Rand Paul’s Islamophobic Speeches a Ploy to Win Over Conservatives

Sen Rand Paul speaks at the 2013 Values Voters Summit

Sen. Rand Paul speaks at the 2013 Values Voters Summit

At the recent Values Voters Summit, Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) spoke on the “War on Christianity”, but his speech was not about prayer in schools or the so-called ‘war on Christmas,’ his focus was radical Islam. Our live blog of the summit outlines his argument, which stresses that Christians around the world are being threatened by “a fanatical element of Islam,” and used isolated incidents of violence against Christians as an excuse to paint every Muslim worldwide as radical and evil. The speech has been widely condemned as hateful, bigoted, and wildly inaccurate.

In all likelihood, his hyperbolic war rhetoric was simply a dramatic attempt to broaden his support beyond the libertarian wing of the GOP to curry favor with the wider Tea Party movement, neoconservatives, and the Christian Right. If so, it is a dangerous game.

This is not the first time Rand Paul has used the threat of a radical Islam boogeyman for political advantage. His PAC ran advertisements against Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), attacking foreign aid to Egypt, Libya, and Pakistan, and painting the governments and citizens of those states as “Anti-American regimes and radical jihadists.” He has also argued for those that attend radical speeches promoting the overthrow of their governments to be deported or put in prison. All the while, Paul continues to support American citizens who continually and frequently threaten to overthrow the U.S. government. While Paul does not attack Islam nearly as much as some of his Tea Party colleagues, he is no stranger to using Islam for political advantage. Not only has he attacked Muslims before, but he gave a very similar speech back in June, at a Faith and Freedom Coalition conference. This message is nothing new, but it is being hammered home.

What is consistently and glaringly missing from Paul’s anti-Muslim speeches is any mention of the multitude of attacks by Christians against Muslims, or most other faiths for that matter. There is still, for example, widespread discrimination against Muslims in Bulgaria, a predominantly Christian country. This does not mean that there is a ‘War on Islam,’ but neither do Paul’s examples prove a ‘war on Christianity.’

According to Paul, the “war on Christians … came to Boston this year just in time for the marathon”. Beyond the awful phrasing used, he then goes on to completely undermine his argument, admitting that the bombers didn’t target Christians specifically. Despite this admission, he suggests that the motive of the bombing was to attack “us as a people, a Christian people.” Not only is that logic insulting to religious freedom in the U.S., but logically makes any terrorist attack against Americans an assault on a particular faith, rather than on our people as a whole and on our nation.

Beyond simply attacking Islamic radicalism, his other stated goal is to stop the U.S. giving “giving aid and comfort” to these countries, with an emphasis on aid. With specific mentions of refusing aid to the Muslim Brotherhood, and halting the arming of rebels in Syria, he is moving closer to the Tea Party consensus on those issues, whilst still offering his libertarian base spending reductions. One of his more bizarre statements was that “I say not one penny more to countries that burn our flag,” referring to an incident in Egypt in which private citizens, not the Egyptian government, burned a U.S. flag. Obviously, withdrawing foreign aid designed to assist in the prevention of widespread poverty and disease for such reasons would establish an absurd precedent.

Assuming he did not make this speech purely out of a conviction that Islam threatens Christianity, why would Paul use a speech at the Values Voters Summit to attack Islam, rather than talk about the much more topical government shutdown?  Considering the audience at the summit, an audience that is not traditionally libertarian, the reasons becomes clearer. This is just one speech in a process of “quietly making himself acceptable to the ‘conservative mainstream.’” One of Paul’s and the libertarian movement’s most striking weaknesses within the GOP is foreign policy. To the largely hawkish Republican mainstream, and the similarly inclined Tea Party movement, the stances of Rand Paul and his father Ron Paul before him have, by and large, been unpalatable. By accusing Islamic states of supporting a radical “war on Christianity,” Paul has found a common scapegoat. Alongside the ‘strong’ foreign policy stance against these Islamic nations, his narrative also matches the tone of the Christian Right, alleging that Christianity is under fire, even if the circumstances in Egypt are utterly unlike any situation in the US. In covering so much popular ground, Paul may be increasing his chances in a possible GOP presidential primary, at only a slight risk of alienating his base.

With only 6% of the vote in the Values Voters straw poll, Paul hardly won over the crowd. Despite trying to find common ground in his speech, more Far Right conservative candidates, including Ted Cruz and Rick Santorum, proved considerably more popular. Nevertheless, through the cherry-picking of instances of religious violence, Rand Paul has brought himself closer to the Tea Party movement as a whole.

