DEARBORN, Mich. — The Rev. Terry Jones’ rally for free-speech rights at Dearborn City Hall Friday night degenerated into chaos as several hundred protesters broke through police lines and rushed toward the controversial Florida pastor.
The outburst occurred about an hour into Mr. Jones’ Stand Up America Now protest on the steps of city hall, which had a large American flag flying over its cupola under clear blues skies.
When the minister removed a wireless microphone from the podium and strode down the steps toward Michigan Avenue, a crowd of about 600 that had been restricted to a sidewalk across the street broke through wooden barricades and Dearborn police, storming across the busy four-lane road.
Mr. Jones began reciting the Pledge of Allegiance over and over as riot police swept into the crowd and slowly pushed the anti-Jones protesters back across the street.
The angry protesters threw shoes and bottles, tossed cups of liquid, and shouted at Mr. Jones and his group of about 50 supporters, who stood behind a separate police barricade in front of city hall.
Nobody was hurt in the fracas, but police took away several anti-Jones protesters, their hands cuffed behind them with plastic zip-ties.
“I thought they were going to eat him alive,’’ said Sam Farag, 26, a Muslim from Dearborn.
Mr. Jones, whose Dove World Outreach Center church burned a Qur’an after a mock trial last month, returned to this Detroit suburb one week after the city thwarted his plans to hold a Good Friday protest against radical Islam.
The minister had planned to stage last week’s rally on public property in front of the Islamic Center of America, the largest mosque in North America, in this city of 98,000 that also has the largest Arab-American population in the nation.
From the start, Mr. Jones’ words were difficult to hear as the protesters shouted and chanted — some using bullhorns — drowning out the rally’s PA system. Passing cars and trucks, meanwhile, honked their horns almost nonstop and a police helicopter hovered nearby.
Mr. Jones, 59, wearing a leather jacket and jeans, decried the April 22 trial in Michigan’s 19th District Court in which a jury found him and his associate, the Rev. Wayne Sapp, likely to breach the peace. The pastors were ordered to pay a $1 peace bond and stay away from the mosque. Then they were jailed until they posted bond a few hours later.
That trial lasted all day into the evening, forcing Mr. Jones and Mr. Sapp to postpone their planned rally.
In his speech Friday night, Mr. Jones shouted that “we are not governed by the Qur’an, we are not governed by Sharia law, and we will never be governed by Sharia! We are governed by the Constitution of the United States of America!”
He criticized Judge Mark Somers for imposing the bond, saying it was a violation of his First Amendment rights to free speech and free assembly. He also blasted the media for their coverage of the trial and of his ongoing protests against radical Islam.
“It is not your job to tell us what to think. It is not your job to label us,” Mr. Jones said, glaring at reporters.
The crowd across the street, meanwhile, continued to shout, chanting at various times, “USA, USA,” and “Dearborn, let’s make it clear, racist bigots aren’t welcome here.”
Standing amid the protesters was Rabih Elkadri, 41, of Dearborn, holding aloft a Qur’an in one hand and a Bible in the other.
“Enough is enough,” Mr. Elkadri said. “As a Muslim, I respect all religions. He’s looking for media and he’s getting it. He should respect our religion and he should respect his own gray hair and act his age.”
Moe Farag, 40, said he came to America from Lebanon 27 years ago and he loves this country.
“We all respect America, we all respect the law. We don’t respect people like him. He’s prejudiced. You can have your opinion, but you can’t come to our city to bother people.”
Mr. Sapp, a pastor at Mr. Jones’ Gainesville church, also spoke on the city hall steps, preaching messages about First Amendment rights and biblical truths.
He asserted that being jailed last week on a charge of breaching the peace without getting a chance to leave the courtroom to speak at the rally was an example of Islam’s religious law, Sharia, creeping into civil law in the United States.
“Sharia was here. We’re here to point that out,” Mr. Sapp said. “There is definitely a real threat of radical Islam in America.”
He also preached that Christianity is the only true religion and he chastised U.S. ministers who participate in interfaith gatherings.
“The church and cowardly pastors have not done their jobs. What fellowship can light have with darkness?”
He said American Christians need to “clean house” and “get the house of God in order.”
After Mr. Sapp spoke, Mr. Jones returned to the podium and took the microphone down the steps, sparking the showdown with protesters.
The rally ended shortly after the confrontation.
Mr. Jones spoke briefly with the media afterward and said he walked toward the street because he wanted to get the protesters to join him in reciting the Pledge of Allegiance.
Carolyn Van Zorge, 59, of New York City said she drove from New York because she supports Mr. Jones’ First Amendment rights.
Kaye Kotzian of Livonia, Mich., also showed up to support Mr. Jones’ free-speech rights. She denounced his stance against Islam, but held a sign that said, “Don’t Stomp on My American Rights!”
She said last week’s trial could set a dangerous precedent.
Her husband, Ralph Kotzian, said “that’s the kind of trial they held in the Soviet Union. I could see it there, but not in America.”
Mr. Jones kept his word to city officials that he would not burn a Qur’an in Dearborn, nor would he violate his bond by going near the Islamic Center of America. He said earlier this week that he plans to protest outside a mosque in Detroit at some as-yet-undetermined time.
Contact David Yonke at: Dyonke@theblade.com or 419-724-6154.