By Jared Chausow
By Katie Toth
By Elizabeth Flock
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By Jon Campbell
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Eleven years ago, Pamela Geller declared war on savages who were trying to take over the world. This November, she admits she lost.
"They say I'm a racist, Islamophobic, anti-Muslim bigot," she complains to me, about me, about the liberal media.
"So where would you consider yourself on that spectrum?" I start.
"What I've always said," she explains, bristling. "I'm anti-jihad." Jihad is Arabic for "struggle," though Muslim extremists and their enemies alike have taken its usage in the Koran to mean "holy war."
"They've never described me that way. Ever. They've never described me as anti-jihad. They say I'm anti-Muslim. I'm not anti-Muslim.
"I don't see how anyone could say I'm anti-Muslim," she says. "I love Muslims."
Geller's war started on a Tuesday. It was beautiful outside, so, naturally, Geller, a rich housewife and a mother to four daughters, was on the beach on Long Island's South Shore. She was staring to the west, toward Manhattan. A skyscraper was burning.
She ran inside her house and turned on the television. Anchors were reporting that a plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. She ran back outside, mouthing the same thing millions of Americans were echoing across the country. "What moronic . . ." Then she saw the second plane hit. That's when she knew what was happening, when Geller's world fell apart.
Before 9/11, Geller's life was uneventful. She was the quintessential New York trophy wife: She grew up traveling to and from the city, moved there after dropping out of Hofstra, worked in the city, married rich, had kids, and retired to Long Island to raise her children. She passed the days reading Details and studying up on music, art, and fashion. A few years later, she would have been perfect material for The Real Housewives. (She would receive close to $10 million after divorcing her husband in 2007 and collecting life insurance from his death in 2008.)
The terrorist attacks traumatized her.
"My premise was false," Geller says. In a single morning, America's façade of invincibility was shattered. Geller stood by, useless and helpless, as nearly 3,000 innocents were slaughtered. She was so out of touch she'd never heard of Osama bin Laden before.
Two planes hit the towers, and one hit the Pentagon. A fourth, United Airlines Flight 93 from Newark to San Francisco, was hijacked as well and steered toward Washington, D.C. But the passengers fought the jihadi terrorists, and the plane crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania. Forty-four people died, including the four hijackers, but the passengers saved hundreds of lives in the process, maybe more.
"The idea that those passengers on that plane all got together—that was a distinctly American response," Geller tells me. "They didn't need anyone to save them. They tried to save themselves."
"Do you think that was distinctly American?" I ask.
"Yes," she says. "I do."
"You don't think someone in"—I pick a random country—"Brazil or something would have done the same?"
"I don't know," Geller says. "But to me, it's an exemplar of American exceptionalism. It's not an elitist thing. American exceptionalism is individual exceptionalism. It's the exaltation of the individual. If you give an individual the freedom to be free, this is what they will do.
"America was the first moral government in the history of the world based on individual rights," she says. "There were definitely mistakes made—the idea of slavery—but if you go back and read the establishment of the United States . . . the problem was you couldn't get those Southern states to go along," she says. "That's why compromise is not necessarily a good thing. Because in any compromise between good and evil, evil profits."
The 9/11 attack was the most evil thing Geller could imagine. She felt we were at war with a group of people who played by a different set of rules. Savages.
She had to do something. So she learned about Islam, jihad, and sharia, the religion's code of law. Growing up, she was largely apolitical but always championed women's rights. She was particularly disturbed by women under sharia who were treated as second-class citizens. She read about women and young girls alike being beaten, raped, murdered. But the more she studied the religion, the more social issues took a backseat to her belief that Islam itself needed to be defeated.
"All these other issues are luxuries. I mean, if you ain't got your head," she says, "what's abortion gonna do for you?"
America slowly healed, but Geller had fundamentally changed. She says she was reborn. Along with it came a visceral fear.
"It's not some jingoism," she says. "It's your country. Where you gonna go? You won't like what comes after America."
She began to read and comment on conservative blogs, especially Robert Spencer's. Spencer is an anti-Muslim author decried by many as a bigoted mudslinger. In 2004, a fellow commenter sent her a template for a blog.
"They said, 'Start blogging.' And I was like: 'Blogging? I don't know anything about blogging,'" Geller says. "Then I remembered this: 'Shut up and start writing.' That's what I did. I shut up and started writing." A self-professed capitalist, Geller named it Atlas Shrugs after Ayn Rand's book. "And I've never stopped. I've literally never taken a day off."