GOP Rep. Defends Anti-Islam Tea Party Speaker

Rep. Steven King (R-Iowa) has rejected calls by a Muslim rights organization to drop out of a Tennessee Tea Party convention this weekend because of the participation of an activist-blogger who’s railed against Islam. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) pressed Tea Party organizers to disinvite Pamela Geller, head of the group Stop the Islamization of America, and asked King to cancel his participation in the event if she remained on the program. 

Calling Islam “the religion of barbarism” that “inspired Hitler and the Nazis,” Geller has used her blog to assail this religion. She has claimed that President Barack Obama is “a muhammadan…who wants jihad to win” and recently posted cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed as a pig with the words “Piss Be Upon Him,” as CAIR cites in its statement on Geller. She is scheduled to present the Tea Partiers a lecture on the “Threat of Islam.”

In the face of CAIR’s protest, King is standing strong with Geller. The Republican believes that Geller “is a credible spokeswoman on these sort of issues,” his communications director John Kennedy tells Mother Jones. “She is a nationally recognized authority on the threat of radical Islam. To extent that her comments [in CAIR’s release] reflect her state of mind, we should err on the side of her as being credible alternative to anything that CAIR has to say.”

Kennedy declined to react to specific statements that Geller has made about Islam, saying that King believes that CAIR is an organization with terrorist ties that has “intimidated White House officials to the point they’re not even able to say ‘radical Islam.'” CAIR has come under fire in the past from a small group of critics who have made “a determined but unsuccessful effort” to link its organizers to Hamas and Hezbollah, according to a 2007 New York Times story.

King, moreover, believes that Tennessee Tea Party should be commended for including Geller in its line-up of speakers this weekend, according to Kennedy. “The beauty of the First Amendment that it protects even controversial political discussion,” says the spokesman. “The shame of radical Islam is that it punishes—in some instances with death—dissenting views.”

The Tennessee Tea Party organizers have also rejected CAIR’s request to boot Geller from the program, calling the organization a “hate group” and citing the “right to freedom of speech as given to us by the US Constitution.” In an email posted on Geller’s site, this Tea Party group exclaims, “We are very happy and pleased that she will be attending!”