Muslim Community Resistance

Organizing & Advocacy in a Time of Struggle

Zienib Noori, 20, of Albany, NY listens to a speaker at the “Today, I Am A Muslim, Too” rally in New York City
(Photo by JessicaRinaldi/Reuters)

Since 9/11, the New York Police Department’s Pre-Ramadan Conference and Breakfast has become one of the largest gatherings of Muslim leadership in New York City. Last July, I sat among a sea of suits and uniforms, colorful headscarves, turbans, and maroon fezzes. Surrounded by American flags and silk banners with a star-spangled rainbow design, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly’s boxer stance commanded attention as he engaged a crowd of 150 Muslim police officers and roughly 250 Muslim community members.

Within the crowd, some Muslims were murmuring. These men and women were concerned about reports that police trainers had been showing The Third Jihad, a film made by Wayne Kopping and produced by Raphael Shore and the Clarion Fund,1 creators of the notorious propaganda film Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West.

The Third Jihad opens with a disclaimer that “this is not a film about Islam. It is about the threat of radical Islam.” However, the film’s narrator, Dr. Zahdi Jasser, says that he has found a document that reveals “the true agenda of much of the Muslim leadership here in America” [italics PRA’s]. In a series of interviews primarily consisting of neoconservative analysts, and featuring inflammatory footage of human rights abuses, violent political rallies, and images celebrating the enrollment of children in suicide missions, the film asserts that radical Muslims have a strategy to “infiltrate and dominate” America and transform it into an Islamic theocracy. Among other claims, the film cites a survey that “one in four young American Muslims condones suicide bombing” and implies that moderate American Muslim organizations, particularly the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), act deceptively to disguise their true radical agendas.

A local group, Muslim American Civil Liberties Coalition (MACLC),2 had formed over three years earlier to challenge faulty NYPD threat analysis, biased law enforcement training, and community surveillance. The coalition is comprised of leading New York City-based Muslim legal and community advocacy groups, and, is advised by the Brennan Center for Justice. When rumors of NYPD screenings of The Third Jihad began to circulate, MACLC sent a series of letters to the Commissioner requesting a meeting.

There was no response.

The morning of the breakfast, Imam Talib Abdul Rashid, a respected elder and newly chosen Amir of the Majlis Ash Shura, took the floor.  As head of the imams’ leadership council, the most established Muslim leadership group in New York, he shared his concerns about the showing of the problematic film. He offered to help form a committee to vet materials about Islam for use in future training sessions.

CAIR’s series of trainings and pocket guides called “Know Your Rights” provide Muslim students, employees, and airline passengers with a valuable overview of their rights. The guides can be used to identify and respond to hate crimes.

Following the imam’s remarks, Kelly said that The Third Jihad had been shown only one time, and only as “background visuals.” Notably, though he was to deny his direct cooperation for many months, Kelly himself had been interviewed for, and appeared in, The Third Jihad speaking about threats associated with young Black men who were “recruited” and converted to Islam while in prison, and about the terrorist threat associated with suitcase-sized nuclear weapons, or “dirty” bombs. Kelly minimized the significance of community concerns, adding that his department was exploring convening dialogue or advisory groups with Muslims but “did not know whom to include and whom to exclude.”

Kelly’s statements raised some eyebrows. Community complaints had led MACLC members to believe the film had been shown more than once. Beyond this, MACLC members knew that the NYPD had recently begun to convene a completely separate group of Muslims to meet with, a group MACLC members supposed would be comprised of more pliable community representatives.

MUslim Community Responses

The American-Muslim community is highly diverse and decentralized; many of the national leadership groups (the alphabet soup of CAIR, ISNA, MPAC, ICNA, MANA)3 coordinate on a regular, but quite loose basis. Emerging American Muslim civil society organizations also include independent groups reflecting a range of sects, religious styles, and opinions.

On a local level, Muslim, civic, and interfaith organizations have for many years responded to bias-motivated crimes and to attacks on the ability of Muslims to worship or freely associate. They are also increasingly successful in publicizing government attacks on Muslim civil rights through profiling, surveillance, detention and deportation, and biased training by public safety officers.

Coalitions (and temporarily activated social networks) play an important part in Muslim community activism.  Muslim representatives from struggling new organizations may at first experience themselves as the “affirmative action member” in such groups, but over time most beleaguered Muslims gain safe and supportive spaces within these collectively organized civic efforts.

