Over the past several weeks, thousands of pasty adolescents have arrived at Pastor Terry Jones's Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla. The massive influx of children has left officials overwhelmed, frustrated, and confused, as the minors have responded to social workers and police with barely understandable insults featuring Justin Bieber and various unprintable epithets. Most experts believe that the pilgrimage is linked to Pastor Jones's desecration of the Muslim holy book on March 20, which has sparked protests halfway around the world.
In September 2010, Jones sparked international outrage with his plan to commemorate the anniversary of 9/11 by burning several hundred copies of the Qur’an. While he agreed not to follow through with the plan at the last minute, Jones apparently changed his mind after six months of thoughtful introspection. The name of the new event, however, was changed from “Burn a Qur’an Day” to “Judge the Qur’an Day” in order to reflect the objective and fair procedure the Qur'an underwent prior to its sentencing. Rather than carrying out vigilante justice, Pastor Jones burned twenty copies of the Qur'an only after the holy book had been found guilty of “crimes against humanity” in a mock trial. Jones organized the trial, which featured a “prosecutor”, “defense attorney” (a member of a Texas mosque) and “jury” (12 of Jones's flock), because he felt “a deep obligation to stay with the court system of America.” Presumably, it was this same commitment to the impartial justice enshrined in the U.S. legal code which led Jones to decide on the method of punishment. “Burning” was the popular option on an online internet poll concerning the Qur'an's sentence, with other options including “shredding”, “drowning”, and death by “firing squad.”
This second successful attempt at desecrating sacred texts has earned him the admiration of the recent influx of members to his congregation. “We all worship Pastor Jones,” explained a boy who gave his name as SuPeRhAx96. “He's taken an art form that used to be relegated to seedy Internet forums and the comments section of YouTube and unleashed it on a global scale.”
The art form that SuPeRhAx96 refers to is known as “trolling,” or posting inflammatory remarks in an online community to elicit emotional responses from strangers. The primary purpose of trolling is ostensibly to fill the troll's internal void of pubescent angst and to compensate for the troll's lack of real-world love and affection.
“Pastor Jones is, by far, the most effective troll I've ever seen,” gushed XXUrmum11XX. “I mean, you look at these other troll acolytes in comparison, and their style just seems so primitive. 'Gay' this, 'F— you' that, throw in a couple 'retards' just to mix things up. Sure, it's effective, but it gets old fast. The fact that he's made world news twice for the same exact thing is just beautiful. I don't think the Trollface meme itself could have irritated so many people with such precision.”
Jones has been a life-changing source of inspiration and courage for young trolls. “I'd been trolling for about a year, and I was in a bad place,” remarked Billyj0e21. “Sure, I could ruin people's days by spawncamping and teabagging them in COD, then questioning their sexualities and making lewd comments about their mothers all to hide my own crippling lack of self confidence, but it just seemed so pointless.” Pastor Jones, Billyj0e continued, “opened my eyes to the fact that I didn't need to limit my trolling to online venues. If I went out into the world and acted like a complete and utter jackass, I could get the real-life attention that I so desperately crave.”
Ever the cosmopolitan, Jones included Arabic subtitles in his video of the trial and subsequent burning, facilitating the spread of the Muslim world's knowledge of the event. In response, mobs in Afghanistan attacked a UN compound in Mazar-e Sharif and killed seven people. Elsewhere in Afghanistan, related protests injured close to a hundred and left at least nine more dead. When asked about the loss of life in response to his burning, Jones claimed that he and his church “don't feel responsible for that,” leaving his audience speechless with wonder.
Billyj0e shook his head in disbelief. “To first threaten to burn copies of the Qur'an, then not do it, then actually do it six months later despite warnings that your actions could cause bloodshed, then to deny any responsibility for said bloodshed and finally to demand retribution against Muslims for killing people in response to your actions. Well played, sir. Well played. That's the sort of hardcore trolling that belongs in a museum. It's genius, plain and simple.”
For their part, Jones and his son, Luke, have remained entirely modest about their role in bringing trolling into mainstream media and society. “We're not big debaters,” said Luke Jones. “We're not very well-educated. We're just simple people trying to do the right thing.”
Behind him stood his father, grinning.