GARLAND, Texas – Bosch Fawstin stood in the Texas afternoon heat Sunday on the sidewalk outside the Curtis Culwell Center, where his entry in an art contest was on display.
Advertisement - story continues below
A brisk, welcome breeze tossed his reddish hair as he talked with me from inside a barricaded corridor that led from a parking lot protected by several law-enforcement units, including a SWAT team and a portable police tower, to a pair of metal detectors at the entrance of the building.
An ex-Muslim whose parents emigrated from the formerly Stalinist Southeast European country of Albania to the Bronx – where he was born and reared – he understood the "Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest" wasn't a typical event on Garland's cultural calendar.
His depiction of Islam's founder was among the finalists for a $10,000 prize from the host American Freedom Defense Initiative.
I noted that among people who agree with him that Islam poses an existential threat to Western civilization, there are many who believe his work and the event inside cross a line of decency or could be regarded as incitement.
Advertisement - story continues below
"I like to keep it to the point where we have the right to do this without being obscene," he said. "Some people do it differently. The way I see it, I accept all of those. We have the freedom to do it. If they don't like it, too bad; they have to learn to live with it.
"The idea that we should be killed for this is sick, evil. It's impossible," he said.
"This idea that we're pushing it: The enemy is pushing it. Pushing us."
Advertisement - story continues below
About three hours later, as WND reported from the scene, two Muslims wearing body armor and armed with assault rifles who had traveled 1,000 miles to the Dallas suburb to slaughter as many people as they could at the event, tried to penetrate the massive security, which organizers estimate cost them up to $30,000. ISIS later claimed as their own the two men, Elton Simpson and Nadir Soofi of Phoenix, who were shot and killed immediately by police after they jumped out of their vehicle on the street and began firing, striking an officer in the ankle.
On the sidewalk Sunday afternoon before the event, I asked Fawstin if he thought its cost, both in terms of treasure and the threat to lives, was worth it.
"Yeah, it is, because this is a stand for freedom. This is us telling them we will not submit," he said.
Advertisement - story continues below
"We are in war time. This is a constant daily war, assaults on our culture, on our people, whether it's overseas or here, and we are saying we will not submit," Fawstin said. "We will draw anything we want to draw."
After passing through a walk-through metal detector, I was scanned further with a wand by one of about half a dozen security personnel stationed at the entrance to the building.
Unlike their TSA counterparts at the airport, they were in a jovial mood.
"I don't have to take my shoes off, do I?" I asked one of the attendants.
"No," she laughed.
Inside the main ballroom, event hosts author and Atlas Shrugs blogger Pamela Geller and author and Jihad Watch Director Robert Spencer, the founders of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, were making last-minute preparations, placing gift bags at each setting on tables reserved for premium-paying guests and VIPs.
Geller chose the Curtis Culwell Center precisely because it was where U.S. Muslim leaders held a conference in "defense of the prophet" one week after a Paris newspaper was targeted by jihadists for satirizing Muhammad. At the moment, she apparently is ISIS target No. 1, having been threatened in a tweet Wednesday as a "pig" who must be "slaughtered."
Seen a WND interview with Fawstin:
Spencer stepped aside for a moment to talk with me about the event, which had been on the radar of global jihadists for some time.
A Twitter message from an ISIS jihadi overseas called on Muslims to spill blood in Garland, and another, with a reference to the event, said it was "time for brothers in the US to do their part."
The FBI notified him and Geller of the threats.
"The thing is, that that's over there, and we're over here," Spencer said. "That doesn't mean that nothing is going to happen here today. Of course, we have massive security. But the thing is we have to take these risks."
I asked if there was a way to accomplish his aims without being so provocative, which would seem to increase the risk.
"No," he replied. "And the reason for that is because this has become the flashpoint for the defense of the freedom of speech. These cartoons are offensive to Islam, and there is a death penalty for those who blaspheme against Muhammad. The jihadis believe that these cartoons cross the line, and those who draw them and publicize them have to be killed.
"If we believe in free speech in a free society, then we have to stand up for the right of people to offend Muslims or even subject Islam to mockery. If it were anything else, it would be the same," he said.
Spencer acknowledged that he found some of the cartoons to be "in poor taste."
"But that's not the point," he said. "The point is that there are people who can say what they wish without being killed for it.
"To say that we will succumb to violent intimidation and allow ourselves to be silent in the face of it is just to encourage more violent intimidation," he said.
"Either we knuckle under or we stand. And we are standing."
On Wednesday, Franklin Graham, the son of evangelist Billy Graham who now leads his father's organization and is no shrinking violet when it comes to criticizing Islam, said he objected to the Garland event.
