By Shelby Webb, Herald Tribune
VENICE - What was billed as a 9/11 memorial service took on elements of an anti-Islamic rally Wednesday, including a lengthy speech by the leader of what has been labeled an anti-Muslim hate group.
An audience of about 500 people, including schoolchildren, gathered at Patriots Park at 10 a.m. to hear remarks by city officials, law enforcement and family members of those who died on 9/11 and the ongoing fight against terrorism.
But three other speakers used the podium to criticize Islam and the policies of President Obama, taking city officials by surprise, including Venice Mayor John Holic, who called the message "extreme."
One speaker was Tom Trento, who heads an organization called The United West, which says its mission is to defend "Western Civilization against Shariah Islam." The United West is based in Lake Mary and is classified as an "anti-Muslim hate group" by the Southern Poverty Law Center.
Trento, whose speech lasted for nearly 30 minutes, told the audience: "I'm not talking about radical Islam or moderate Islam. I'm talking about all Islam. Their goal is to get every single one of us to convert to Islam. And they won't stop until we do."
Mayor Holic stressed that the event was not city-planned and that an organization called Salt of the Earth had rented out the park and organized the event.
"He had some pretty extreme points of view," Holic said of Trento. "I guess pretty extreme is underplaying it a little bit."
Holic said neither he nor any other city officials left during the political and anti-Islam remarks. (Read more)