Hundreds protest outside Phoenix mosque

Hundreds protest outside Phoenix mosque

PHOENIX (Tucson News Now) - Hundreds of protesters lined the streets outside the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix on Friday evening for a "Freedom of Speech" rally.

Iraq war veteran Jon Ritzheimer sent out an invitation on Facebook. The protesters were met with a large number of counter-protesters, most of them from local churches, and those who called themselves humanitarians, there to promote love and peace.

Phoenix police barricaded a few streets around the mosque, and once the number of protesters grew, police formed a human "barricade" trying to keep the group of anti-Islamic protesters away from those there to promote tolerance and love.

Some of the anti-Islam protesters were wearing T-shirts that said "F*** Islam" while counter protesters were wearing shirts that said "Love thy neighbor."

In his Facebook post, Ritzheimer encouraged people to show up with their weapons and to use their Second Amendment right to protect their First Amendment right.

A few people were visibly armed with guns and ammunition.

Ritzheimer said he organized the protest in Phoenix as a response to the shooting in Dallas at a "Draw Mohammed" cartoon contest. The two men who drove from Arizona to Dallas to shoot up the gathering had attended the Islamic Center of Phoenix for some time.

Many Muslims consider cartoon characters of Mohammed to be blasphemous and banned by Islamic law.

The rally was set to take place around the evening prayer time at the mosque. Islamic Community Center president Usama Shami said prayers would continue despite the protests. Shami said he was surprised to see so many counter-protesters at the rally.

"What you see is our neighbors and friends came out here to support us. You can see the number outweighs the number of people that are bigoted, people that are racist, and people that are spewing all this hate," said Shami.

The two sides stood on opposite sides of the street, separated by the line of police, both sides yelling at each other and chanting.

One side yelled "USA, USA" and "Islam is evil, Christ is King," while the other side chanted "Peace for everyone, peace for everyone" and "God is love."

One man threw the Koran on the ground and ripped out some of its pages.

"This is a book that should be ripped, should be desecrated," said the protester.

As the yelling got louder, Phoenix police started setting up barricades and crime tape to keep the lines from moving toward each other.

One man tried to cross the barricade but was immediately stopped by police.

War veteran Matt Caldwell was initially standing on the anti-Islam side of the protest, but he said he was surprised to see how much hate there was and decided to switch sides and move over to the counter-protesters side.

"I thought this was a freedom of speech event. Then I started hearing people saying F-Islam, F-Mohammed. I don't agree with the Muslim faith, but that doesn't mean they don't have the right to practice what they choose to practice," said Caldwell.

Despite threatening tweets from anonymous extremists warning of bloodshed on the streets of Phoenix, police were able to control the chaos.

A police spokesman said no one was arrested or hurt during the protest.

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