Jones worked as an assistant hotel manager in the late 1970s, then became an assistant pastor with Maranatha Campus Ministries in Kentucky. He went to Cologne, Germany with his first wife to work as a missionary and founded and led the Christliche Gemeinde Köln (CGK) in 1981, with that church growing to as many as 1,000 members over the years, initially as a branch of the Maranatha Campus Ministries and a sister church to Dove World Outreach Center of Gainesville, Florida.
On September 18, 1997, Jones spoke during the First Session of the 105th Congress at a hearing before the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe in Washington D.C., concerning the religious persecution of Christians in Europe.
While living in Germany, Jones was fined $3800 by a Cologne court for using the "doctor" title awarded with an honorary degree from an unaccredited school.
According to the German Evangelical Alliance, Jones was released from the leadership of the Christliche Gemeinde Köln in 2008 due to his indefensible theological statements and his craving for attention. The Gainesville Sun reported that he left the church in Germany after being accused of fraud. A leader of the Cologne church said that Jones "didn't project the biblical values and Christianity, but always made himself the center of everything." German press agency Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported that church members said Jones ran the Cologne church like a sect leader and used psychological pressure on members, “subordinating all activities to his will.”Der Spiegel reported that Jones had been ejected by Cologne church for creating "a climate of control and fear." Following Jones' departure, the CGK closed, then reopened under new, independent, leadership.
Jones came to lead the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida church by way of his association with the Maranatha Campus Ministries.
In October 2010, Jones founded the political organization, Stand Up America Now.
On October 27, 2011, Jones announced that he was running for President of the United States, as an independent candidate, with no political party affiliation. He remarked that he was entering the race because none of the candidates were adequately communicating the dire state of the U.S. economy to the U.S. citizenry. His platform calls for the deportation of all illegal immigrants, withdrawal of American troops abroad, and a reduction in bureaucracy and corporate tax rates.
In March 2013, Florida media sources reported that Jones, with Dove World Outreach Center, and the organization Stand Up America Now plan to leave Gainesville, Florida and move to Tampa, Florida. In August 2013, the Bradenton Herald reported that the Pastor had purchased property near Bradenton and planned to move his ministry there.
Jones relocated to Bradenton, Florida, breaking with most of his 15-member flock at Dove Outreach, but retaining his associate pastor Wayne Sapp. In 2015, Jones opened a Fry Guys Gourmet Fries stand at a mall in Bradenton, selling Buffalo wings and speaking his mind until later in the week when a mall manager, concerned about potential trouble, requested him to stay out of the mall, remove photos of himself from the premises and take his name off the lease, though he remains an owner of the company. He also owns a furniture moving company, TSC, with his brother. TSC deliveries became backlogged and received consumer complaints shortly after the January 15 Charlie Hebdo attack raised concerns about al Qaida.
His first wife, Lisa Jones, died in 1996, after which he married Sylvia Jones, with whom he runs TS and Company. His daughter from his first marriage, Emma, has distanced herself from his beliefs and practices.
"Islam Is of the Devil"
Terry Jones authored a book titled Islam Is of the Devil. In July 2009, Dove World Outreach Center posted a sign on its lawn which stated in large red letters "Islam is of the Devil," resulting in objections from the community and media attention. Students from the church attended area schools in August 2009 wearing T-shirts with "Islam is of the Devil" printed on the back, for which they were sent home.
Jones and his followers at a march in Washington DC.
Jones believes Islam promotes violence and that Muslims want to impose sharia law in the United States. He did not become widely known until after announcing plans to burn copies of the Koran.
The plan to burn Korans was first announced on Twitter on July 12, 2010, and was promoted on Facebook and on YouTube. National and International discussion, objections and protests contributed to extensive media coverage.
U.S. Secretary of StateHillary Clinton said, "It's regrettable that a pastor in Gainesville, Florida with a church of no more than fifty people can make this outrageous and distressful, disgraceful plan and get, you know, the world's attention."
The commander of the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus said, "It is precisely the kind of action the Taliban uses and could cause significant problems. Not just here, but everywhere in the world we are engaged with the Islamic community." The pastor responded to Petraeus' statement that, "We understand the General's concerns. We are sure that his concerns are legitimate. [Nonetheless] [w]e must send a clear message to the radical element of Islam. We will no longer be controlled and dominated by their fears and threats."
President Barack Obama was asked on September 9, 2010, on ABC's Good Morning America about the Quran burning controversy. He said, "You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan or Afghanistan. This could increase the recruitment of individuals who would be willing to blow themselves up in American cities or European cities." He said, "I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women in uniform who are in Iraq, who are in Afghanistan. We're already seeing protests against Americans just by the mere threat that he's making." "I just hope he understands that what he is proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans, that this country has been built on the notions of religious freedom and religious tolerance," Obama said. "He says he's someone who is motivated by his faith ... I hope he listens to those better angels and understands that this is a destructive act that he's engaging in.” Asked if the event could be stopped, Obama replied, "My understanding is that he can be cited for public burning … but that's the extent of the laws that we have available to us."
