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After Texas Shootings, Far-Right Dutchman Now in the Center of U.S. Free Speech Debate
Far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders now finds himself in the middle of the American debate over the limits of free speech.
Geert Wilders, the far-right Dutch parliamentarian, is having quite the heady week in the United States.
Following his attendance at the site of an attack of a cartoon exhibit outside of Dallas, Wilders is firmly inserted into a broader American debate about the limits of free speech. It’s safe to say that no Dutchman has impacted American politics and foreign policy as much as Wilders since Peter Schagen announced the purchase of Manhattan from the Lenape Indians in 1626.
Wilders returned to the national radar last week when two Democratic lawmakers asked President Barack Obama to prevent the member of the right wing Party for Freedom from entering the U.S., arguing that his anti-Muslim views should keep him off American soil. The effort failed, and Wilders spoke at a press conference with Tea Party firebrand Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and at an April 30th breakfast meeting hosted by Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa). At the breakfast, King praised Wilders as “bold, confident and factual,” despite critics who argue his political views amount to thinly-veiled bigotry.
Then, Wilders traveled to Garland, Texas, to speak at an event hosted by Pamela Geller, who heads a the American Freedom Defense Initiative, a group the Southern Poverty Law Center lists as a hate group. Two gunmen — one with past ties to terrorism — were killed by security outside of the cartoon exhibit, where a $12,500 prize was being offered for the best depiction of the Prophet Mohammed, something many Muslims consider it blasphemous.
For years, American officials have been walking a fine line between protecting First Amendment rights and preventing deliberate trolling of Muslims, something Geller’s event was, for all intents and purposes, aimed to do. Wilders, for his part, appears well aware that he’s stirring the American pot. He’s been doing so quietly for years, but the Garland attacks gives Wilders a much higher profile to advocate his policies, which include banning the Quran.
Just after the shooting, he posted this to Twitter:
That was followed shortly by this tweet:
Meanwhile, support for the gunmen — one has been identified as Elton Simpson, who had been convicted to lying to authorities about travel to join jihad in Somalia; his roommate, Nadir Soofi, has been identified as the second — is growing on Twitter accounts associated with the Islamic State.
According to the SITE Intelligence Group, jihadist “Abu Hussain Al-Britani,” a name used by British Islamic State fighter Junaid Hussain, issued a series of tweets praising the attack:
If there is no check on the freedom of your speech, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions #GarlandShooting #TexasAttack
The 2 Brothers attained shahdah in texas! O Kuffar know that death is better than living humiliated! Allahu Akbar !!! #garlandshooting
The brothers in texas may have had no experience in shooting but they was quick to defend the honor of the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w !
The Tweets have since been taken down.
Now, as law enforcement continues to investigate the shootings, last week’s warning from Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to Congress, rings true. When asked for comment on Wilders on Monday morning, a spokesman for Ellison referred FP to this statement from April 30: “It does worry me that someone wants to go on an international campaign to whip up hate, hysteria and division,” Ellison said then. “And it’s even more disturbing that some of my colleagues in Congress would offer him a platform to do that.”
Photo Credit: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images