The controversial Florida pastor who burned a Koran in March is back in the news. Pastor Terry Jones was recently arrested in Detroit for planning an unlawful protest outside the largest mosque in the United States.
Jones sparked a bonfire of controversy after he burned a Koran in his tiny Gainesville, Florida church. He remains as defiant as ever, and he has become a flashpoint surrounding the debate over Islam in America. Now, he wants to take his fiery crusade to a whole new level.
Jones is a wanted man. The militant Muslim group Hezbollah has put a $2.4 million bounty on his head, so it's no wonder he's armed. When FOX 5 Tom Haynes anchor visited him in Gainesville, he was carrying a .40 caliber semi-automatic.
In fact, all of the pastors at Jones' Dove World Outreach Center carry weapons, and they're ready to use them.
"If you try to do something, we are armed and we will shoot you," Jones explained.
Those are words you wouldn't expect from a man of the cloth, but Terry Jones isn't your ordinary pastor. In March, he presided over a self-proclaimed Trial of the Koran inside his sanctuary, where the holy book of the world's 1.3 billion Muslims was burned for the world to see.
"Pastor Jones, who makes you the judge and jury over the Koran and the Muslim faith?" Haynes asked during their one-on-one interview.
"The constitution gives us the right to our opinion," Jones replied. "It gives us the right to express our opinion. It gives us the right to put that book, or to question that book, or to question any other book."
Jones' actions sparked a firestorm of protests across the Muslim world. Violence in Afghanistan resulted in the deaths of more than a dozen U.N. workers.
"Do you feel like you have blood on your hands after what happened in Afghanistan?" Haynes asked.
"We do not, no," Jones answered. "No, we do not feel that we are responsible for that. We do not feel that because someone is provoked that gives any excuse whatsoever for violence."
Maybe so, but General David Petraeus, the leader of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, says Jones crossed the line.
"That action was hateful, it was intolerant and it was extremely disrespectful," Gen. Petraeus said of Jones' actions.
Jones told Haynes he knows a lot of people hate him, but when asked if he was a hateful guy, Jones replied, "I guess you can judge it. If you were to ask me? No."
Jones had already threatened to burn hundreds of Korans on the anniversary of 9/11. But after pleas from Gen. Petraeus, Hilary Clinton and even President Barack Obama, he agreed not to. In March, though, he broke that promise.
"You don't see the burning of the Koran as a hypocritical act? In other words, a violent act responded to by another violent act?" Haynes asked.
"No, I see it as a protest and I see it as the burning of a book," Jones said.
It's hard to imagine how the actions of a small-town pastor can incite such deadly violence half a world away. Not far from his Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville sits the University of Florida, but Muslim students there aren't nearly as outraged.
Ismail Ibn Ali is the president of Islam on Campus. His feelings toward Terry Jones are far less passionate than his fellow Muslims in Afghanistan.
"They don't realize, as we would realize, that Terry Jones is a very fringe person and is part of a fringe group that is not representative of the United States," Ali explained.
Jones may be on the fringe, but he knows exactly what he's doing. Just look at the fervor unleashed following plans to build a mosque near Ground Zero in New York City. Jones knows he's giving voice to the anti-Muslim sentiment.
"We actually get a lot of support," Jones said. "We actually get a lot of support from different service men who write us. We get a lot of support from people who live in Muslim-dominated countries."
And if burning a Koran wasn't enough, the provincial pastor is now considering putting the Muslim Prophet Muhammad on trial.
"Are you going to stop all of this at some point?" Haynes asked Jones.
"No, no. I mean, we feel, as I've said, we feel as if God has ordained us," Jones said. "We feel a deep calling. We can't explain it any other way."
The tiny college town has had about enough of Terry Jones. No parishioners are left in his congregation, so Jones is planning to pack up and cause controversy somewhere else.
When asked how he wants to be remembered if he dies or if he is killed, Jones said, "Basically I want to be remembered as someone who tried to do the will of God. That's actually what it amounts to."
But it amounts to so much more. Jones plans to sue the government over his arrest in Michigan last week, and press forward. Whether or not he'll follow through with putting the Prophet Muhammad on trial remains to be seen.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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