The first evening of the hottest weekend so far this summer kicked off with a group of several hundred motorcyclists rallying outside the Islamic Community Center in central Phoenix. The protest was dubbed the “Freedom of Speech Rally Round 2,” copy-catting a similar event in Texas earlier in May organized by activist Pamela Gellar, who encouraged attendees to draw cartoons of Mohammed in an affront to the Islamic commandment not to make images of their prophet. Two gunmen opened fire outside of that event in Garland, Texas, and were killed by police. They were suspected followers of radical Islam. One had been investigated earlier for reportedly trying to join a militant group in Somalia.
Those gunmen were from Phoenix and were believed to have worshipped at the Islamic Community Center. While the tension Friday electrified the crowd, it never erupted into physical violence. Still, attendees were rattled, and loud noises—motorcycles revving or the pounding of several news choppers overhead—seemed to make everyone jump.
“These are my neighbors,” said Estle, who also lives in Phoenix and attends Orangewood Nazarene Church, next door to the mosque. He said when he heard about the rally, he contacted his friend, Usama Shami, who heads the mosque. Shami asked Estle if he could organize a group of people to show love and support for the Muslim community that worships there.