"As a Christian, I don’t like it when people mock my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,” he said in an interview on the Fox News Channel's "Fox & Friends." “What this event was doing in Texas was mocking Islam. I disagree with [them].”
Graham said today’s society is lacking civility, and the “folks in Garland were wrong” to strike that tone.
“I think we need to show respect and civility,” he said. “We need to respect one another … and those that believe differently [from my faith], I’m not going to mock them.”
But he made it clear Muslims "have no right to go around shooting people because someone mocks them," and he reiterated his stance that the federal government "should not be allowing immigration into this country from any countries that have active terrorist cells.”
See a WND interview with Robert Spencer:
As attendees arrived, they milled about the exhibits, which included Medieval works by Muslim artists that depicted Muhammad. The Quran itself doesn't proscribe images of Islam's founder, but later writings that Muslims consider authoritative do.
A CNN producer trained his camera on one of the cartoons entered in the contest. But when the network aired it's coverage of the event, the cartoons were blurred out. The Web edition of Rupert Murdoch's London's Daily Mail, known for its liberal use of large photos to accompany its stories, put black shapes on the artwork in its images.
Geller calls that a prime example of Western governments and media bowing to the dictates of Islamic law, arguing it's a first step on a slippery slope of compliance.
I spoke with a SWAT officer, in full tactical gear, about the extraordinary security made necessary by the artwork he had been examining.
"The reason why we have the security here is the reason why they would have it in France," he said. "What would make you think it wouldn't happen here?"
He then asked if I wanted to see the back of his hat.
The officer turned around to display a cloth decal velcroed to the back that matched his uniform.
"Infidel," it said.
I came to Garland with an agreement from Geert Wilders, Sunday night's keynote speaker, for an exclusive interview. The Dutch member of parliament, the leader of the Party of Freedom, already had made news last week when three U.S. congressmen – two of them Muslim – asked Secretary of State John Kerry and Department of Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson to reject his visa, charging alleged ongoing “participation in inciting anti-Muslim aggression and violence.”
He was in Washington at the invitation of Reps. Steve King, R-Iowa, and Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.
Wilders, who distances himself from European anti-immigration extremists such as Marine Le Pen of France and Joerg Haider of Austria, insists he does not hate Muslims but is convinced that Islam itself is the problem. He concludes that since the Netherlands has banned Hitler's "Mein Kampf," it also should ban the Quran, because it's the source of an ongoing, 14-century effort to bring the entire world under the rule of Islamic law. The "Islamization" of Europe, he contends, is threatening Judeo-Christian culture, which he maintains, to the consternation of a multicultural establishment, is superior to the culture of Islamic nations.
See Wilders' speech:
Wilders arrived after the event began, and he left immediately after delivering his speech, as security had been ratcheted up even higher than anticipated, and there was to be no WND interview.
The Dutchman told the enthusiastic Texas crowd it was no coincidence that at the same site in January, Islamic activists, shortly after the Charlie Hebdo massacre, "convened to demand that free speech be curtailed."
"They want to prohibit cartoons, books and films that they find insulting. And our answer is, 'Don't mess with Texas.'" Wilders said to cheers.
"Don't mess with the free West, and don't mess with our freedom of speech."
While Wilders has been labeled by his critics as a purveyor of hatred, one of the featured speakers in January at "Stand With the Prophet in Honor and Respect" was Siraj Wahhaj, an unindicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing who once told a group of New Jersey Muslims the U.S. government would one day be taken over by an Islamic caliphate.
Muslim leaders in the U.S, reacting to the worldwide solidarity with the satirical newspaper that published cartoons of Islam's founder, said they hoped their Garland event would be the beginning of a "movement" to "defend Prophet Muhammad" and "defeat Islamophobia."
Wilders, accompanied Sunday night by his permanent Dutch security detail – he wears a bulletproof vest in public and lives in a safe house – noted he is on death lists issued by al-Qaida, the Pakistani Taliban and ISIS, "only because I tell people the truth about Islam."
"The truth, my dear friends, is that Islam has declared war on us, on our Judeo-Christian civilization. Islam wants to rob us of our freedom and liberty," he said.
"And let me tell you, Islam and freedom are totally incompatible. "
He recalled that along with Danish cartoonist Lars Vilks, the editor of Charlie Hebdo, known as Charb, was on the same death lists.
In February, Vilks was whisked away from a free-speech event in Copenhagen called "Art, blasphemy and freedom of expression" after shots were fired. Just hours later, a second shooting outside a Copenhagen synagogue left two dead and five police officers wounded.
In Paris, Charb and nine of his colleagues were "murdered by followers of the religion of hate," Wilders said.
According to Shariah, they were all guilty of the same crime, the crime of depicting Muhammad, which is "punishable by death by the religion of death."
