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Clockwise from top: an security officer informs guests at the “Draw Muhammad” event that an incident has occurred; Garland police spokesperson Joe Harn talks to the media; and the car of the suspects that were killed. (various screenshots from The United West and CNN)

Last night, two men were killed and one man was injured at the American Freedom Defense Initiative’s (AFDI) “Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest” in the Dallas/Forth Worth area. Police said the episode lasted roughly 15 seconds and took place 10 minutes before the conclusion of the event at the Curtis Curwell Convention Center in Garland, Texas.

The identity of the two gunmen that were killed, who reputedly had AK-47s, is unknown, but the man who was injured was a Garland school district officer, who has already been released from the hospital for his injuries. The two gunmen burst onto the scene and started shooting, hitting a Garland officer in the leg. The two men were then killed when police returned fire.

The poster for the Muhammad Art competition mimics Norman Rockwell’s famous self-portrait. (via Breitbart)

The reputedly sold-out event was organized by a group that is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an “active anti-Muslim group.” In the summer of 2011, Robert Steinback, writing for SPLC’s publication, characterized AFDI and their co-founder Pamela Geller as part of the “anti-Muslim inner circle” in the United States. According to Steinback, Geller is a “self-styled expert on Islam with no formal training in the field,” and she “has seized the role of the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and influential figurehead. Her strengths are panache and vivid rhetorical flourishes — not to mention stunts like posing for an anti-Muslim video in a bikini — but she also can be coarse in her broad-brush denunciations of Islam.”

The Muhammad Art Exhibit and Contest, which organizers say generated more than 350 entries and was attended by 200 people, featured a grand prize of $10,000, and a “people’s choice award” of $2,500 prize.

The event had already generated controversy before the shootings, particularly after it was announced that infamous Dutch politician Geert Wilders would be speaking at the event, who critics say is Islamophobic. The school district that owns the building had posted extra security at the venue, and the city of Garland had a SWAT team in the area.

Many Muslims see the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad as blasphemous, even though there is evidence that he has been depicted, particularly in a non-religious context, by various sects of Islam over the centuries.

A view of the convention center hall with “Draw Muhammad” submissions on tripods. (via The United West YouTube channel)

The event’s poster is a spoof of US artist Norman Rockwell’s well-known self-portrait, and the representation of Muhammad is surrounded by various controversial images of the Muslim prophet, including one of the Danish cartoons that ignited global protests in 2005 and the Charlie Hebdo cover that followed the deadly attack by Islamists that killed 12 in January.

Writing about his experience at the event for The Daily Beast, Randy R. Potts explained:

Bosch Fawstin being interviewed by The Flipside last year (via The Flipside’s YouTube channel)

It was left to Geller and Freedom Defense Initiative co-founder Robert Spencer to announce the contest winner, Bosch Fawstin, who was raised Muslim but now says he worships at the church of Ayn Rand. The platinum-blond Fawstin talked about growing up Muslim and his realization it wasn’t for him. He talked about the new comic he’s working on, a superhero dressed in pigskin, practicing “pigotry.” Muslim mistreatment of gays, he said, is another reason he draws Muhammad. “You tell me I cannot draw Mohammad,” he said. “I will draw Mohammad!”

Both prizes, totalling $12,500, went to ex-Muslim Albanian-American cartoonist Bosch Fawstin for his drawing of Muhammad. Fawstin was interviewed late last year by Frontpage Magazine, and when he asked if there is such a thing as moderate Islam, he said: “No. There is only Islam. Islam is immoderate by nature.” Fawstin was also the subject of a 2011 segment on The Daily Show with Aasif Mandvi, which made fun of his concern over Batman’s Muslim sidekick Nightrunner.

A livestream of the Garland event on the organizer’s website recorded the moment when the event was interrupted by a private security guard in military fatigues.

Update, May 4, 2015, 10:00am ET: The Curtis Culwell Center release the following short statement that covers the chronology of events:

Incident at Curtis Culwell Center 

Earlier this evening, during an event at the Curtis Culwell Center, two men exited a vehicle and began shooting at Garland ISD Security Officer Bruce Joiner. Garland Police, who were on scene, returned fire at the two men, killing both. Officer Joiner was shot in the ankle. He was transported to a local hospital, treated and released. Our thoughts are with him and his family.

