The leader of Arizona's grassroots anti-Islamist movement, Jon Ritzheimer, can't seem to escape the attention of local and national law enforcement.
He left Arizona about a week and a half ago to drive across the country with Tyler Zarr, a friend who was moving to New Hampshire, and having decided to take his anti-Islam message on the road with him, says he was tracked and contacted multiple times by the FBI and local law enforcement agencies.
At first, authorities were worried that Ritzheimer would incite violence because he posted a video online in which he vowed to confront the publishers of the Islamic Post — or, as he calls them, “those assholes who called me a fucking terrorist” — but as he got closer to the East Coast, tensions escalated.
Since leaving town, Ritzheimer has been hard to reach, but he e-mailed New Times a few photographs from his trip late last week and has spoken periodically with another friend, Gary Hunt, who has chronicled parts of the trip online.
As Ritzheimer and Zarr drove east, they “decided to take some 'tourist' pictures along the way,” Hunt writes on his blog, Outpost of Freedom. “Rather than dwelling on natural history or historical monuments, they opted to take pictures of what they perceived as the intrusion of an evil element into our country.” In addition to taking selfies in front of at least 10 mosques and Islamic centers, Ritzheimer posted a video of himself holding a gun and ranting about President Obama and the Islamic educational organization The Muslims of America, which publishes the Islamic Post:
What’s up America? Jon Ritzheimer here with my brother, Tyler, one of my old high school brothers here, and we’re driving all the way across America, all the way to New York to go see those assholes at the Islamic Post that decided to publish a paper calling me, me, a fucking terrorist in this country.
Fuck you Muslims! Fuck all of you! We’re going to stop at virtually every mosque on the way, take a picture flipping them off, telling them to get fucked!
And Obama, you stupid sorry sack of shit, you wanna come out and say that we’re all afraid of these poor little three-year-old orphans and these widows?
Fuck you! That is not what’s coming over here. And you know what? I’m not afraid! I fear for my family’s safety, but I’m not afraid, because these guys are fucking cowards, and they have shown, time and time again, they do not come and attack hard targets.
Well, guess what? We’re fucking ready for them! Bring it on you Muslim fucks!
You wanna come fuck around in our country, we’re ready for you. So, I’m not afraid. I’m urging all Americans across the U.S., everywhere in public, to start carrying a slung rifle with you, everywhere. Don’t be a victim in your own country. Fuck you, Obama.
According to Tahirah Wadud of The Muslims of America, it was this video that really scared her and others in the group, convincing them that they needed to contact local and federal law enforcement. (As New Times has chronicled before, this is not the first time Ritzheimer has been reported to federal law enforcement.)
“We took it as a death threat, [especially] the brandishing of a gun,” Wadud explains. “We took it as 'I'm coming to kill them.'”
Ritzheimer, however, frames his trip to New York differently: “We also decided . . . that it would be nice to give the Muslims at the Islamic Post a visit to simply give them a piece of our mind in regards to the article they publish[ed] back in June, calling me a terrorist because I organized a pro freedom of speech rally at a Mosque where now five terrorists have come from.”
Ritzheimer made the front page of the Islamic Post this summer in the paper's annual American Taliban issue, a roundup of the most offensive anti-Islamists. "These perpetrators are in fact enemies of this great nation. They are the 'American Taliban,'" the paper says.
Suffice it to say, Wadud says, "[Ritzheimer] did not appreciate that.".
Having just crossed into Pennsylvania on his way to New York, Ritzheimer tells Hunt, “I received a three-way phone call from Special Agent Bridget Walters of the FBI, and a sergeant with New York State Troopers. The FBI agent was nice and respectful during our phone call and the trooper started out respectfully. They then proceeded to tell me that they saw the video of me with a gun and if I cross into New York that I would be arrested.
“I asked them if I could surrender the gun at the state line to them and just get an escort through the state so I could make my destination and they said NO. I asked if I could leave it in Pennsylvania with a friend and they said that they would still search me, give me a hard time, and basically violate my rights because of the video of me with a gun.” Unable to bypass New York, Ritzheimer decided to renege on his promise of constant communication: “Originally, I told Special Agent Walters that I would maintain contact with her and keep her posted on my whereabouts but then after reading state laws and seeing that no matter what they were going to violate my rights, I made the decision that we needed to change our course and shut our phones off and pull out enough money from the nearest ATM so we wouldn’t need to use our debit cards. We had to break communication with law enforcement because they were clearly not going to work with me,” Ritzheimer says.
The New York Post reports that shortly after losing contact with Ritzheimer, the FBI issued an official warning in which it deemed him a “potential threat to law enforcement” and warned the small Muslim community of Islamberg near Hancock, New York, to be extra vigilant.
A spokesman from the FBI Albany office issued the following statement a little while later:
“The FBI vigorously investigates threats and allegations of hate crimes. After recently becoming aware of a video which could have been perceived as threatening against the Muslim community in Hancock, NY, the agency took steps to notify our federal, state and local partners. The FBI and New York State Police have maintained communication with the community to keep them informed of pertinent information. As always, we remain committed to protecting the civil liberties of Americans and make every effort to preserve their safety.”
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Ritzheimer, who forwarded New Times a link to Hunt's website in lieu of commenting, is quoted in the blog post as saying: “If I was going to attack them as they claimed I was headed to do, I would have brought way more firepower, and they never would have known that I was coming. I am a law-abiding citizen and it’s unbelievable what I had to go through due to false reports from Islamic Post and Law Enforcement Officers who claim to be 'just doing their job' when threatening to violate my rights if I cross into their state. Shame on New York State Troopers and shame on the FBI agent who rather than protecting a citizen and their rights fell into the trap set-up by the Muslims who play the victim.”
Though the two travelers made it to New Hampshire without getting caught and apparently without resorting to actual violence, Wadud says, she and others in her organization “don't see this as a false alarm.
“People definitely want to kill Muslims,” she adds, “and his video got a lot of support before it was pulled off Facebook.”