"In order to show them that we will not have Islam dictate the law, we are here with an exhibition of Muhammad cartoons," he declared.
"We are here in defiance of Islam; we are here to defend our rights and stand for freedom of speech," he said. "That is our duty today."
He called Ronald Reagan America's greatest president and cited his warning that "freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction."
"I am happy that nobody died watching these cartoons," he said. "This proves that unlike jihadis, watching cartoons doesn't kill people.
"Cartoons do not kill jihadis, but jihadis kill cartoonists, and that is a huge difference which we must never forget," he said.
He said the late political scientist Samuel Huntington was wrong: There is no "clash between civilizations; it is a clash between civilization and pure barbarism."
He said that while other politicians around the world are afraid to say it, the Judeo-Christian culture is far superior to Islamic culture.
He commended America's First Amendment, noting he was "dragged to court" on hate-speech charges in his home country for "speaking the truth about Islam."
He was acquitted, but now authorities want to prosecute him again.
"We, the people who criticize Islam, are harassed, but the sympathizers, the sympathizers of the Islamic State, they are left in peace," he said.
In The Hague last summer, ISIS supporters marching with black swastikas and ISIS flags shouted death to the Jews, he recalled.
"And do you know what? The authorities did nothing," he said.
"We have weak leaders; appeasers are ruling the Netherlands, Europe, and, if I may say so, even the United States of America," he said.
The Texas crowd's reaction indicated they didn't mind him saying it.
"New leadership is what we need to protect freedom of speech and resist the ongoing Islamization of the West," he said.
He recalled President Obama's declaration to the United Nations that the "future does not belong to those who slander the prophet of Islam."
"But we say the future must not belong to Islam," he said. "Do you hear it, Mr. Obama? We say no to Islam."
Amid a standing ovation, Wilders and his Dutch security quickly left the stage and passed through a back corridor to a secured exit at the back of the building.
When Geller came to the podium, she summarized her reason for holding the event.
"We refuse to allow jihadists to dictate what we can and cannot say," she said. "That is the point of this conference. That is the point of freedom of speech. Freedom of speech is the foundation of a free society.
"Boom," she said.
Without freedom of speech, she said, "a tyrant can wreak havoc unopposed, while his opponents are silenced."
"That's why you are here, and when you leave here, it's what you're going to tell your friends," she said, speaking with the passion of an evangelist.
She noted that after the Sept. 11, 2012, Benghazi attack, the Obama administration falsely blamed the death of a U.S. ambassador and three other Americans at the hands of a known jihadist group on protests of an obscure, 14-minute, amateurish anti-Islam film.
The only person who's gone to jail for the Benghazi attack, Geller noted, is the YouTube filmmaker, who she called the "first political prisoner of this country under Shariah."
"Think about it," Geller said. "Hillary (Clinton) said she was going to get that YouTube filmmaker."
"We are fighting for nothing less than the question of freedom or slavery," she said. "That's why you are here. That's why you must go out into the world and advance the fight for freedom."
Geller said "no one is going to save you, you are going to save you."
"There are no casual observers in this fight," she said. "While they have the largest megaphone, they have the media. They have academia. They have the culture."
"David won, too, you know," referring to the biblical character. "David won, too."
Concluding, she said "just the way we revered our grandparents and parents who fought and died in fighting the evil of Naziism, our grandchildren will despise us for leaving them held hostage by the most extreme and radical ideology on the face of the earth."
"We must stand up, and if history has taught us anything, it's that small groups, small movements, can become huge intellectual movements. We need a revolution of the mind," she said.
"We're right, we're righteous. Do not back down, never give up, never give in. Take this meeting with you, right here, and go to work."
'Go, go go'
Minutes after her final remarks, I asked John, a Marine Corps veteran from the Dallas area, why he came to an event that many of his friends might regard as provocative.
"There are far too few people who will get involved and stay involved. A very small percentage of our population actually drives the political system. Voter turnout is extremely low," he replied.
As he was speaking – but unnoticed by me until I listened to the recording later – someone was informing Geller, Spencer and Fawstin that something had happened outside the building.
"Shots fired," an urgent voice said. "Go, go, go."
Unaware that the three had been whisked away to a safe location, John the Marine kept speaking.
"And we've just got to stand and fight for our freedom. I believe in the Constitution. I'm a citizen. I'm a patriot. I served. My family served all the generations we've had here. I just feel very strongly about it," he said.
Moments later, a man bolted through the ballroom door, out of breath.
"There was gunfire over that way," he said, pointing outside.
"I heard, I didn't see," said the man, who had been rushed back inside by police after trying to get in his car to go home.
Identifying himself only on as Bill from Texas, he said it sounded like the weapon was an AK 47.
I asked him how he would know what one sounds like.
"Because I have one," he said.
