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By Josh Peterson
Approximately 1,000 people made it to the Manchester-Coffee County Conference Center Tuesday night for the highly anticipated forum entitled “Public Disclosure in a Diverse Society.”
Many of them were there to protest.
The event, sponsored by the American Muslim Advisory Council of Tennessee (AMAC), was advertised as a discussion and explanation of the Muslim faith meant to spread information about the religion and reassure people that American Muslims aren’t to be feared.
But there wasn’t much understanding or discussion going on.
Protesters and hecklers constantly interrupted speakers of the event, including keynote speaker Bill Killian, the U.S. Attorney of the Eastern Division of Tennessee. Killian was in attendance to explain the difference between free speech and speech that can be interpreted as hate speech or threats.
At one point, the crowd even booed at photos of Muslim soldiers serving in the US armed forces and cheered at a picture of a burned down Columbia mosque.
According to The Tennessean, attendee Elaine Smith, 55, of Bedford County, said she feared the audience.
“I came here because I wanted to learn something … but I couldn’t hear because the audience was so disrespectful,” Smith told The Tennessean, one of many regional media outlets in attendance. “I cried when I got here. It makes me really sad especially because these people say they’re Christians. The God I worship doesn’t teach hate.”
FBI Special Agent Kenneth Moore, who is in charge of the FBI’s Knoxville division was also on hand to speak.
“People think we want to step on and stifle their First Amendment rights,” Moore said through loud boos. “Nothing could be further from the truth.”
Officials estimated the crowd to be around 1,000 people – many of which protested in front of the building prior to the event with nationally-known political activist Pamela Geller on hand to lead the way.
Despite the shouting and constant jabs, the crowd didn’t resort to violence. Area law enforcement had an increased presence at the event in anticipation of the large crowd but no arrests were made.
“Our guys were thick skinned,” said Manchester Police Department Assistant Chief Adam Floied. “They took a beating when they had to shut the doors [when the building reached capacity] and they took some verbal abuse but other than that it went OK. They handled that well. Everything else went pretty well.”
The event was scheduled by the AMAC in the wake of a Facebook post by Coffee County Commissioner Barry West that showed a man taking aim on a double-barrel shotgun with the title “How to wink at a Muslim.” The post drew national attention. West quickly removed the post and has since apologized. …
Read the complete, in-depth story in next week’s (June 12) print edition of the Manchester Times. Click here to subscribe to the print and /or full online version of the paper.