Villa Park Councilwoman Sparks Controversy

Posted on March 23, 2011

Villa Park erupted with noise when more than 800 people showed up outside the Villa Park City Council meeting Tuesday night to protest controversial statements said by Councilwoman Deborah Pauly.

“I know quite a few Marines who will be willing to help these terrorists to an early meeting in paradise,” said Pauly, among other stirring statements, during a rally protesting a Muslim fundraising event in Yorba Linda Feb. 13.

During a special agenda meeting March 9, Pauly said she regretted that her words were not more specific and claimed that her statements were directed at the event’s keynote speakers, Imam Siraj Wahhaj and Amir Abdel Malik Ali, who spoke at the fundraising event put on by a Queens, N.Y.-based Muslim group, Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA.

Some have labeled the two speakers as controversial, terrorists and anti-American.

In 1993, a U.S. attorney named Wahhaj and 169 others as co-conspirators in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing, but Wahhaj was never charged and has denied involvement. Wahhaj is currently an imam at a mosque in Brooklyn.

Malik Ali is a Bay Area Islamic activist who spoke at ‘Israeli Apartheid Week’ at UC Irvine in 2010. There he said he supports Hezbollah, which the CIA labels a terrorist group.

However, many who protested Pauly Tuesday night said they did not believe her statements were directed at two particular speakers. The protest was organized through Facebook.

“She’s lying through her teeth,” one Facebook attendee wrote on the event’s wall.

Some protesters said they were disgusted by what they heard Pauly said.

“I’m here because I saw the clips on Deborah Paul and she was there representing Villa Park, and I’m here to stand up and show people that Villa Park is not a town full of hate,” said Lisa Potiker, a Cal State Fullerton student and Villa Park resident. “Deborah Pauly, what she said while representing our town, is just wrong.”

Other protesters acknowledged her statements as genuine but pointed out that she was reckless with her comments and should be held responsible.

“Extremists will use what she says as a propaganda tool and say ‘this is the face of America,'” said Omar Masry, the rally organizer and a U.S. Army veteran who served in Iraq. “I was bothered and motivated to do something.”

Masry added that a lot of his friends, who are not Muslim, said they were also bothered by what they heard in videos of Yorba Linda’s protest. Videos of the Yorba Linda protest went viral within a week.

Love was the theme of Tuesday’s protest. A large crowd, American flags and posters reading, “I am Muslim, and I am not a terrorist” and “Villa Park is now infamous, thanks Deborah” could be seen from afar as cars pulled in to park in the 17800 block of Santiago Boulevard Plaza.

“Racists go home. Racists go home,” protesters chanted to parody the protesters of the Muslim event who said, “Go back home” as attendees walked to and from the event.

Supporters of Pauly were also present.

“She’s not a racist,” said one counter-protester about Pauly.

Most counter-protesters said they were present to support freedom of speech.

“We want freedom of speech and we’re not going to let any group trample over our rights to free speech,” said Rabbi Shifren, a friend of Pauly.

Police from the Orange County Sheriff’s Department watched from afar as opposing groups got closer and eventually engaged in dialogue.

Many attendees said they appreciated the opportunity to speak to the opposing side and voice their opinions and concerns. One Pauly supporter said he agreed with a protester who told him dialogue is crucial.

“The popular thing to do is scream racism,” said David Smith, a resident of Orange. “When it comes down to it, they’re all fighting for the same thing, so it’s stupid that they’re butting heads.”

Some protesters on both sides were not as civil.

One woman, who is pro-Pauly, said she was called a “dirty white pig.”

Some women wearing head scarves, called hijab, were insulted for their style of dress. One woman muttered, “That thing on your head looks (expletive) stupid.”

The protest received coverage from media outlets such as KTLA, the Orange County Register and the Los Angeles Times.

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