May 15, 2011
Among the many new things I have learnt from the work of Pamela Geller is that President Obama reputedly used to knock around with a crack whore.
"That," the author, blogger and broadcaster insists, "is not what I said. You are taking this out of context. The post [on her website atlasshrugs.com] was pointing out how people were reporting lie after lie about Sarah Palin. I said to myself, there is so much about Obama we don't print. In his youth," she continues, repeating a story for which there exists absolutely no foundation, "he supposedly liked a girl who was a crack whore. I never reported it as fact. They say all these vile things about Palin but do we ever talk about Obama and the crack whore?"
The incredibly libellous post, entitled: "IT'S TIME TO EXPOSE THE TRUTH ABOUT OBAMA" appeared on 1 August 2009. "Why not tell the truth about Obama and his reported strange sexual predilections?" Geller wrote. "It is well known that he allegedly was involved with a crack whore in his youth. Very seedy stuff ... Find the ho, give her a show! Obama allegedly trafficked in some very deviant practices."
You may not have encountered the writing of Geller, one of the more controversial ascending stars of the American extreme right. Politicised, as she says, by the events of 9/11, she inspired, then orchestrated, opposition to the construction of the planned Muslim cultural centre two blocks away from the former site of the World Trade Center, which Geller named the "Ground Zero Mosque". A pivotal figure in the so-called "birther" movement, she has – in common with other robustly conservative figures such as Donald Trump, broadcaster Glenn Beck and her writing partner Robert Spencer – tirelessly queried details of President Obama's ancestry, and hence his entitlement to office. Geller still has many questions in this area, despite the recent release of the "long form" of the president's birth certificate, proving that he was born in the American state of Hawaii.
A glance at her voluminous blog reveals her disdain for institutions such as the UN (for employing "child-raping peacekeepers") The New York Times ("Jew-haters") and other famously subversive voices such as that of our own Sun newspaper (for whom "Jewkilling is OK, everything else is terror") and Pope Benedict XVI ("Maybe Jew-hating," she writes with reference to the German pontiff, "obliterates rational thought"). She didn't like the way Campbell's Soup went about producing a halal recipe and has described liberal Jews as "self-hating wretches". An infamous post on Atlas Shrugs suggesting that Barack Obama was the love-child of Malcolm X was, Geller insists, not written by her. The image she posted of Obama urinating on an American flag was "a very well-circulated cartoon – so what?"
"I believe you once said that President Obama 'wants jihad to win'."
"I don't know if he wants it to win, but he is certainly Islamophiliac. He is certainly aiding jihad."
To help discourage him, Geller has provided a one-click link from her site to what she describes as "pornographic" photographs of Obama's late mother. These are actually rather sad black-and-white pictures no more offensive than the images on hand-cranked peep-show machines from the early 20th century.
The Southern Poverty Law Centre, the US's leading political watchdog group, has classified "Stop Islamization of America" (the group she founded with professional partner Robert Spencer) as a hate organisation. She continues to defend Radovan Karadzic, whose trial she has likened to the Nuremberg hearings. Geller speaks fondly of kindred spirits such as the far-right English Defence League (EDL) and the Dutch extremist Geert Wilders, whose rhetoric recently resulted in what she calls a heresy trial.
"Wilders is generally regarded as a racist lunatic, isn't he?"
He is, Geller insists, a "lovely man. In Pakistan, you speak against Islam and you are put to death. Here in the West, your character is assassinated. You are a racistislamophobe-republicantimuslimbigot." The speed, not to say pride, with which she delivers what has become a one-word catchphrase, is undeniably impressive. "You get called something enough times," she smiles, "you say it plenty fast."
The intensity, if not the ethnic focus, of her views on national identity, recalls the correspondence between H Rider Haggard and Rudyard Kipling, in the course of which they discuss "the Jewish problem" [ie there are Jews, some of them in England]. On the evidence of her writing alone, you might assume its author to be a male octogenarian in tweeds carrying a 12-bore.
But Geller (whose blog carries video of opponents, referring to what they perceive to be the results of cosmetic surgery, screaming: "whore – your face is melting") looks younger than her 53 years. She arrives for our meeting at Manhattan's Four Seasons Hotel wearing tight jeans, boldly luxuriant eyelash extensions and a quantity of mascara and eyeshadow that wouldn't have looked out of place in the days when, as she recalls, she used to dance to the Cramps at clubs such as CBGB's.
She occasionally records video blogs wearing a bikini. In one clip, which defends another prominent right-wing activist Ann Coulter, Geller performs an a cappella version of Morrissey's "Some Girls are Bigger than Others" while stroking a small dog.
