FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (CN) – An anti-Islam activist claims in court that the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations defamed him by taking his statement about burning local mosques out of context.
David L. Rosenthal says in a lawsuit filed last week in Broward County Circuit Court that the Council on American-Islamic Relations unjustly reported him to law enforcement for his January 2016 Facebook post that said, “Someone remind me of why I should not burn every mosque in my geographical area.”
He claims the comment was covered in the local news, with Rosenthal mentioned by name in a CBS-12 story about rising Islamophobia in South Florida.
The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a response to Rosenthal’s post on Jan. 12.
“A threat to burn down mosques is a blunt hate crime; and should be investigated and eventually prosecuted as such,” Wilfredo Ruiz, communications director for CAIR Florida, wrote on the group’s website.
But Rosenthal, who proudly espouses his desire to eliminate Islam in the U.S., claims his statement was not a threat.
He points out that, in the Facebook post, he added a statement rejecting his own contemplation of arson: “After some thought, I have concluded that I would not burn a mosque, since I do not want to risk causing loss of life.”
Rosenthal’s Facebook post went on to highlight his desire to ban Islam, stating that mosques could be repurposed as “single-room-occupancy centers to house the homeless.”
“Inexcusably, CAIR FL deliberately excluded the rest of the comment that plaintiff posted on his Facebook page, which clarified that Plaintiff neither intends to burn mosques nor suggests that mosques should be burned, but rather that mosques should not … be burned,” Rosenthal’s Nov. 21 libel lawsuit states.
His complaint stresses freedom of speech: “The watchword here is Liberty. As citizens and advocates in this great free society … inhabitants must be wise and vigilant enough to recognize the danger of our times. If fear and political correctness immobilize freedom of spirit, then Americans will become less of a free people. If an American is afraid to criticize Judaism, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism or the tenets of Islam and Sharia Law, then the institution of American freedom is in jeopardy.”
Rosenthal claims CAIR Florida’s conduct damaged “his good name and reputation.”
He seeks $5 million in damages and a court order forcing CAIR Florida and nonparty CBS-12 News to remove the allegedly defamatory reports about him from their websites.
Miami attorney David Rowe is representing Rosenthal in the case.
CAIR Florida is listed as a defendant, alongside its communications director and chief executive director.
The group responded to the lawsuit in an interview with Courthouse News.
“We only got involved when we believed there was a safety and security issue at stake. Otherwise we have a policy of not reacting to this individual,” Ruiz told Courthouse News by phone.
Ruiz, an attorney who served in the Navy as a JAG Corps officer in the mid-1990s, said Rosenthal is “living in an alternate reality” propounded by an evermore vocal group of anti-Islam crusaders.
“These people adopt this discourse that Muslims are bad for our country, and the religion should be banned,” Ruiz said. “They just regurgitate the idea that every Islamic organization is a threat. Any time there is an organized Muslim group, they claim it is a threat.”
“If I explain to [Rosenthal] that I shared quarters with rabbis, pastors and priests when I worked as a chaplain in the military, he wouldn’t get it. He doesn’t understand how our system works,” Ruiz said.
According to Ruiz, CAIR Florida wrote an article on Rosenthal’s perceived Facebook threat and reported him to police upon seeing his language about burning mosques. Rosenthal walked back his mosque-burning rhetoric “after the fact,” Ruiz said.
He said Rosenthal is part of an industry of Islamophobia, which has grown into a multimillion-dollar business.
According to Ruiz, the industry appears to have been galvanized by President-elect Donald Trump and his proposed plan to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. “until our country’s representatives can figure out what the hell is going on.”
“The Muslim community is witnessing a presidency that is showing early signs of being aligned in the highest spheres of power with people that were associated with the white supremacist movement and the so-called alt-right,” Ruiz said.
Ruiz pointed to Trump’s appointment of Michael Flynn, who said at a Dallas gathering that “Islam is a political ideology; it definitely hides behind this notion of being a religion.”
In another speech, in Massachusetts, Flynn asserted that certain Florida state senators “voted to impose Sharia Law at the local and state level,” a statement that misconstrues those senators’ vote against SB386, which aimed to restrict the application of foreign law and the certification of foreign judgments.
“I foresee hard times to come,” Ruiz said.
Rosenthal’s anti-Islam stance previously surfaced in South Florida news when he campaigned to have Muslim Deputy Nezar Hamze booted out of the Broward County Sheriff’s Department.
Rosenthal made unsubstantiated accusations that the deputy is a “terrorist,” and criticized the man for being a regional director of CAIR Florida.
Claiming there is a “stealth” effort to impose Sharia Law in the area, Rosenthal announced earlier this year that he was initiating a run for Broward County Sheriff so he could get rid of Hamze. Whether the campaign was a publicity stunt is unclear, but according to the Broward County Supervisor of Elections’ website, Rosenthal did not appear on the ballot.
Rosenthal’s GoFundMe webpage for his campaign indicates he raised $630 of his $10,700 goal.
Hamze is also listed as a defendant in the libel lawsuit, apparently in his capacity as a member of CAIR. He is widely known for his appearance on “The Daily Show” after now-failed congressional candidate Joe Kaufman lobbied to block his membership to a Republican Party executive committee based on his association with the Muslim advocacy group.
Rosenthal’s lawsuit comes at a tense time for Muslim American relations in Florida.
Mass murderer Omar Mateen’s June attack on an Orlando gay club, during which he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State, seems to have inflamed anti-Islam sentiments around the state.
A handful of Florida mosques have been subjected to vandalism and arson attempts in recent months, including the Fort Pierce mosque that Mateen had attended, which was damaged in a September arson incident.
CAIR, meanwhile, has been receiving increasing criticism from those who label it as a radical organization, despite its repeated public denouncement of terrorism and the Islamic State.
In one press release, CAIR said, “American Muslims view the actions of ISIS as un-Islamic and morally repugnant. No religion condones the murder of civilians, the beheading of religious scholars or the desecration of houses of worship.”
CAIR critics have nonetheless chided the group for certain members’ alleged ties to Hamas. Critics frequently claim that CAIR’s founders were previous members of the Islamic Association of Palestine, which purportedly raised money for Hamas.