Later on September 9, Jones announced the cancellation of the event and a plan to fly to New York to meet with the Imam of Park51, Feisal Abdul Rauf. Jones alleged that Imam Muhammad Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, had arranged the meeting and that a promise had been given him to move the Park 51 mosque in exchange for the event cancellation. This claim was denied by both Imams.
On March 21, 2011, Jones and some supporters held a mock trial of the Koran and set a copy on fire as a "punishment" for “crimes against humanity.” Jones was assisted by Ahmed Abaza, an Egyptian ex-Muslim, and a Texas Imam, Mohamed El Hassan who argued for and against the accusations. Reaction to the event resulted in riots and deaths in Afghanistan.
On April 28, 2012, Jones burned a copy of the Koran, protesting the imprisonment of an Iranian-American Pastor, Saeed Abedini in Iran.
An arrest defeated Jones' effort to hold a Koran-burning protest on September 11, 2013, but Jones and Sapp held a protest on September 11, 2014, in which the ISIS flag and hundreds of Korans were burned.
On April 29, Jones led a rally at the Dearborn City Hall, designated as a free speech zone. Riot police were called out to control counter protesters.
Jones led a rally at City Hall and then planned to speak at the annual Arab Festival on June 18, 2011, but on his way there he was blocked by protesters, six of whom were arrested. Police said they did not have enough officers present to maintain safety.
On April 7, 2012, Jones led a protest in front of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, speaking about Islam and Free Speech. The mosque was placed on lock down. Thirty police cars were there to block traffic and prevent a counter protest.
Jones returned to Dearborn in October 2012 and led a small protest against alleged "Muslim bullying of non-Muslims" outside Edsel Ford High School. School officials denied there was a problem.
Following the April 28, 2012 Koran burning, Jones was fined $271 by Gainesville Fire Rescue for violating fire safety rules.
Jones planned to protest in April 2011 outside the Islamic Center of America. On the day he was to attend the protest, local authorities questioned him in Court, required him either to post a $45,000 "peace bond" to cover Dearborn's cost if Jones was attacked by extremists or to go to trial. Jones contested that requirement, and the jury voted on April 22 to require the posting of a $1 "peace bond", but Jones and his co-pastor Wayne Sapp continued to refuse to pay. They were held briefly in jail, while claiming violation of First Amendment rights. That night Jones was released by the court. The ACLU had filed an amicus brief in support of Jones's protest plans.
On November 11, 2011, Wayne County Circuit Court Judge Robert Ziolkowski vacated the “breach of peace” ruling against Jones and Wayne Sapp on the grounds that they were denied due process.
Terry Jones and his organization Stand Up America Now won a victory in court on August 30, 2013 over the City of Dearborn and its Chief of Police, Ronald Haddad. Terry Jones was represented by the Thomas More Law Center. Judge Denise Page Hood wrote, "The Court finds that Plaintiffs are entitled to summary judgment as to their claim that Ord. No. 17-33, requiring Plaintiffs to sign an indemnification agreement, is a violation of their First Amendment rights of Freedom of Speech and Freedom of Expressive Association. The related ordinance, Ord. No. 17-28(d), requiring the chief of police to grant a special events permit only after an indemnification agreement is signed, also violates Plaintiffs’ First Amendment rights." Judge Hood concluded that both ordinances were unconstitutional.
On October 11, 2012, Jones was denied entry to Canada, where he was scheduled to attend a debate on free speech, because of a previous legal infraction in Dearborn, Michigan, and because the German government had fined him 20 years before for using the title of "Doctor". The Dearborn charge was challenged and overturned in November 2011, and Jones had held an honorary doctorate, but the Canadian government refused to allow him entry without documentation of the cases, effectively barring him from the event.
Polk County, Florida
In April 2013, Jones announced plans for a Koran burning event to be held on September 11, 2013. In Iran, Pakistan, and at an Interfaith Conference in Vienna there have been calls for the United States government to stop this event. Army General Lloyd Austin III, commander of US Central Command called Jones on September 9, 2013, to ask him cancel the event, however Jones declined. Police arrested Jones on September 11, 2013, before he could burn 2,998 Korans soaked with kerosene at a park in Polk County, Florida. He was charged with unlawfully conveying fuel and openly carrying a firearm. The charge of unlawfully conveying fuel, made against both Jones and Marvin Wayne Sapp, who was driving, was dismissed in October, 2014 by Circuit Court judge Roger Alcott, who wrote "For purposes of the legal analysis, the nature of the books in the grill does not matter... It would not matter if the materials in the grill were books, oak wood or BBQ briquettes. The material facts simply do not demonstrate a violation of Florida statutes." This dismissal was upheld by the Second District Court of Appeals in June, 2015.