In March 2011, a major rally called “I am a Muslim, Too” was held in New York City’s Times Square to coincide with now-infamous House Homeland Security Committee hearings convened by Rep. Peter King (R-NY). The rally was supported by The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding,4 best known for its annual “twinning project” that now brings together more than 240 synagogues and mosques in 22 countries on four continents. This is one of a number of active coalitions working towards greater coexistence. Another, the New York Neighbors for American Values, a coalition of 150 civic groups, worked throughout 2011 to promote religious freedom and tolerance5 via research6 and through civic engagement activities such as 9/11 commemorations.  It also has been raising questions about NYPD surveillance and Islamophobic training programs.

In Washington, D.C., a new interfaith campaign, “Shoulder to Shoulder Standing with American Muslims: Upholding American Values,” housed at Islamic Society of North America,7has organized an interfaith 9/11 commemoration. It issued a “Joint Statement Against Extremism of All Kinds In Support of American Values” signed by 26 national religious leaders and later released a statement opposing the widespread NYPD surveillance of Muslim students, religious leaders and communities.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has been able to create an important national network for Muslim communities with more than 30 local chapters, frequent email alerts, and national and local advocacy campaigns. CAIR’s series of trainings and pocket guides called “Know Your Rights” provide Muslim students, employees, and airline passengers with a valuable overview of their rights. The guides can be used to identify and respond to hate crimes.

When it surfaced that Virginia agents at the FBI’s training center at Quantico were being shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely that person is to be “violent,” Muslim activists responded immediately.

In recent years, CAIR has embarked on a series of high profile lawsuits and Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests pertaining to illegal anti-Muslim discrimination, harassment, and surveillance.  Their efforts have prompted some politicians  and interest groups8 to demonize CAIR as “the legal wing of Jihad in America.”9 In June 2011, in association with the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Race and Gender, CAIR released its report, “Same Hate, New Target: Islamophobia and Its Impact in the United States 2009-2010.” The report provides detailed descriptions of Islamophobia effects, ranging from hate crimes and vandalism to political marginalization of affected communities.10 CAIR national legislative director Corey Saylor, one of the report’s co-authors, says he remains seriously concerned about the pace of government response to these challenges.

CAIR and other national and local groups have worked to empower targeted groups to identify and report suspicious activity, develop legal contacts, and establish security in mosques and public settings. In some regions, impacted groups have begun to confront the purveyors of Islamophobic training directly, with some success.

Community Groups Win In Local Skirmishes

One of the Muslim community’s first successes in organizing against anti-Islam counterterrorism trainings dates back to Washington State in 2008. That May, a training program run by private company Security Solutions International (SSI), called “The Threat of Islamic Jihadists to the World” took place at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission campus in Burien, Washington. It was billed as providing insight into the formative phases of Islam, but conflated the religion’s different branches with radical Islam and a discussion about how to respond to terrorist acts.

In response to community outcry and Muslim protests, the Port of  dissociated itself from further cooperation with SSI. Port Police Chief Colleen Wilson met with local CAIR representatives and offered to have them come in to do additional training.

Two years later in 2010, however, alert Muslims noticed that SSI had scheduled a webinar that included presentations by the Seattle Police Department and Washington State Patrol. Responding to concerns expressed by CAIR Washington State, both law enforcement agencies announced that they would withdraw from the event. “We commend the Seattle Police Department and the Washington State Patrol for listening to community concerns about a group that promotes anti-Muslim stereotypes and conspiracy theories,” said CAIR-WA Executive Director Arsalan Bukhari.11

 

SSI had been in the news not long before. In Political Research Associates’ report ,Manufacturing the Muslim Menace, Security Solutions International, LLC (SSI)12 and two other private firms, International Counter-Terrorism Officers Association (ICTOA) and The Centre for Counterintelligence and Security Studies (CI Centre) were shown to have speakers and materials that promoted a range of harmful anti-Muslim teachings. Many of these trainings disseminated inaccurate and conspiratorial myths that could put the rights of millions of American Muslims at risk from the very public servants who have sworn to protect them. Sparked in part by the report, Muslim and community groups convinced Paul MacMillan, Chief of Police of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) to cancel an inflammatory SSI seminar covering topics such as “Women in Islam and Female Suicide Bombers,” and “The Legal Wing of Jihad in America.”13

 

Sustaining Activism on a National Scale

Sustained organizing efforts are key to the Muslim community pushing back against the scores of campaigns demonizing Islam and institutionalizing Islamophobia since September 11, 2001. It is not difficult to recognize Islamophobia’s political usefulness:14 it perpetrates an exaggerated fear, hatred, and hostility toward Islam resulting in bias, discrimination, marginalization and the exclusion of Muslims from America’s social, political, and civic life.

