By Jordy Yager - 08/21/10 10:00 AM EDT
Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) will not be
addressing a protest of the proposed mosque in lower Manhattan on the
anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.
The organizers of the rally, Stop Islamization of America and Freedom Defense Initiative, announced Gingrich as one of the event’s confirmed speakers on the Web last weekend.
But a spokesman for Gingrich, a possible 2012 presidential
candidate, told The Hill that the former leader of the House had never
confirmed his appearance. Instead, one of Gingrich’s staff had agreed to send a
video message from him to be shown at the Sept. 11 rally.
That has since been canceled.
“The confusion is at least partially our fault,” said Joe DeSantis, a spokesman for Gingrich. “A staff member mistakenly promised a video message, though not an appearance. However, we are not sending a video. We informed them earlier this week.”
DeSantis did not comment on why Gingrich was no longer
planning to send a video message to the rally, and attempts to contact the
organizers of the rally were unsuccessful.
Other speakers listed include controversial Dutch parliamentarian and right-wing party leader Geert Wilders, an avowed critic of Islam and Muslim immigration and integration issues in Europe, who last year was banned from entering Britain on the argument that his presence would create public safety problems.
The rally’s organizers also listed Rep. Peter King (N.Y.), the top House Republican on the Homeland Security Committee, as being “invited” on the bill of confirmed speakers.
A spokesman for King, who opposes construction of the mosque two blocks from Ground Zero, said the lawmaker was not planning to attend, however,
adding he “will have so many 9/11 commemorations in his district” to
attend on Sept. 11.
King was one of several conservative figures to blast Gingrich for his comments made in an interview on Fox News' "Fox & Friends."
Gingrich said the construction of the Islamic center near Ground Zero was not about community outreach, but "trying to make a case about supremacy."
"Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington," Gingrich said. "We would never accept the Japanese putting up a site next to Pearl Harbor."
Joe Scarborough, a former House Republican and host of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” program, described Gingrich’s remark as "madness.” And conservative commentator Pat Buchanan, a former presidential candidate, said “bringing the Nazis into the argument is always absurd in American politics.” Buchanan also suggested Gingrich was trying to attract national attention to himself for a 2012 presidential bid.
The controversy over the proposed Islamic center near the site of the 9/11 attacks boiled over after President Obama spoke last week in favor of the mosque organizers’ right to religious freedom, seen by many as an endorsement of the project.
In the week since, nearly every major politician has weighed in on the debate, with an overwhelming number of Republicans, including House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio), criticizing Obama’s comments and stating their opposition to the mosque’s location. Even Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) said he respected freedom of religion but felt the mosque should be built elsewhere; the president said they could agree to disagree.
Organizers of next month’s protest hope to capitalize on
the debate that has consumed the congressional recess, organizing caravans from across America to come to the 9/11 rally.
Wilders' website touts his appearance and the advertised attendance of Gingrich as "two eagles" who together can capture the mainstream media's attention on the mosque controversy. "Then there is speculation about Gingrich making a possible 2012 run for the GOP Presidential nomination," an Aug. 6 release on the site states. "It is not lost on many that Gingrich has come out in favor of national anti-Sharia legislation."
Wilders generated controversy on Capitol Hill last year when he screened his documentary film “Fitna” at the invitation of Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.). The short film shows verses of the Quran interspersed with extreme acts of violence, including the hijacked planes flying into the World Trade Center.
The Dutch politician's outspoken criticism of
Islam has generated scores of death threats over the years and he lives under 24-hour security protection. The
British government prohibited him from entering the country in February 2009, a ban later overturned following an appeal by Wilders. And the politician is currently on trial on hate-speech charges in the Netherlands, where he has called the Quran a "fascist book."
"I will go to New York and say what I want there,” Wilders told Dutch media. “Nobody will stop me. No mosque at Ground Zero!”