As many as 40,000 people gathered near New York City's Ground Zero Saturday on the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks to protest the planned Islamic center and mosque two blocks away.
But according to Agence France-Presse and other mainstream media outlets, only about 2,000 people participated in the rally. The exceptionally large difference in figures is intentional, claimed organizers of the anti-Park51 demonstration.
"Crickets are chirping in taqiyya (Arabic word for concealing, guarding) media newsroom nationwide (although they were all there)," complained Pamela Geller, who organized the rally. "There has been no coverage."
"We organized a rally of remembrance that dwarfed the opposition. If the America haters had 4,000, we had ten times more," she wrote on her blog, Atlas Shrugs, disputing reports claiming that the dueling protests over the mosque were evenly matched. "The media is playing the dueling rallies; it was no such thing."
At the rally against the mosque, international figures were featured, including controversial Dutch anti-Islam MP Geert Wilders.
"We must never give a free hand to those who want to subjugate us," Wilders said. "Draw this line so that New York … will never become New Mecca."
Former U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton also spoke to rally participients, albeit via video. In a message much milder than Wilders', Bolton focused on honoring the nearly 3,000 victims of the 9/11 attacks and explaining why the Park51 idea is "unappealing. "
"It (Park51) is a very strange enterprise that says we want to increase religious tolerance and understanding and if you don't agree with that we are going to increase religious intolerance and understanding whether you like it or not," said Bolton. "That is a very unappealing face to put on the supposed effort behind the mosque."
The former U.S. ambassador, who has expressed interest in running for president in 2012, also took issue with past comments made by Park51 visionary Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf after the Sept. 11 attacks. Rauf, Bolton pointed out, has said the United States was an "accessory" to 9/11, Osama bin Laden was made in the USA, and the United States has more blood on its hands than the terrorists. The imam has also refused to call Hamas a terrorist organization.
"I think that all of this demonstrates that people are entirely justified in raising questions what the true motives of the mosque's proponents are," Bolton said.
Nelly Braginsky, whose son Alex died in the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001, reiterated the now familiar argument of insensitivity on Saturday. Braginsky said the Park51 proposal is like building "a mosque on top of a cemetery."
"This is not about freedom of religion," she said, directly addressing the center's main argument. "It's about geography."
A newly released Public Religion Research Institute/Religion News Service poll suggests that the majority of Americans agree with Braginsky's geography argument. According to the poll, 57 percent of Americans oppose allowing Park51 to be built two blocks from the former WTC site. But the poll also found 76 percent of Americans – including the majorities of religious groups across the spectrum – support the building of a mosque in their own local community.
"Despite recent stories that seemed to indicate widespread opposition to mosques around the country, our survey shows Americans are making a distinction between the proposed Islamic community center and mosque in New York City and mosques in their local communities," remarked Dr. Robert P. Jones, CEO of PRRI, in a statement.
Saturday's rally against the planned Muslim center was held a day after hundreds of New Yorkers gathered at the corner of Church Street and Park Place to support the project and to oppose anti-Muslim sentiments.
U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress, was the special guest speaker at the evening event.
During the event, Ellison urged New Yorkers to not respond with fear but to stand together as Americans.
"We are emphatically together and we can't be torn apart based on religion or based on anything," he said.
The Muslim congressman asked Friday's crowd to not turn the 9/11 anniversary into a platform to argue about the NYC mosque. But that is how the things went later on in the day after more somber observances in the morning.
In Lower Manhattan, shouting matches broke out on sidewalks between members of the opposing rallies and police had to stop a man who started to burn pages from a Quran.
According to a New York Times poll released earlier this month, two-thirds of New Yorkers – including some who support the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near Ground Zero – say leaders of the project should find a location further from the 9/11 crash site.
Nationally, only 29 percent of Americans favor construction of the Muslim facility, according to a NN/Opinion Research Corporation Poll last month.