Garland Police have secured the area around the Cuwlell Center and Naaman Forest High School. The district is working with Garland PD and will keep you informed as information becomes available.

Update, May 4, 2015, 11:20am ET: The New York Times is reporting one of the gunmen has been ID’d as Elton Simpson, and the newspaper explained his background related to “violent jihad”:

In 2010, federal prosecutors in Arizona charged Mr. Simpson with plotting to travel to Somalia “for the purpose of engaging in violent jihad,” and then lying to a federal agent about his plans. A judge found him guilty of lying to the agent, but said the government had not proved that his plan involved terrorism, and sentenced him to three years’ probation.

The police and F.B.I. agents in Phoenix searched an apartment believed to be connected to Mr. Simpson, with much of the Autumn Ridge apartment complex cordoned off through the night. At the same time, the F.B.I. office in Dallas confirmed that it was providing investigators and a bomb technician to aid the police in Garland, a city just outside Dallas.

Officials did not give a motive for the attack Sunday evening, but drawings of Muhammad, considered offensive by many Muslims, have drawn violent responses in the past. Shortly before the shooting, messages were posted on Twitter with the hashtag #texasattack, including one saying, “May Allah accept us as mujahideen.”

Update, May 4, 2:01pm ET: CNN is reporting that Simpson may be connected to ISIS:

The man, identified by a federal law enforcement source as Elton Simpson, apparently posted a tweet before the attack that read, in part, “May Allah accept us as mujahideen.”

The tweet from Simpson also said he and his fellow attacker had pledged loyalty to “Amirul Mu’mineen” (the leader of the faithful), which CNN terrorism analyst Paul Cruickshank said probably refers to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al Baghdadi.

After the shooting, an ISIS propagandist that Simpson had earlier asked his readers to follow tweeted, “Allahu Akbar!!!! 2 of our brothers just opened fire” at the Texas event.

“If there is no check on the freedom of your speech, then let your hearts be open to the freedom of our actions,” tweeted the propagandist, who was identified by two American groups that monitor jihadi websites as Junaid Hussain, a British ISIS fighter in Syria who goes by the name Abu Hussein al Britani.

Update May 4, 11:54pm ET: The Independent has identified the second man killed at the Garland event as Nadir Soofi of Phoenix, Arizona. His grandmother told NBC News that she’s shocked and that he is a “good boy.”

Update May 5, 8:30am ET: ISIS is claiming responsibility for the Texas attack. According to NBC News:

Charlie Winter, an NBC News counter-terrorism consultant, confirmed that ISIS said in an official radio broadcast Tuesday that two of its “soldiers” had carried out the attack in Garland, Texas.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

65 replies on “Two Killed at Muhammad Art Contest in Texas, ISIS Claiming Responsibility”

  1. I have to say, I am quite happy with the outcome from these two crazy Muslims actions. These people have the same rights as those who attack Christianity.
    “Piss Christ” offends me, yet that artist is allowed to show his distain for Christianity.
    Islam is controlled by those who wish to make it a cult of death. Moderate Muslims do not rise up and do all they can to stop the control. Instead they cower and claim they are offended when other try to stop the hate from these crazies.
    I am glad the leaders of American Defense Initiative were prepared and that the Security used immediate and deadly force.
    Now we have to listen to the liberals cry about how the ADI is a hate group and they caused this.

    1. It is easier to classify these Islamic murders as victims rather than take a backboned stance for free speech and get your throat cut. And it’s easier to lampoon with art the god of people who won’t kill you for it.

      Not all liberals are fake activists for fake freedom. We exist.

          1. People on the right though take a biased stance against Islam. Yes I’m a liberal and yes Islam I think is fundamentally dangerous because of what the beliefs say but I think all religions are dangerous. It just happens to be that Islam is one of the most dangerous… They are always offended… And though most Muslims are obviously good people, their religion causes some good people to commit atrocities just like Christians. Christians however (passed the crusades) had a reformation and Muslims have not. Which is probably partially why it’s not as violent anymore. Plus our godless constitution also helped.

          2. You know.. except in the real world where no one has claimed these guys were victims and no one has actually spoken out against free speech itself.

    2. “Islam is controlled by those who wish to make it a cult of death.”

      Citation needed.. as well as a citation for how those people supposedly “controlling” Islam are controlling all or most of the muslims around the world.

      “Moderate Muslims do not rise up and do all they can to stop the control.”