A practised and articulate guest speaker on TV channels including Fox News and CBS, she isn't fond of the American media, dominated as it is by "Obama's serfs". Recently, Geller tells me, she declined an interview request from the BBC. She switches on a digital recorder. "Normally," she says, "I don't have to use this." But she's dealing with "a lefty newspaper" which carries reports by Robert Fisk.
Whatever you might think of Pamela Geller, you can't accuse her of lacking courage. Her website reproduced cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, first published in 2005 by the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, which led to an attempt on the life of artist Kurt Westergaard.
"Going through my notes," I tell her, "I find you quoted as asking: 'Does Obama know anybody that isn't wacky, radical, militant, Judeophobe, Socialist, Marxist and Paedophile?' Next to which I appear to have written: 'Possibly Diana Krall.'"
"Actually I didn't say that but I did say something that echoes that, so I don't have a problem. There is no one in his cabinet that is not radical."
America, argues Geller (she uses the noun to apply to the United States rather than the whole continent), is at war with evil – a force whose most pernicious incarnation is Islam, or to be more precise, "creeping Sharia". Towards the end of what turns out to be an animated two-hour conversation I will ask her whether, had her contributions been articulated on a public stage in the UK, she would have been arrested. Under British law, she says she doesn't know. "In Holland," she concedes, "probably."
She recalls how Terry Jones, a fundamentalist minister, achieved international fame after he declared he was going to burn the Koran, an action he performed in Florida, in March. "Who cares if some fringe pastor is going to burn a Koran? You burn a Bible, nobody says 'Boo.'"
"Can you think of any good Muslims?" I ask her. "Because reading your book – The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration's War on America [co-authored with Robert Spencer]– I can't find any."
"That's not true. I love Muslims. I hate an extreme ideology that oppresses women... we have seen a 1,400-year history of 270 million victims of jihadi wars."
Geller doesn't mind, she insists, what anybody regards as sacred. "I don't care if you worship a stone," she says. "I don't care if you worship a little rock."
"How did you know about Gordon?" I ask her. "I left him in the hotel room."
The writer, who is, remarkably, not without a sense of irony, permits herself a smile.
"I can think of one Muslim of my acquaintance – Yusuf Islam, formerly Cat Stevens," I tell her, "who I don't believe would hurt a fly."
"No. But he has said some things."
"As he's often explained, he was very naive at that time and he was entrapped by a British newspaper. He's said that he would not repeat or endorse those statements as reported, and I believe him."
"So who are the good Muslims that you know?"
"Isn't that a bit of an oxymoron?"
"No. If you adhere to the Koran... the last chapters are very violent."
"Have you read Deuteronomy? Ask Saladin what he thought about Richard I."
"But there was an enlightenment. Islam has had no enlightenment. You cannot criticise Islam. You cannot speak candidly of Islam..."
"You seem to be giving it a good go."
"Listen, you think it's easy being me, dear? I get threats. I have my contacts at law enforcement."
Geller has even managed to fall out with former sympathiser Zuhdi Jasser, an Arizona-based critic of what he terms "political Islam". Jasser, once a lieutenant commander in the US Navy and no shrinking liberal, is a regular guest on shows hosted by attack dogs of conservative broadcasting, such as Sean Hannity – a man who, even Pamela Geller concedes, "is right-wing".
"Geller and Robert Spencer's comments... show that they are against any solution from within the House of Islam," wrote Jasser, who is of Syrian descent, earlier this year. "This only aids and abets all Islamists. But that doesn't matter if their target includes all Muslims and their only viable solution is conversion of one-fifth of the world's population."
Everything in Geller's motivation comes back to 9/11. One of the many ways in which the United States was changed forever by the atrocity was a more widespread acceptability of the kind of hateful diatribe that had previously been the preserve of a handful of shock jocks.
Five years ago, referring to 9/11 widows who opposed George W Bush, Ann Coulter told NBC's The Today Show: "They believe the entire country is required to marinate in their personal agony. These broads are millionaires, lionised on TV, k revelling in their status. I have never seen people enjoying their husbands' deaths so much."
In May 2010 Geller began her campaign against the project then called Cordoba House (a title she considered deliberately offensive in its evocation of the Moorish conquest of Spain) and now named Park 51. As currently planned, it would involve the construction of a 13-storey building on the site of a damaged factory a tenth of a mile away from the World Trade Center. Its advocates, such as chief organiser Imam Rauf, assert that – housing as it would a memorial, theatre, swimming pool and baseball court as well as a prayer site – it is neither at Ground Zero, nor a mosque.
The title of her blog on 6 May last year read: "MONSTER MOSQUE PUSHES AHEAD IN SHADOW OF WORLD TRADE CENTER ISLAMIC DEATH AND DESTRUCTION." She raised funds for posters on New York buses, which depicted an image of the burning towers, with the slogan: "Why There?" Her campaign was supported by the New York Post and resolute conservatives such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich.
