he’s anti-freedom,” one woman said. “Take it back to your own country!” said another man. “No Sharia law!” shouted another.
As the man kept worshipping and the crowd thinned out, Jones ran into Randall Terry, the militant anti-abortion activist who has been churning out the type of media coverage Jones’ Koran burning stunt got for years.
“You should’a burned the Korans by the way, you blinked. You should’a burned them,” Terry said.
Thanks to a “International Judge the Koran” event Jones and his group have in the works for March 20, he may get a shot to do just that — provided that’s how the people vote on his website. If the people decide the Koran deserves to be burned, that’s just what they’ll do.
“We’ll definitely do it, yes,” Jones said.