      A. after you have named names of those in control and how they control others, please show how moderate muslims are not doing all they can to stop this supposed control.

      B. Provide a list of what you would have these folks do.

      “Instead they cower and claim they are offended when other try to stop the hate from these crazies.”

      Aaand citation needed for that as well.

      “Now we have to listen to the liberals cry about how the ADI is a hate group and they caused this.”

      Find me one person outside of some random yahoo on a message board who says that they caused this… though they are pretty clearly a hate group.

      1. Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel is reported to commonly denigrate persons he disagrees with as “retarded;” he was pointedly criticized for this by Sarah Palin.[4]
        Former Vice President, Nobel Prize winner, and senior Democratic Party elder statesman Al Gore mocked children with Down syndrome by referring to his political critics as having “an extra chromosome.”[5]
        On March 3 2009, President Obama ridiculed children with disabilities on Jay Leno’s program when answering a question about his bowling prowess. Obama said “It was like Special Olympics.” [6][7] [8]
        Obama on Jay Leno’sTonight Show,
        March 3, 2009.The CEO of the Special Olympics defended the program noting the President had “set us back decades with his comments.”[9] Gov. Sarah Palin, whose youngest son Trig was born with Down syndrome, reacted, “This was a degrading remark about our world’s most precious and unique people, coming from the most powerful position in the world.” In her resignation speech as Governor of Alaska, Palin stated: “[T]his decision comes after much consideration, and polling the most important people in my life – my children, where the count was unanimous. In response to asking: ‘Want me to make a positive difference and fight for ALL our children’s future from OUTSIDE the Governor’s office?’ It was four “yes’s” and one “hell yeah!” … much of it had to do with the kids seeing their baby brother Trig mocked by some pretty mean-spirited adults …”[10] In responses to Obama’s comments, Kevin McConiughey, an actual Special Olympics bowling champion with an average game score of 266, reportedly challenged the President to a match at the White House bowling alley. The President apparently declined, as there were no reports indicating he accepted. [11]
        The extreme liberal website Wonkette carried a series is grotesquely disparaging remarks directed at Trig Palin on his 3rd birthday. Wonkette only relented and removed the content after Papa Johns, Huggies, the Vanguard Group, Holland America Cruises, Nordstrom, Bob Evans Farms, Reliant Energy, DealSwarm and Coldwell Banker joined in a boycott and pulled thier advertising
        Liberals love to denigrate all who they disagree with,

        1. You didn’t answer one question I asked or one point I raised.

          Hell, you didn’t even say one word that was even related to the topic being discussed.

          1. Way to back up your argument, champ. Too bad I wasn’t presenting what I think but asking you to prove what you claimed to be true.

            You can’t. Thanks for making that incredibly obvious.

          2. Denny the fact you need names and addresses for who controls Islam amazes me.
            Look around, millions dead because of Islam. Wars and devastation across the globe.
            No moderate groups standing up and demanding reformation as had happened in Christianity.
            Genocide on Christians, Yadziti’s and many others.
            If moderates passes laws in their own countries outlawing radicalism. Took up arms where the radicals have taken land and committed murders, I might believe they are doing something.
            Muslims in America have done nothing.
            CAIR and NBC/CBS/ABC and CNN have all stated AFDI is a hate group according to SPL.
            Liberals everywhere cry appeasement and fear.
            Like you they want names and addresses of all the people who this Islam is a Cult of Death.
            As I said Who Cares What you think when all you want to do is ask for proof of what you already know is true.
            You are a typical liberal apologist.

            http://time.com/3845346/pamela-geller-afdi-american-freedom-defense-initiative/
            http://news.yahoo.com/mohammed-cartoon-event-group-pushes-religious-envelope-111324813.html

            Partly because of the timidity of the West, these radicals have gained influence. Some regimes protect them. Some apparently even sponsor them. . Many leaders in the West, bereft of and often hostile to their own Christian roots, have patronizingly assumed that radical violence was an essential part of the Islamic faith. Our own weak responses have helped to legitimate those whom Islam fought so earnestly to rid itself of at its beginning. If we have respect for ourselves, if we have respect for Islam, we can no longer tolerate the evil they represent. Two civilizations hang in the balance.

            David F. Forte is a Professor of Law at Cleveland-Marshall College of Law in Cleveland, Ohio and the author of Islamic Studies: Classical and Contemporary Applications. He is an Adjunct Fellow of the John M. Ashbrook Center for Public Affairs at Ashland University, Ashland, Ohio.

