TAMPA — They are a who's who in the campaign against radical Islam. The lineup includes a man who helped inspire U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann to investigate Muslims in the government and a publisher who argues that school textbooks are too sympathetic to Islam.
And speaking among them today will be Hillsborough County School Board member Stacy White.
The east Hillsborough pharmacist said he is not bothered that some view the group of speakers as extremist and intolerant or the topic as unfitting on a day when the world mourns victims of a terror attack.
The host, School Board candidate Terry Kemple, said the day is indeed appropriate.
"9/11 is a day to remember what happened, the people who were killed," he said. "And it's a reminder to be vigilant to ensure it doesn't happen again."
The day's events, organized by several groups, are scheduled to begin with an 11:30 a.m. prayer vigil in downtown Tampa and end with a movie screening at the River Church in Seffner. White's appearance is scheduled during a 1:45 p.m. news conference at the School District headquarters. The speakers also are expected at the 3 p.m. board meeting.
Kemple and White have tried for months to get the district to issue guidelines about guest speakers in classrooms, an issue that arose after Hassan Shibly of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) visited Steinbrenner High School last year.
White says the current system is too lax. Kemple objects to speakers from CAIR and other groups he says have terrorist ties.
"It is very shameful that Kemple would do a disservice to the victims of Sept. 11 by using the memory of that day to promote hatred and bigotry to advance his political ambitions," said Shibly, CAIR's Tampa executive director, adding "it is very disturbing that Stacy White would share the stage with extremists."
Shibly said he plans to mark the anniversary by helping lead an interfaith service at the University of Tampa.
Kemple has brought some of today's speakers to School Board meetings before, including Melvin Bledsoe, whose son was convicted of murdering a U.S. soldier after what was described as an indoctrination into radical Islam.
Also included are Bill Korach, author of the Report Card online magazine that examines cultural influences on schools, and Guy Rodgers, executive director of ACT! for America. ACT! on its website promises to take action "whether the specific threat is violent jihad, stealth jihad, the advance of sharia law, the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood, or the scourge of political correctness which is enabling the rise of radical Islam."
In a largely background role will be Randy McDaniels, founder of Jacksonville ACT!, who waged a campaign there when former CAIR chairman Parvez Ahmed, a University of North Florida professor, was named to the city Human Rights Commission.
Another speaker is Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan adviser who founded the Center for Security Policy.
Recently, he lauded Bachmann for her vigilance on Islamic influences in the federal government. In a letter printed in her hometown newspaper, Bachmann credited Gaffney's research.
What does all this have to do with Hillsborough schools?
White said since the controversy over Shibly's visit to Steinbrenner, he has been trying to get the School District to tighten controls over speakers.
"My message will be brief," he said. "I continue to believe the School Board should enact some form of policy about speakers in the schools."
He was concerned that Shibly's lecture touched on anti-Muslim stereotypes. "Issues like these are best left up to families to discuss in the home," he said.
When asked if he shares the views of organizations concerned about Islamic influence, White said, "I definitely think there are folks who wish to implement sharia law. Of course that does not apply to all Muslims."
Added Kemple: "there are certain people who consider me an extremist. But most people in the United States don't know the issue. It's a stealth campaign. So we wish to shine light on the issue."
The School Board briefly considered discussing the speakers issue at today's meeting. But member April Griffin asked that the matter be taken off the agenda out of respect for the solemnity of the day.
When asked Monday about White's participation, she said, "It's his right to do what he wants to do, and I respect him for that."
But she said White should be careful of appearances. Just as critics paint Shibly as a terror supporter because of some CAIR connections, "people might be able to do the same thing with Stacy White" if he stands with anti-Islamists, she said.
Chairwoman Candy Olson also defended White's right to participate in the news conference. "Here's the catch about democracy," she said. "Everybody gets to say what they want, and Dr. White is part of everybody."
She recalled the first anniversary commemoration of Sept. 11, in the pouring rain on Bayshore Boulevard, when a diverse crowd stayed "because we felt that it was important to be together as Americans on that day," she said.
"9/11 should be a day for respectful, very careful and very mindful reflection about what happened and about our place in the world," she said.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]