Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Sept. 11 Event's Tone Stirs a Debate

Newspaper article Sarasota Herald Tribune

Sept. 11 Event's Tone Stirs a Debate

Article excerpt

VENICE: When anti-Islam speakers take stage, what is the proper response?

VENICE

An apologetic Venice Mayor John Holic said after reflecting on anti-Islamic remarks made by guest speakers at a 9/11 ceremony, he wished he'd acted differently.

Amid a backlash Thursday, Holic said the city is discussing ways for city officials to avoid appearing at events with inflammatory speakers such as Tom Trento, who told the crowd gathered at Patriots Park that "Islam is the enemy" and that the "Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated America."

The mayor and three other Venice City Council members who attended the event were criticized for not leaving their seats on stage behind the podium or immediately objecting to Trento's speech, which lasted nearly 30 minutes.

"When stuff like that starts happening, it doesn't immediately sink in," Holic said. "Once you have a day to reflect on it, it's obvious that it was a pathetic display during a somber and very meaningful memorial service."

But another City Council member at the ceremony thought some overreacted to Trento's speech. Councilman Emilio Carlesimo said that while some of Trento's message was extreme, he agreed with Trento's general sentiment.

"I have not seen one Muslim cleric or person come forward and disavow some of these Muslim extremist attacks," Carlesimo said Thursday. "I had a mixed review of the speech, but it didn't offend me and it certainly roused the crowd."

Trento is the executive director of The United West, an organization identified by the Southern Poverty Law Center as one of 34 anti-Muslim hate groups in the United States.

According to the center, The United West says that Muslims and liberals in the U.S. are part of a secret alliance "committed to destroying Jews and Christians." Mark Potok, a senior fellow with the Southern Poverty Law Center, said although thousands of groups in the nation are critical of Islam, few reach the level of The United West.

"They are a vicious, conspiracy-minded, Muslim-bashing group," Potok said of The United West.

Robert McDonnell, who lives in South Venice, said the fact that Mayor Holic and other council members stayed at the event symbolized a tacit endorsement of Trento's message.

"If the speaker had used the opportunity to express anti-black or anti-Semitic feelings, does (Mayor Holic) expect us to believe he would have sat there and tolerated those remarks?" McDonnell asked. "I think this is atrocious that (Holic and city council members) were unwilling to take any sort of action when hate became the theme of the meeting."

A relative of a man killed in the 9/11 attacks, who spoke at Wednesday's ceremony, said he was outraged that Trento was allowed to use the ceremony as a political platform.

Tom Murphy, whose 36-year-old son, Patrick Sean Murphy, was on the 97th floor of the the World Trade Center's North Tower, said he had never heard of Trento before the Wednesday ceremony and hopes he will never hear of him again. …

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