Geller has recently completed work on a film called The Ground Zero Mosque: The Second Wave of the 9/11 Attack. "The Ground Zero Mosque is deeply insulting, deliberately provocative and offensive," she argues. "To build a megamosque in a building that was destroyed in the 9/11 attacks is the height of insensitivity."
Among the people likely to visit the facility, I suggest, "will be honest believers, some of whom lost relatives and fellow Muslims in the attack".
"I don't separate the Muslims that died from the non-Muslims. Many moderate Muslims," she asserts, correctly, "are against it. It is an Islamic pattern to build triumphal mosques on the cherished sites..."
"Let me finish, sir. On the cherished sites of conquered lands. There has not been one mosque of reconciliation, ever, on the site of a jihadi attack."
"Maybe this is a good chance to start."
"I don't think you are going to get it from Imam Rauf."
Geller launches into a swift character assassination of the imam, who said recently: "If I'd known that this would happen; that the project would cause this kind of pain, I wouldn't have done it."
"No matter how [Geller mouths the word "fucking"] much we progress, the human condition never changes. The battle is eternal and the battle is between good and evil. I think the fundamental problem today is the inability, or reluctance, to distinguish between good and evil."
She has carried the fight all over the world, from New York to the Black Country. Geller learnt of reports of clashes in April 2010 between right-wing demonstrators and West Midlands police in Dudley, during protests against an application to build what she blogged was a "Monster Mosque".
"Senior EDL leadership," she wrote in the 5 May 2010 issue of the conservative online magazine American Thinker, "informed me that thousands of Muslims began rioting in Dudley... showing the true face of Islam." Muslims, she went on, in what may come as news to residents in Sue Lawley's home town, "are policing the streets in cars... and the dhimmi [non-Muslim living under Sharia law] Dudley police are doing nothing about it."
I tell Geller that I'd assumed that the experience of meeting her would be similar to an uncomfortable afternoon I once spent with Arianna Huffington. That was when the Greek-American thinker was in her right-wing, Newt Gingrich period, before she performed a remarkable volte face and established herself as a prominent liberal and founded the left-leaning news website The Huffington Post. Geller isn't flattered by this at all, and it's true that the two women could hardly be more different. Huffington always looked like a Republican vice-president's wife, and seemed, at least back then, more driven by ambition than ideals. Geller, by contrast – quite amazingly, given the nature of her beliefs – has the ability to laugh at herself and, as I mentioned to a well-known journalist who has studied her ascent, has a strange habit, even at the most intense moments of disagreement, of flashing you a look of what I can only describe as girlish vulnerability.
"Pamela Geller is a Ground Zero in herself," he replied. "Angry yet fragile. Just occasionally, that flash in her eyes that you mention betrays what I interpreted as a longing to be loved. I sensed a deep insecurity in her; the time I spent with her left me feeling deeply uncomfortable."
Geller grew up in the affluent New York suburb of Hewlett Harbor, Long Island, the daughter of Reuben, a textile entrepreneur who she describes as "a tough guy from the old school".
"Like John Wayne?"
"Well... from the Frank Sinatra era. Robert Mitchum. You know: masculine."
Of her three sisters, two are doctors, one a teacher.
"Do they share your views?"
Politically, Geller says, "we are all on the same page".
As a young woman, she was heavily influenced by Atlas Shrugged, the 1957 novel by Ayn Rand, which praised the virtues of individualism, as opposed to state intervention.
In the 1980s she worked in marketing at the New York Daily News, then became a senior executive at The New York Observer. Her enthusiasms back then were fashion and music. (Geller, who has four children, left the Observer in 1994 to look after her family.)
Before 9/11, she says, she was "more socially liberal".
She began blogging on littlegreenfootballs.com, run by the professional musician and software expert Charles Johnson. Between 2004 and 2007, she posted thousands of entries. "She was always as reactionary," he tells me, "as you see her now."
Johnson, who, as that remark would suggest, does not share Geller's opinions, is described as a "mental patient" on Atlas Shrugs.
"I know Pamela Geller often calls me crazy," he told me. "But I'm not the one who talks about the president's birth certificate being faked or says that he's the illegitimate son of Malcolm X, and I'm not the one who defends a war criminal and makes alliances with white supremacist groups. That would be Ms Geller. She has a very long record of absolute lunacy, mixed with bigotry and racism and I am far from the only person to point this out."
These days, she expresses a view of the superiority of her nation reminiscent of the more entrenched kind of British patriot in the golden age of Empire. "What would be the good," Geller asks, "of subjecting America to international norms? America has always been a light to the world."