GAINESVILLE -- The retired Florida pastor who got international attention two years ago for threatening to burn the Quran was again in the media spotlight on Wednesday for purportedly promoting a video that may have incited the violent attacks in Egypt and Libya.
But Terry Jones, 60, told reporters from his now-dismantled church here that his organization’s website was hacked and that he had not been able to post the short video mocking the Islamic prophet Muhammad.
Whether he promoted the video or not, U.S. authorities were so concerned about Jones that Gen Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, asked him not to post the controversial 14-minute video in fear it could further inflame tensions in Libya or Egypt.
Jones said he told Dempsey that he would “definitely consider it,” but later told reporters he would ignore the request during a lengthy interview in the building that once housed his congregation.
U.S. State Department officials believe the video may have contributed to the violence in Egypt and Libya, where four people, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, were killed. But Obama administration officials also believe the attacks — which happened on the 11th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — may have been planned.
On Tuesday, Jones, who inspired deadly riots in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 when he threatened and later burned copies of the Quran, staged a two-hour event “to put Muhammad on trial” that included burning the Islamic holy book during a private ceremony at his church, the Dove World Outreach Center.
Despite what he claims were thousands of viewers tuned into his website, he said he was unable to stream the closed-door event live, noting that his USTREAM account had been deleted. He said he ultimately plans to post the trailer of the anti-Islam movie to his website and late Wednesday posted the mock trial video to YouTube.
The church’s reputation and Jones’ intent to stoke the sentiments that have fueled violence in the past clearly concern Pentagon officials.
Jones said Dempsey had seen the film and considered it to be “in his words, pornographic, not fitting for a Christian or pastor to show and he was concerned about the retaliation it could have around the world.”
“The problem I have is how far do you back down?,’’ he said. “Honestly, no matter what you do if you speak out against the Quran in any form, that is reason for them to retaliate. They do not tolerate any type of criticism.”
The video, The Innocence of Muslims, was produced by Sam Bacile, who The Wall Street Journal identified as a 52-year old Israeli-American real estate developer in California. Bacile told the paper he had raised $5 million from 100 Jewish donors to make the film and said “Islam is a cancer.’’
Jones said Bacile contacted him about posting the video trailer to the church website.
Even after triggering riots in Afghanistan in 2010 and 2011 for threatening and later burning the Quran, Jones has continued his attacks on Islam. More recently, he’s expressed his outrage toward President Barack Obama by burning the president’s effigy. He now posts a sign on his church property that reads: “Obama is killing America.” That action prompted a visit from the U.S. Secret Service afterward, he said.
Jones called the deaths of four Americans, including the U.S. ambassador to Libya, “devastating, tragic” but he wasn’t responsible for the actions of others.
“What we did was exercise our First Amendment rights,’ he said. “We spoke out against Islam, which we will continue to do no matter what.”
His church, which numbered about 30 followers two years ago, has dwindled to about 12 and is now run by his son Luke, he said.
Jones has lost more than his congregation since he first won attention in 2009 for posting a sign outside is church that read, “Islam is the Devil” and sent the children of congregation members to school with t-shirts promoting the same message.
In 2010, Jones threatened to mark the anniversary of 9/11 by burning 200 copies of the Quran. He later cancelled the demonstration, but only after claiming to have won a promise to move a proposed Islamic center from its planned location near Ground Zero in New York City.
Since then, the number of church members has dwindled, Jones said. The IRS stripped the church of its tax exemption because Jones and his wife use the church building, and an adjacent warehouse, to store and sell used furniture through their ebay.com store, “TS and Company.”
Jones has also started an organization, Stand Up AmericaNow.org, run out of a post office box. It’s next event is a pre-election “Judge Obama Day.”
Although Jones believes he has thousands of followers, t-shirt and mug sales for the organization just “goes OK,’’ he said.
“Around America, we sort of produce a hot and cold reaction,’’ he said. “We definitely think some people think we’re absolute saviors and heroes, and other people think we’re absolute devils.”