            There are thousand of citations, none of which you would accept as an apologist.

          3. “the fact you need names and addresses for who controls Islam amazes me.”

            Yes, I am quite sure you are amazed every time someone confronts your facile bull. I never said anything about addresses. I just want to know who you are claiming is controlling Islam and HOW they are doing it.

            “millions dead because of Islam. Wars and devastation across the globe.”

            Citation needed. Yes, people have died due to islamic extremism, but you need to prove it is actually millions… and that those millions died BECAUSE of Islam, not simply that they were killed by muslims, as muslims have the social, ethnic, political, and class conflicts every other group has.

            “No moderate groups standing up and demanding reformation as had happened in Christianity.”

            That comparison is ludicrous as the very reformation you are claiming is not happening happened long ago. The vast majority of muslims in the world already are moderate. There is only a tiny minority who are violent extremists. Also, the Reformation wasn’t about moderate versus radical Christians. It was about the schism between protestantism and catholicism. Both sides had both moderates and extremists and the extremists were quite often in seats of power.

            “Muslims in America have done nothing.”

            Actually, they have. Just because you haven’t seen it doesn’t mean it hasn’t happened. In the very same building talked about in this article there was a muslim rally against extremism and violence only a few months prior.

            “CAIR and NBC/CBS/ABC and CNN have all stated AFDI is a hate group according to SPL.”

            And they were all right.

            “Liberals everywhere cry appeasement and fear.”

            Such as???

            “Like you they want names and addresses of all the people who this Islam is a Cult of Death.”

            No, I just want you to back up your claims. You claim there are extremists controlling Islam as a whole. I want to know who it is, how they control Islam as a whole, and how you know about this.

            “As I said Who Cares What you think when all you want to do is ask for proof of what you already know is true.”

            Except, of course, I don’t know it is true. Thats just more rhetorical bullshit on your part to do any and everything you can to not have to actually provide any evidence for your radical assertions.

            “You are a typical liberal apologist.”

            I’m not apologizing for anything. I’m asking you to prove to me that what you say is true. You are unwilling to do that, so why should I or anyone else believe you?

            So, would you care to offer ANY evidence for your actual claims, or would you rather go on another rant that will make you look like a bigot and a loon?

          4. What atrocities did I make apology for? You didn’t list any. You just made a vague claim about millions being killed and I asked you for evidence that your claim is accurate.

            Clearly you decided to go with the path of yet another rant that further discredits you rather than actually providing any evidence for your claims.

          5. Den Hickey – Muslims are the ones who suffer the most from Islam – just look at the constant wars, and suicide bombings between Sunni and Shia. This is the most common kind of violence in highly Muslim nations. They also suffer the most by the hands of other Muslims. Look at any country that involves ANY kind of violence that include the mention of Islam and you will notice the killing of “apostates,” adulterers, gay individuals, suicide bombings and so on. This is happening constantly – Now I don’t know of how many people actually died due to the sectarian wars, but I can assure you its probably past a million deaths. Here is the information regarding all (probably?) sectarian violence in islamic countries: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sectarian_violence_among_Muslims

            Lastly – The main issue that causes this violence to occur is something called Islamization (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamization).

            Also, the irony of “liberals” (I am a liberal by almost any definition) is that they often inadvertently support politically correct speech and hence end up – basically anything that ends up offending someone can be punishable by law. Look at Europe and blasphemy as only one among many examples.

            Den Hickey – what is your actual argument in general? What do you think we should do about this “hate” organization? I don’t support the organization, but I do support their freedom to do whatever that may or may not offend people. Do you want their organization banned from drawing cartoons of Mohammad due to muslims getting offended by it? Should we ban the eating of bacon because some Muslims are offended?

            What is your actual solution in these cases?
            I will add, that even if the KKK was doing this, I would support their ability to say whatever they want no matter how offensive. I do not support them, I don’t like them, I think they’re awful human beings, but I will support their freedom to say what they want until the day I die.

            You can’t ban bad speech because bad speech to some can be good speech, and so on. Its idiotic to think you can do this in favor of one group without discriminating against another.

