MULBERRY — The Rev. Terry Jones’ plan to set fire Wednesday to nearly 3,000 Qurans in a Mulberry public park may be thwarted not by a bomb-toting jihadist but by good ol’ American red tape.
Jones, whose 15-member church in Gainesville sparked Muslim ire around the globe in 2010 when he burned a copy of the Islamic holy book on the lawn of his Gainesville church, plans to burn 2,998 Qurans — one for each victim of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on New York, Washington and Pennsylvania — in a Polk County public park.
To do that, he needs a facilities-use permit, which he doesn’t have or plan on getting.
“The talk is that we could be arrested,” Jones said last week. “We have tried to file for permits, but we feel that a permit is just an excuse to turn us down. No matter what, we will go on with the event anyway. We will go ahead and do it, we will not stop. We are prepared to be arrested.”
Jones had planned to carry out the holy-book burning on private property in Mulberry, but the land owner backed out, Jones said.
“He was under a lot of pressure from local authorities there,” Jones said. “According to him, he was threatened with arrest and he was concerned about losing his job; that he would get fired from his job.”
The Quran burning is planned for 5 p.m. Wednesday, the 12th anniversary of the terrorist attacks. Jones said he decided to keep the event in Mulberry because he wanted to stay near the original location that had been advertised on his website.
Jones said he expects as many as a couple hundred supporters and protesters to attend the event inside the sprawling Loyce E. Harpe County Park on Carter Road, east of Church Avenue, a few miles north of downtown Mulberry.
He said the books will be torched in an incinerator which he plans to bring with him. “Three-thousand books,” he said, “that’s a lot of books.”
County officials stand ready to block the event, not because of what’s going to transpire there, but because proper channels were ignored in getting permission to use the park, said Mianne Nelson, spokeswoman for the Polk County Commission.
Such an activity, she said, requires a permit to use the county park. She said Jones has not notified anyone of his plans to use county property.
“He’s not doing it in a county park,” she said last week. “There still is no application filed to do this. Per our ordinances, with an event of this magnitude, he would first have to fill out an application.”
Processing the application can take up to two weeks, she said.
Polk County sheriff’s deputies are not revealing any plans they might have regarding security for the event.
“We have no response,” said Carrie Eleazer, spokeswoman for the department when asked what presence deputies will have at the park on Wednesday.
Jones has incensed Muslims in the United States and abroad with his rhetoric. His first Quran burning three years ago drew the attention of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who along with military leaders urged Jones not to go through with the stunt, saying it would endanger U.S. troops in Afghanistan and across the Middle East.
Jones relented and torched only one Quran. Since then, he has held mock trials with the Quran and the Muslim prophet Muhammad as defendants and found them guilty of various crimes.
For the most part, Mulberry residents are shrugging off the preacher’s stunt.
“Why would he pick on Mulberry?” asked Christy Bowen, owner of Christy’s Styling Salon in downtown.”Mulberry is a nice place and we don’t need him. I think he’s kind of crazy, too.”
Still, she said, a spectacle is a spectacle.
“I might drop by to see what it’s all about.”
Shirley White of Mulberry said the Quran burning could result in violence and not just in her town.
Jihadists “are going to kill our people to make up for him burning those Qurans,” she said. “He should be trying to protect the people in our country.”
“It’s probably a bad thing,” said Frosty Capps, a barber in the downtown Brown’s Barber Shop. “I think he’s trying to get attention. But why Mulberry? And why mess with peoples’ religions?”
Roberta Norris watched her dog, Teddy, romp around the dog park at Loyce E. Harpe County Park last week. She hadn’t heard about the event, but wondered why the reverend would burn sacred books to make a point.
“I don’t like it when they burn ours, why should we do that to them?” she asked. “It doesn’t make sense. This is a dog park. This is a kids’ park.”