Writer Reza Aslan has recently observed,

Simply put, Islam in the United States has become otherized. It has become a receptacle into which can be tossed all the angst and apprehension people feel about the faltering economy, about    the new and unfamiliar political order, about the shifting cultural, racial, and religious landscapes that have fundamentally altered the world. Across Europe and North America, whatever is fearful, whatever is foreign, whatever is alien and unsafe is being tagged with the label ‘Islam.15

 

When Manufacturing was released, the community group Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) knew how to use this research.  The report’s publications coincided with the U.S. House of Representatives’ Homeland Security Committee hearing on American Muslim Radicalization.  Even before that first hearing in March, 2011, Congressman Allen West (R-FL) claimed that he possessed the names of 6,000 Muslim Americans who secretly supported the Muslim Brotherhood in a supposed plot to take over the USA and install Sharia law.

MPAC knew what to expect from the anti-Islam hearings.16 Using data from the report, MPAC and other partners were able to convince Senators Lieberman and Collins to challenge the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Department of Justice to investigate and halt any such support. The Senators later threatened Congressional action, setting off a flurry of activity within DHS.

When it surfaced that Virginia agents at the FBI’s training center at Quantico were being shown a chart contending that the more “devout” a Muslim, the more likely that person is to be “violent,”17 Muslim activists responded immediately. The national civil liberties organization Muslim Advocates called for the U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General to investigate “the FBI’s use of grossly inaccurate and bigoted trainers and training materials for its counterterrorism agents and other law enforcement.” They raised further concerns about the agency’s new Domestic Intelligence Operations Guide (DIOG)’s expansive ethnic mapping guidelines in a comprehensive report18 published in October 2011. Following the exposé and outcry, the FBI went into damage control mode. The FBI was ordered to scrub its training materials of offensive and inaccurate anti-Muslim content and sources.

Click on this picture for a sidebar on law enforcement training and the institutionalization of Islamophobia.
Photo of Ray Kelly, NewYork City Police Department (NYPD) Commissioner
(Photo by BrendanMcDermid /Reuters)

Back in Washington state, a coalition of 19 Seattle-area community groups held a news conference at CAIR’s Seattle offices demanding an independent civil-rights investigation of FBI training methods. Ghada Ellithy, an engineer who sits on the board of the state’s largest mosque, described an item she received during an FBI Seattle Citizens’ Academy session the previous April. The handout was written by a local FBI counterterrorism agent named Gerry Sames19 and linked Islam to Nazism in a two-page discussion of Nazi and Arab alliances during WWII. It went on to discuss whether the current Arab-Israeli conflict is in fact a continuation of Nazi antisemitism.

Academic experts agreed the materials were distortions, inflammatory and offensive. After receiving no response to a formal complaint, the coalition decided to make the issue public.20 Eventually, a Seattle FBI spokeswoman confirmed that an agency review of the incident was underway at the local and national level. Jennifer Gist, civil-rights coordinator for CAIR’s Washington chapter, complimented the FBI for undertaking this review but emphasized the need for an independent monitor to ensure agents are not being trained to profile Muslims or demonize any group of people.

Nationally, the FBI stepped up its community outreach with a late December 2011 conference call with Muslim civil rights groups to apologize for offensive Islamophobic training materials,21 and to promise a “comprehensive review.” The Department of Homeland Security, which provides most funding for state and local training, has also recently issued a set of “Best Practices” recommendations for countering violent extremism training.22

 

Paranoia and Practical Success

As Faiza Patel of the Brennan Center noted,

At the same time as federal and local law enforcement agencies have expanded their monitoring of American Muslim communities, they have emphasized the need to build relationships with these communities…Such efforts have been criticized as uncoordinated and ineffective. It is rarely recognized, however, that even the best-coordinated outreach efforts are unlikely to succeed when paired with an approach to radicalization that emphasizes intelligence-gathering about religious behaviors and practices.23

 

In the past year, Islamophobes have found safe haven in Tea Party circles, actively advising presidential candidates, with Walid Phares advising Mitt Romney,24 and Frank Gaffney advising Michele Bachmann.25 Others have introduced bills against Sharia Law in numerous state legislatures, from Alaska to Pennsylvania, based on a legislative template created by David Yerusalami. Presidential candidate Newt Gingrich has joined a long list of politicians seeking to gain votes by running against the public stereotype of Islamic law.27 Among Christian evangelicals, some have taken the position that Islam is the false religion of the anti-Christ and therefore to be wholeheartedly opposed.28

 

Direct publicity can be very effective in countering Islamophobia. The creation of accurate film and video representation of Islam and Muslims has shown promise in countering misconceptions and hate among members of the general public. Offsetting the poisonous imagery of Obsession, The Third Jihad, and other such propaganda, interactive film projects like Change the Story,Islam Project (Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet and Muslims), New Muslim Cool and Hawo’s Dinner Party29 have been packaged along with curricula and teaching tools.

