Terry Jones, the Gainesville preacher who has enraged Muslims around the world with his Quran burnings and mock trials of the prophet Muhammad, is about to sell his 20-acre Dove World Outreach Center and says he will be moving his 15-member congregation to Tampa.
The deal to sell the Alachua County land is scheduled to close on July 15. Jones said he is eyeing Tampa because he is familiar with the area — he and his wife already own a condominium on Treasure Island — and the small university town of Gainesville has never really embraced his message.
“Tampa is a much larger area,” he said. “Gainesville has a small mentality. The whole world here revolves around whether the Gators will win a football game. We’re more concerned about national and global events.
“We are going full steam ahead for the Tampa Bay area,” he said. “We definitely have support in the Tampa Bay area.”
Jones has evolved in the past few years from the pastor of a tiny rural church into a lightning rod for Muslim extremists. He has written a book titled “Islam is of the Devil” and sells T-shirts espousing the same message.
The reaction among local, moderate Muslims: a shrug of the shoulders.
He is coming to a region that is home to some 50,000 Muslims, said Hassan Shibly, executive director of the Council on American-Islamist Relations in Tampa. He said some people in the area may support Jones’ message but not many.
“They can form the Islamophobia all-stars,” Shibly said. “But honestly, we are not concerned about it. He’s a nobody; a crazy bigot with hate-filled followers. But they are welcome to practice wherever they wish. It’s a free country.”
Shibly said ignoring Jones is CAIR’s most effective countermeasure.
“Such hatred and such bigotry and such intolerance just brings together the moderates in the community,” he said. “I think the American people as a whole have rejected his message of hatred.”
Jones planned to move his ministry to Tampa in 2010 but never did, mostly because the sale of his property in Alachua County did not go through. This time, though, the sale of his Alachua County property is “100 percent a done deal,” he said.
“We’re definitely looking at the Tampa Bay area and we will be moving to that area. That is very firm.”
“We’ve had this property for all those years and it’s paid off,” Jones said from his Gainesville headquarters. “So we will get the financial benefit to selling this property and using that money to obtain new property and to facilitate our mission, which is getting our message out regarding radical Islam.”
Jones burst onto the religious/political scene in 2010 when he announced his first Quran burning, which drew protests from across the state, nation and world.
Critics have said Jones’ antics have stoked violence across the globe with his anti-Muslim message; he says the message is directed only at radical Islamists.
Jones said he knows his church has its detractors.
“We’ve received many emails in support and many emails telling us don’t come here, we don’t want you here,” he said. “The Muslim community in Tampa won’t be that happy with us coming.”
He said a planned burning of 2,998 Qurans on Sept. 11 is still a go and will happen in Tampa, though a location is yet to be determined.
He said the 15 members of his church are willing to uproot themselves and move to Tampa with the preacher.
Also coming along are the death threats that Jones receives almost on a daily basis, he said.
“I have received between 300 and 400 death threats,” he said. “Of course, we are concerned. I am armed. I always carry my weapon with me. I am in constant contact with the FBI, which calls me on a regular basis to let me know of any threats out there.”