Sept. 11, 2010 — -- Terry Jones, the Florida pastor who caused an international furor when he threatened to burn Korans on today's anniversary of 9/11, has said that he has called off the demonstration.
"It's totally cancelled," said Jones on the "Today" show this morning in New York. "We hope that through that we can talk to the Iman about the Ground Zero Mosque."
Jones has come to New York this weekend with the hope of speaking with Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, but so far no meeting has been scheduled.
"We have a couple of people working who are mediating the situation," he said.
"I am prepared to consider meeting with anyone who is seriously committed to pursuing peace," Rauf stated.
NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly spoke to CNN this morning about the police force's role in Jones visit to the city. Though they're aware he made plans to be in New York until Monday, the NYPD do not know any of Jones' specific plans. "We'd like to make certain he's safe," Kelly said.
The people of Gainesville, Fla., would like you to know that Terry Jones does not speak for them.The pastor has been condemned by his own daughter and roundly ostracized by a community that finds itself in the eye of a media storm.
"He's a really fringy character," said Pegeen Hanrahan, a two-term mayor who left office in May. "For every one person in Gainesville who thinks this is a good idea there are a thousand who just think it's ridiculous."
But because of that one idea -- an idea that has been called a "gimmick" and a "stunt" by President Obama -- Jones has been taken very seriously by a lot of people. People who otherwise wouldn't.
"He's a person who has a congregation that's exceedingly small, maybe 30 or 40 people -- 50 on a good day," says Jacki Levine, managing editor of the Gainesville Sun newspaper. "He is not at all reflective of community he finds himself in."
That community is a university town, home to the main campus of the University of Florida -- a "very tolerant community," according to Levine, that recently elected an openly gay mayor.
"Up until he started putting up billboards, nobody really thought much about him," she said.
The signs started popping up last year around the Dove World Church -- just a year after Jones arrived in Gainesville. Stark and ugly in appearance and tone alike, they were emblazoned with big red letters: ISLAM IS OF THE DEVIL. As mayor, Hanrahan would get calls complaining about them.
"It's offensive, certainly. And do you wish they'd stop? Do you wish they'd make a connection to another community and move away? Absolutely," she says. "But it was a pretty fundamental first amendment issue."
Things were less clear-cut last August, when two children from the church, a 10-year-old and a 15-year-old, showed up at school wearing T-shirts that read "Islam Is of the Devil." They were sent home.
Terry Jones Campaigned Against Gay Man Running for Mayor
During this year's mayoral race, Hanrahan said the church posted signs reading NO HOMO MAYOR, in protest against the candidacy of the openly gay Craig Lowe, who ultimately won the race. Those signs did have to come down because they crossed church-state boundaries.
As the founder of the Florida church, 58-year-old Terry Jones is a somewhat shadowy character -- a former hotel manager who worked as a missionary in Europe for 30 years. He led a small congregation in Cologne, Germany, and didn't show up in Florida until 2008, after his church in Germany asked him to leave.
His daughter Emma, who still lives in Germany, is estranged from her father and publicly denounced his scheme to burn copies of the Koran.
"I am shocked and condemn it," she told the German newspaper Der Spiegel amid the will-he-or-won't-he confusion of the past several days.
(Emma Jones had previously declined to speak with ABC News without being compensated. Her price: 2,300 Euros, or about $2,900.)
"When I hear what he is currently saying in interviews about his motivations, he seems like a stranger to me," she added.
"I sent him an e-mail. I wrote, 'Papa, don't do it.' I actually haven't had any contact with him since he left Cologne in 2008."
She continued: "But because I think his plan is so awful, I implored him to consider the consequences -- not just for him but for the whole world." She said she hasn't heard back.
To be sure, her father is no stranger to clashes with authority -- just not of this scale. The pastor runs an antique and used furniture business with his wife, Sylvia, on the grounds of the 12,000-square-foot church.
The county property assessor last year was forced to deny the church tax-exempt status on the 1,700 square feet used to turn a profit.
"It was very businesslike, no problems," said county assessor Ed Crapo. "They showed my people the property, showed my people a copy of the lease. So we denied exemption on that part of the property, and they filed no protest to it."
But because of aggressive reporting by the Gainesville Sun on the story, the paper's reporters are no longer permitted on the premises, says Levine, the managing editor.
Terry Jones Had Cult-Like Rules for Followers
Shane Butcher, who was expelled from the church for disobeying Jones, told the paper that he worked for the pastor's company for up 72 hours a week without pay and meals were provided from a "food bank."
Butcher said punishments for disobedience ranged from cleaning the barnacles off Jones's boat in Tampa, to carrying a life-size wooden cross or writing out all of Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible.
"We carried a card that said 'obedience is always blessed,' " he was quoted as saying.
Indeed, the church has a laundry list of dicta, called the "Academy Rulebook." Created by his wife Sylvia Jones in 2007, the rulebook directs students to sever most contact with family members. "Family occasions like wedding, funerals or Birthdays are no exception to this rule," the rulebook says.
"No phone calls. Exceptions can be made under certain circumstances but only after receiving permission."
The syntactically-challenged rulebook also barred "Singles" from having "romantic relationships to the opposite sex…Except work things, there is no need to talk at all, or even flirt!"
Movies might have been OK, though. Pastor Jones, a fan of Mel Gibson's "Braveheart" -- a poster adorns his office wall at the church -- launched an online video series called the "Braveheart Show," which he uses to preach anti-Islamic sermons to an audience larger than the 50 families who belong to the church.
This affinity for Braveheart's self-righteous rebellion could potentially be alarming given that Jones and members of his staff tend to carry concealed weapons -- and pointedly do so when meeting with police, according to Hanrahan. There were widespread concerns that violence would break out if the church ended up going through with the Koran burning on 9/11.
The residents of Gainesville mostly want the story to go away. They are quick to point out that Gainesville topped the list of the 2007 edition of "Cities Ranked and Rated." Gainesville was also ranked as one of the "best places to live and play" in 2007 by National Geographic Adventure.
"It's a great city, a great place to raise your kids," said a clerk in the town commissioner's office who declined to give her name. "And this jerk is ruining it for everyone."