How did a disgraced pastor of a tiny congregation known for hateful rhetoric get to be the center of a world-wide media frenzy? Brian Stetler at the New York Times traces the evolution of a story gone wild.
Mr. Jones’s planned event in Gainesville, Fla., coincided with the controversy over the proposed building of a Muslim community center in Lower Manhattan near ground zero and a simmering summerlong debate about the freedoms of speech and religion.
Mr. Jones was able to put himself at the center of those issues by using the news lull of summer and the demands of a 24-hour news cycle to promote his anti-Islam cause. He said he consented to more than 150 interview requests in July and August, each time expressing his extremist views about Islam and Sharia law.
One thing that worked in his favor was timing. The public connected his plan with the controversy over the planned Muslim community center in lower Manhattan, apparently way before Jones did.
Mr. Jones’s plan, announced in July, slowly gained attention in August, particularly overseas. It became a top story in the United States this week after protests against Mr. Jones in Afghanistan and after the commander of American and NATO forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, warned that the Koran burning could endanger troops.
“Before there were riots and heads of states talking about him, it could have been a couple of paragraphs in a story about Sept. 11 commemorations,” Kathleen Carroll, the executive editor of The Associated Press, said Thursday. “It’s beyond that now.”
The Guardian reports that Jones is a person who thrives on controversy and was removed from a church in Cologne, Germany because he ran it more as a cult than a congregation.
When he arrived in Germany on what he called his "God-sent" mission in 1982, charismatic bible fundamentalist Terry Jones came with a message of hope, promising to show his followers the "riches of the kingdom of God"....
...But when Jones left Cologne 26 years later it was as a disgraced preacher who was accused of running a sect-like community with an iron fist, forcing members to give him a percentage of their earnings, making them work for little or no money and causing the breakup of families and friendships. He also faked a title as "Doctor of Theology", for which he was fined.
As tension mounted ahead of Jones's plan to burn Qur'ans at his Florida church, it emerged that he had been dismissed by the board of the Christian Community of Cologne in 2008 after years of strife.
Andrew Schäfer, an official sect monitor for the protestant church in Germany's Rhine region who has closely observed the activities of the community, said Jones had "enormous manipulative potential" and believes that his failure in Germany led to his increased desire to achieve fame and notoriety in Florida.
The story really took off when international news outlets ran it and then protests in Muslim cities, particularly in Afghanistan, were organized in response. Then local politicians and media in Gainesville began to distance themselves from Jones. A dozen professors wrote an op-ed condemning the planned book-burning. Ironically, the more people condemned the activity, the more attention it gained.