          6. Walter, Thanks for mentioning the groups like CAIR – apologists for Islam constantly fail to see how these organizations are fooling them. One other organization is CAGE and here is an amazing interview you may be interested in if you haven’t seen it: https://youtu.be/afdeFuJbK3E

          7. Amazing, my favorite line was, “What role does society play in the disenfranchisement of these young men”, more politically correct speak for appeasing and apologizing.
            Western Civilization better wake up and begin cleansing themselves of the cancer of liberalism.

  2. I’m not sure if this was your intention, but from your article it was unclear who was shot and killed. Other reports made clear that the two shooters engaged in gunfire exchange with the police at the convention center, which left one security personnel injured and the two gunmen dead. While I think this was a bizarre event, I was glad to learn that none of the participants had been killed, which was my first assumption after reading your article.

      1. Hi Hrag, I appreciate your caution and your lack of sensationalism in covering this incident. You do a great and evenhanded job with your reporting. I’m always happy to see your take on issues and happenings in the art world and beyond.

  3. Thank you for posting uncensored versions of the cartoons/imagery on the side. I don’t necessarily stand with some of these individuals at the event, but I think not cowering in fear is a great step. Yes I’m also a liberal who is not anti muslim, but definitely anti Islam (I’m anti all religion however).

  4. I’m still waiting for a single good reason for anyone to draw mohamed in the first place outside of “because I can!” or paranoid fantasies about how its some sort of rebelious act.

  5. Hard to really have sympathy for anyone here.

    On the one hand, you have a group that intentionally seeks to provoke and offend conservative Muslims for no other reason than to demonstrate that they have the right to do so. Rather than achieving anything, they put lives in danger and deepen ill will and conflict.

    On the other hand, you have some religious fanatics who rose to the bait and decided it would be a good idea to go on a killing spree to prove something to God and the “infidels”.

    I’m all for free speech. If someone used an image of Mohammed for artistic expression or some other constructive reason, they shouldn’t have to fear violent reprisal. But using his image purely to fan the flames of conflict seems like it does nothing but ossify the cycle of suspicion and violence and ultimately undermine people’s ability to speak freely without fear.

    1. I agree with what you say above but I’ll add that if there was a point to be made it was made. We have yet another incident of Muslim outrage that seeks to stiffle free speech violently. There is a pattern of deadly intimidation worldwide. This event while crude, draws attention to a fundamental divergence in values. We as Americans tolerate all kind of offensive speech against Christianity and Judaism etc and let the market place of ideas reject or accept them. In Islamic thought defense of its precepts comes before all else including the preservation of life. This must be fought and rejected rigorously or we will become a society unable to engage in free exchange of ideas.

      1. In this case, I’m not sure that bringing attention to the issue really does anything to improve it. It simply confirms in Muslims’ minds that the West is hostile to Islam and confirms in the Wests’ minds that Islam is a religion of repressive violence. Those are exactly the wrong messages to send in order to create an environment of understanding and reconciliation.

        To draw an analogy, I could approach a husband and wife and start aggressively insulting the wife. If I end up getting punched in the stomach, can I really claim that my right to free speech is being stifled or that men are louts prone to violence? Sort of, but it’s not a productive exercise.

        1. I understand. You are correct…All this did was reinforce stereotypes on either side. Which masks the fact that there are legitimate issues on either side. But…. it’s my belief that they are not equal gripes. Sometimes a spade has to be called a spade even if it is not politically correct. I agree with you that this was not the right approach to shed light on Muslim intolerance of free speech. But that fact still remains an issue.

  6. Why is this article on this site? There is no “art” to review here, only reactionary political provocation.

          1. I think a publication as “radical” as Hyperallergic believes it to be should be able to stomach criticism in the comment section. I’ve never visited a site where editors are so hostile to naysayers, much less prone delete (censor) comments. I simply affirmed that the article was mostly politics, not so much about art. That is common for writing here and seems worth saying,

          2. People, like many women authors did a century ago, write under pen names to protect their identity in prejudicial environments. It’s not cowardice. It’s wisdom.

  7. Looks to me like Geller et al got *exactly* what they wanted. One can only imagine how pleased they must be with themselves right now.

  8. I absolutely welcome “coarse” rhetoric from Pamela Geller who sticks her neck out every damned day reporting the actions of radical islam in the U. S. That’s better then taking a bullet or bomb from some mindless islamist.
    Furthermore, Hyperallergic telegraphs snot-nosed impudence calling Geller coarse given many of the images promoted on this site.

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