Williams has previously scrapped with NPR management, including over comments he made comparing Michelle Obama to Stokely Carmichael and dressing down his bosses publicly when they stood in the way of an interview with President George W. Bush.
Williams hasn't apologized for his remarks about being nervous seeing Muslims on planes, insisting instead they were part of a longer conversation his NPR bosses took out of context. Williams said he was making a point about how one individual's fears should not trump the civil rights of other people.
"I see people in Muslim garb, who are first and foremost identifying themselves as Muslims, in the aftermath of 9/11, I'm taken aback," he said on GMA. "I have a moment of fear. It's visceral. It's a feeling. I don't say I'm not getting on the plane. I don't think you must go through additional security. I don't say I want to discriminate against these people. No such thing occurs. To me, it was admitting that I had this notion, this feeling," he said.
Williams said his comment was not a fireable offense.
"This is the most ridiculous thing. Then, the people at NPR take one statement, and they make it out that I am a bigot. It's unbelievable to me, given the books I've written, the things I've done in my life. Now I'm a bigot?"
News of Williams' firing stirred a backlash across the political spectrum with liberals, conservatives and veteran journalists chastising NPR for his dismissal.
"If you are someone who is giving your opinion, then you're allowed to give your opinion," ABC's Barbara Walters said Thursday on "The View." "You may or may not agree. Therefore, I think [NPR] were very wrong [to fire Williams]."
William Kristol of the conservative Weekly Standard wrote, "Do the powers-that-be at NPR think Juan Williams is a bigot? Do they think a traveler who has a reaction (fair or unfair) like the one Juan describes, in our age of terror in the name of Islam, is a bigot?... I suspect the powers-that-be at NPR pretty much think what Juan thinks. But the standards of political correctness must be maintained."
But there are others who believe Williams is the latest media personality to make an insensitive, prejudicial gaffe worthy of termination.
"NPR should address the fact that one of its news analysts seems to believe that all airline passengers who are perceived to be Muslim can legitimately be viewed as security threats," Council on American-Islamic Relations National Executive Director Nihad Awad told the Associated Press.
NPR receives some funding from the federal government and Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., said he plans to introduce legislation to end federal funding for NPR.
"Once again we find the only free speech liberals support is the speech with which they agree. The incident with Mr. Williams shows that NPR is not concerned about providing the listening public with an honest debate of today's issues, but rather with promoting a one-sided liberal agenda," said Sen. DeMint.
"I plan to introduce legislation to defund [the Corporation for Public Broadcasting] and force a vote on it as well as other measures to start getting our fiscal house in order," he said.