As the four Republican presidential candidates participated in a nationally televised debate inside Theatre 1, a controversial Florida pastor who supervised a Quran burning last year marched outside with his followers.
The Rev. Terry Jones walked the sidewalks of Martin Luther King Jr. Plaza wearing jeans and a leather jacket. His followers surrounded him carrying signs declaring the president a Muslim while shouting “Deport all illegal immigrants! Obama deserves prison! Impeach Obama!”
Occupy Tampa protesters shouted back, “Shame on you!”
Jones made international headlines when a Quran was burned in March 2011 at his church, Dove World Outreach Center, in Gainesville, Fla. One of his supporters carried a sign that read “Koran burner for president.” Jones announced his candidacy for president on October 27, 2011 in Gainesville.
Jones supports balancing the budget to eliminate the national debt, bringing the troops home and deporting all illegal immigrants.
“Illegals are costing America $540 million a year, plus they’re illegal,” Jones said. “Do you not understand the word ‘illegal’? I cannot rob a bank, run a stoplight. I cannot do something and say, ‘well I have a family here, I had a reason’.”
When pressed about the implications of separating natural born citizens from their parents, Jones said the parents will take their children with them. He later conceded that an exception could be made, but he would also advocate rewriting the law to require natural born citizens to be of legal citizen parents.
Students voiced their disapproval of Jones. Jordan Myers, a junior majoring in political science, said, “We pay too much tuition for these guys to even be allowed on campus.”
Ben Johnson, a senior majoring in creative writing, said, “I support their right to be hateful, close-minded, bigoted, backwards thinking scum of the earth. This is America; it’s a great thing.”
Jones also defended the burning of the Quran at his church. “It’s not hateful, it’s not un-American, it’s in compliance with the First Amendment. We by no means deny Muslims their rights in America. They can practice their religion, they can build their mosques, but they must be willing to be governed under the constitution not under Sharia.”
Jones registered for the Presidential Election as an Independent. The Florida Republican Party will not place Jones on the ballot for January 31.