Another attendee who had been turned back also was trying to catch his breath.
"Just gunfire, just rapid gunfire," he said. "But ... it could be fireworks. I don't know, I didn't see anything.
"They told me to get down."
Another attendee, Mike, from the Dallas area, interrupted.
"Hey, it wasn't fireworks, somebody got hit," he said. "Somebody's down."
Bill said: "You know more than I do."
"The cop just said, somebody is down and told everyone to stay," Mike said.
A SWAT officer came up to the mic and explained that an officer had been shot and the assailants, who were "down," possibly had explosives, drawing gasps from attendees.
"We are going to move y'all into the auditorium in just a minute," he said firmly but with a slight catch in his voice. "I just need everybody to remain calm, become orderly.
"We will take you into the auditorium a little further away from the front of this building."
Applause arose from the crowd.
"Thank you, officer!"
The SWAT team began escorting attendees and media down a corridor and into a large adjacent arena, where they were told to take a seat in the stands and await further instructions.
Apparently, the fact that the assailants had been detained and the already massive security was being joined by an additional force that included police helicopters helped preserve the entrepreneurial spirit.
Someone yelled that the remaining Muhammad art coffee-table books were still on sale, and it was the last chance to get one for just $60.
In the arena, a witness of the shooting, John Roby of Oklahoma City, told WND he was heading out to his car when he heard what sounded like automatic-weapon fire coming from a black vehicle that had stopped on the street outside the center. Immediately, he heard two pistol shots, and a police officer screamed, "We've got the car, we've got the car."
Meanwhile, the locked-down attendees of the inaugural "Muhammad Art Exhibit and Cartoon Contest" sang "God Bless America" and the national anthem as one attendee held up a U.S. flag.
See attendees singing the national anthem after the shooting Sunday night (WND video):
Two women then led in prayer for the injured officer, whose condition was unknown at the time, and the others still hard at work.
"We pray for his healing and his miraculous recovery, in the precious name of Jesus," one prayed as others bowed their heads in silence.
"And I pray for every family that's here right now, and for the policemen that are protecting us. We just ask that you watch over them," she continued.
"And, Father, if there be any danger imminently around us, that you would help them to find it, and that we would all be safe and return home safe.
"And we just want to give you the praise and the glory for this special time that we've had today," she prayed.
"In Jesus name, amen," she said.
"Amen," the group affirmed.
See attendees pray for the injured officer (WND video):
About 90 minutes after the incident, SWAT officers prepared to escort media to their cars, which had been parked at a designated location, some distance from where the shooting took place.
Attendees, however, were loaded on school buses and moved to another location away from the campus, because police were still securing the main parking lot. Witnesses were taken to a separate site.
I had already filed the first breaking news en route to the arena and continued updates there.
As attendees were loaded onto buses, SWAT officers escorted me and other reporters who had remained until the end of the event across a dark parking lot as at least two police helicopters patrolled overhead.
I parked with other media alongside Naaman Forest Road, still in sight of law-enforcement vehicles forming the perimeter.
At the scene of the attack, as the bodies of the two assailants remained on the street where they had been killed, a Plano Police Department bomb squad had sent in a robot because of suspicion they had explosives in the vehicle or on their bodies.
Four hours later, as the choppers continued to monitor an active scene, I drove toward my hotel, passing TV trucks still staged to report.
With adrenalin now beginning to wane, it struck me, strangely for the first time, that the men, who soon were to be identified as Muslims, didn't come just for a shootout in the parking lot.
Their aim, equipped with assault rifles and apparently plenty of ammo, was to burst inside the building – not unlike a pair of French-born brothers did in Paris a few months ago – and slaughter everyone inside.
The next day, I realized that in the rush of the previous night, I had left behind an important piece of equipment.
I wouldn't have been surprised to have been told that because it's well inside the scene of a terrorist attack under investigation – for which ISIS, by then, had taken credit – to just forget about it.
However, referred from one friendly member of the Garland Police Department to another – beginning at the station and ending up at the entrance to the Curtis Culwell Center – I was escorted by two officers back to the arena and to the ballroom, where I recovered my equipment.
By now it was close to noon Monday, and one of the officers, whose eyes were glazed from fatigue, said he had gotten only a couple of hours of sleep.
As I walked back to my car, I had the opportunity to express appreciation for the outstanding job they and their colleagues from a variety of departments had done Sunday.
"Thank you for your service," I said.
"Regardless of what anyone thinks about the event that went on here," I said, "if not for you ... it's not hard to imagine what might have happened."
They slowly nodded their heads.
Media wishing to interview Pamela Geller may email [email protected]
Yes -- mock Islam at every opportunity by Erik Rush
Muhammad cartoons and 'P-ss Christ' by Michael Brown