The Florida Security Council, a counterterrorism organization targeting the growing threat of radical Islamic terrorism, filed a lawsuit Wednesday against the Marriott Hotel in Delray Beach, Fla., for breach of contract for its abrupt cancellation of an appearance by controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders.
The council was sponsor of a free speech summit and conference in April in South Florida honoring Wilders.
The cancellation of the event came as a complete surprise to security council Director Tom Trento, who stated, "The fact that the Marriott sent me an e-mail at 7 p.m. on a Friday night canceling our well-planned event made it very plain to me that something was up. I suspected there was more here than a breach of contract."
Wilders, a member of Parliament in the Netherlands and leader of the Party for Freedom, has been outspoken on the issues of Islamic extremism and freedom of speech. His views, including a call for a ban on the Quran, have forced him into guarded isolation.
Even before the international release of his provocative 2008 film documentary "Fitna," Wilders' name reportedly had appeared on assassination lists. The controversial film shows selected excerpts from Suras of the Quran interspersed with media clips and newspaper clippings showing or describing Muslim acts of violence and/or hatred.
For his views, Wilders also has been the focus of international protests and is the subject of an al-Qaida death fatwa. He has been banned in the United Kingdom, indicted in his own country for violating hate-speech laws, and wanted in Jordan for speaking out against Islam.
The lawsuit that the security council filed against Ocean Properties Ltd., owner and operator of the Delray Beach Marriott, contends there may have been external circumstances involving unnamed groups and individuals that pressured the Marriott into canceling the contract.
"We think there may be some evidence pointing that way," Trento said Wednesday at a news conference in West Palm Beach, Fla., where the lawsuit was filed. “We’re not playing games here, and this breach of contract suit is going to enable us to use the full force of the law, and the full force of our capability to use our investigating assets to look into whether or not the Marriott unilaterally, within and of themselves, breached our contract, and if they did, for what reasons."
Just a few weeks after the scheduled event in South Florida, which was moved to nearby Boca Raton, Wilders' participation in another free speech summit and conference on Islam at a Loews hotel in Nashville, Tenn., in May, also was canceled, raising the Florida Security Council's concerns that something was amiss.
Thomas A. Negri, managing director of Loew’s Vanderbilt Hotel and Office complex in Nashville, told Newsmax that he had taken the extraordinary step of canceling the conference at the last minute "for the health, safety, and well-being of our guests and employees."
Negri refused to say what prompted his concerns, except to refer to the Web site of the New English Review, the group organizing the conference, which features articles that warn about radical Islam.
Negri wrote to the organizers, saying that the hotel had “not received any information related to a specific security threat concerning this event,” and declined to provide any justification for canceling it at the last minute.
But Trento believes outside forces, notably the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which represents the nation's Muslim community on political matters, may have influenced the decision to cancel the events because some believe Wilders' message is critical of Islam.
"Currently, we have no evidence that CAIR or anyone pressured the Marriott into cancelling the Florida Security Council's Free Speech Summit," Trento said. "That is a possible theory in light of the facts."
Security council attorney Peter Feaman said, "This is a very clear-cut case of corporate breach. It’s hard to find a breach as overtly outrageous."
Conservative radio talk show host Joyce Kaufman, a prime organizer of the April free speech summit in South Florida, addressed the news conference Wednesday by saying, "Any efforts by any outside groups, Muslim or not, to suppress our right to free speech will not go unanswered. We simply will not allow anyone to repress our First Amendment rights, regardless of who they may be."
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