Taking a more critical approach to media literacy, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)’s “Truth Over Fear: Countering Islamophobia” campaign is a workshop and training program designed to empower local communities to counter Islamophobia “in a proactive manner.” MPAC’s hands-on training sessions are linked to the “Hate Hurts” campaign, with training modules directly critiquing Obsession, and rebutting its Islamophobic content.

While the Muslim community turns to public safety officers for protection, they may also be kept under watch. In October 2011 AP reported that the police were keeping watch on Imam Shamsi Ali and Sheikh Reda Shata, two community leaders who had been particularly close and open with the authorities. Moreover, a follow-up story in February, 201230 divulged the existence of undercover officers known as “mosque crawlers” who provided weekly reports on a wide range of mosques and imams regardless of their politics, and also conducted surveillance on Muslim student clubs throughout the Northeast.

A Muslim leader who positions himself as an insider risks a loss of legitimacy with the community, and in some cases may be suspected of being a confidential government informant.

Mistrust between the community and authorities has been an issue since the days of “COINTELPRO” yet the current situation has eroded trust and lines of communication even further. A Muslim leader who positions himself as an insider risks a loss of legitimacy with the community, and in some cases may be suspected of being a confidential government informant. This is especially problematic as such players often try to depict themselves as the “most moderate” of Muslims. Paradoxically, it is these self- proclaimed leaders –like Zuhdi Jasser– who find it easiest to obtain funding and support.

Stories of successful dialogue are emerging, however. In Oklahoma, police have been meeting with Muslim residents monthly since 9/11. Early dialogue meetings initially attracted very few participants, but the anti-Sharia bills spurred the community into action and into coalitions with other members of the public. “We defeated two separate legislative attempts to ban Sharia in Oklahoma …” says Oklahoma CAIR Director Muneer Awad. “We have partnered with the Chamber of Commerce, the Jewish community, and the interfaith community to defeat these bills.” He also noted that “our opponents have partnered with the same group of people heavily involved in the anti-Muslim training, especially ACT for America which helped fund the campaign to pass the first anti-Sharia amendment in Oklahoma.”

In places like Tennessee where anti-Sharia bills are also pending, new allies including the NAACP, ACLU, the immigration reform group PIRCC, and even the Scientologists, have come forward to get provisions of the bill watered down.

In Los Angeles, which in 2007 backed down from a law enforcement plan to map local mosques,31 LA County Sheriff Leroy Baca has developed a positive reputation among local Muslims and was invited to Washington D.C. to counter the assertions of Congressman Peter King. Nonetheless, Sheriff Baca has had to defend himself for his support of immigrants, engagement with Muslims, and he even has been accused of endangering Israel by this behavior.32

 

Sustaining ongoing relationships with the authorities is a double-edged sword. At an acrimonious  2011 event in Washington state, a Police Department detective observed, “The community is tired of seeing their images represented” in presentations about terrorism. FBI assurances that they do not profile were also unpopular: “When you say you don’t profile — and our reality is you do — you negate everything else you say,” said Jeff Siddiqui, a Pakistani-American member of American Muslims of Puget Sound.

In August 2011, an eye-opening report from the Center for American Progress, Fear Inc.,33 detailed how more than $40 million has flowed from seven foundations over the past ten years to fund projects promoting a politically paranoid and highly inaccurate view of Islam and Muslims. In large part due to such generous financial support, Right-Wing conspiracy theories on a wide range of anti-Muslim topics have become accepted wisdom, influencing political and media discourse. The need for accurate information about Islam and for clearer communication between Muslim community members and law enforcement officials has never been greater—yet community surveillance policies and an overall increase in government secrecy have made this extremely difficult.34

 

