The controversial Florida pastor who threatened to burn Korans on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks is expected to be billed at least $200,000 by the city of Gainesville for costs associated with the stunt.
Pastor Terry Jones, who got international attention with his on-again, off-again plan to burn 200 copies of Islam's holiest book, said the costs would essentially bankrupt his 50-member church, the Dove World Outreach Center.
"That would be impossible for us to pay," Jones said. "That would bankrupt us, of course."
Jones, 58, vowed to fight the security bill in court and said he plans to move his church to Tampa because of what he called a lack of support in Gainesville.
The maverick preacher eventually called off his protest after increasing pressure from Washington and beyond.
Still, the security bills from the Gainesville Police Department and the Alachua County Sheriff's Office alone are estimated at $180,000, according to a police spokeswoman.
And that figure will rise when costs are added from the Gainesville fire and public works departments, as well as other agencies that responded to an event that drew international attention to the city of 125,000.
"In the 10 years I've been with City of Gainesville government, we've not had a situation that has occurred like this before," said Bob Woods, a city spokesman. "The city manager has made it clear that he will provide a full accounting of our expenses to the Dove World Outreach Center."
Law enforcement agencies spent more than a month working on security plans to ensure the community surrounding Jones' church was safe, Gainesville police spokeswoman Cpl. Tscharna Senn said. Jones also told authorities he received numerous death threats because of the planned protest.
"We've had nothing that I can remember that involved this much planning and the use of this many resources in the 17 years I've been here," Senn said. "We have 286 sworn officers and almost every one was working, either at the Dove Center or at other soft targets."
Officers secured malls in the region, the University of Florida's football stadium and neighborhoods surrounding the church in the days leading up to the planned event.
"His church is in the middle of very large residential communities and our number one consideration was the safety of the residents," Senn said. "We could not risk having their protection compromised. We did not want to be caught off guard."
Bill for Security for Koran-Burning Plan: $200,000
The planned Koran burning prompted demonstrations by Muslims around the world, including Iran, Afghanistan, Somalia and India. The FBI had warned of terror threats made against Jones and possible retaliatory attacks.
The event was called off after U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates called Jones and told him soldiers serving in Afghanistan would be put at greater risk by his protest. "Obviously people at ... that governmental level you cannot ignore," Jones said. "Who am I compared to these people?"
Gainesville City Attorney Marion Radson said the city provided a "direct service" to the church, which now must pay.
"Some of the services the city provided to Rev. Jones and the church were directly related to the safety and security of that church," Radson said. "For example, on 9/11 the city had rented fences – the type used on parade routes, only we don't own those type fences – to secure the premises from intruders. It was the church that asked our police department to remove unwanted persons from the premises."
Radson said the University of Florida athletic association routinely paid the city for extra security at football games and parades.
"When an entity asks for their premises to be made secure and for violators to be removed for trespass, that is requesting a government to go above and beyond what it would typically do for any particular event," he said.
He added, "Assuming we can establish a legal obligation for them and that would stem from the direct support that was provided to the church at their request, then we would, like we'd do with any other entity that doesn't pay, end up suing." Radson said he did not have a breakdown of the costs of the "direct support" received bty Jones' church.
Jones called the security bill "ridiculous" and said the church would have refused the added protection had it been told that it would have to pay.
"Obviously we don't have that kind of money," Jones said. "We definitely would fight this."
Koran-Burning Pastor Says He'll Be Bankrupted by Security Bill
Jones said the church raised about $15,000 from supporters in the month since his Koran-burning protest was announced. The 20-acre church property has been on the market for about a year, he said. The asking price: $2.9 million.
"We have had many, many lookers but no actual offer," he said.
The pastor said he was thinking about moving the church to Tampa because of the area's diversity and metropolitan makeup. The security bill may be the last straw.
"We think a much larger, more metropolitan area with more people and more diversity would be a much more favorable atmosphere," he said. "Gainesville has a very closed atmosphere."