To gather evidence, 15 regional CAIR offices submitted 87 Freedom of Information Act public records requests35 to the government in November 2011, which sought information about possible Islamophobic training of local, state, and national law enforcement personnel. This was not the first time CAIR and other Muslim and interfaith organizations have asked for such information. In May, 2011 Judge Cormac J.Carney determined that the FBI and the Department of Justice had lied in response to a 2006 FOIA request for documents pertaining to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, CAIR’s California chapter, and other organizations. When the government appealed on the grounds of national security claims, Judge Carney rejected the appeal, writing that FOIA exemptions for national security and intelligence gathering “do not grant the Government a license to lie to the Court.”36

 

Back to Breakfast

On  January 26, 2012, revelations emerging through Brennan Center FOIA requests and in the New York Times37 demonstrated that, contrary to its many public assurances,38 including the one made by Commissioner Kelly at the Pre-Ramadan Breakfast, the NYPD had cooperated with the making of The Third Jihad and promoted it much more extensively than previously admitted.  The truth was consistent with NYPD’s anti-Muslim history. Widely published reports demonstrate extensive NYPD mapping and surveillance of Muslim individuals and institutions.

More than $40 million has flowed from seven foundations over the past ten years to fund projects promoting a politically paranoid and highly inaccurate view of Islam and Muslims.

Responding quickly, the Majlis Ash Shura Islamic Leadership Council of New York joined MACLC at a press conference39 demanding the resignation of NYPD Commissioner Kelly and his spokesman Paul J. Browne, and the creation of permanent and independent oversight controls, such as an Inspector General responsible for the NYPD. Though not all community leaders asked for the Commissioner’s ouster, City Council members and interfaith leaders demanded action40 from the Mayor; and civic leaders from such advocacy groups as 100 Black Men in Law Enforcement and the Center for Constitutional Rights joined Muslim community leaders in denouncing official lies and demanding accountability. This event was followed up by several more press conferences and rallies. After a year witnessing the Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street movements, many local Muslims felt a surge of confidence and energy.

However, as plans were made for an ongoing campaign against NYPD profiling, the challenges of maintaining a consistent activist strategy within a diverse and decentralized Muslim community immediately became evident. Some activists insisted on demanding resignations, while other religious and community leaders—including City Council allies — felt the focus should be on policy change. Attempts were made to reach out to anti-Stop and Frisk activists and impacted communities of color. One Muslim group crafted a competing (and softer) set of demands, asking for an investigation but not a permanent oversight mechanism, which Muslim leaders friendlier with the Bloomberg administration quickly signed. A month before, when Muslim leaders boycotted an annual interfaith breakfast with Mayor Bloomberg41 in response to the reports of NYPD Muslim demographic mapping, others told reporters that they supported the mayor and the NYPD policy 100 percent. One such local leader (Imam Qayoom of Queens) even called the boycotters “extremists”.  To respond to  problematic NYPD policies, different groups of Muslim activists competed in their offers to help with training oversight and in their advice to the New York State Attorney General.

When Robert Jackson, the only Muslim Council member in New York City, was quoted in news reports42 saying that he had no problem with The Third Jihad, other Muslim advocates were aghast and were able to ensure that the Councilman quickly issued a strong statement of clarification.

Nonetheless, supporters of The Third Jihad seem to move in lockstep. In early February 2012, New Yorkers opened the morning news43 to find former DHS Director Tom Ridge and Former CIA Director Woolsey staunchly defending the film with strong statements of support for NYPD surveillance policies, attacking the notion of NYPD oversight and also once again attacking CAIR. At press time, Peter King’s latest hearing on “Islamic Terrorism” had invited testimony from Mitchell Silber, the controversial Director of NYPD Intelligence Analysis.44 With an election year barely underway, it seems clear the controversy is not yet over—and the struggle continues.

P. Adem Carroll is founder and former Executive Director of Muslim Consultative Network, which works to promote inclusion, dialogue and community strengthening in New York City.  

 

Endnotes

1 Funded by over $17 million from Donors Capital, DVDs of Obsession were distributed to more than 28 million voters in swing states during 2008 in an apparent attempt to mobilize support for the Republican presidential nominee, John McCain. http://www.publiceye.org/magazine/v23n4/book_reviews.html

2 http://maclc1.wordpress.com/

3 Council on American-Islamic Relations, Islamic Society of North America, Muslim Public Affairs Council, Islamic Circle of North America Muslim Alliance in North America

4 www.ffeu.org

5 http://nyneighbors.org/

6 http://www.commoncause.org/atf/cf/{FB3C17E2-CDD1-4DF6-92BE-BD4429893665}/PARK 51 AND BEYOND-FINAL REPORT.PDF

7 http://www.isna.net/articles/News/Shoulder-to-Shoulder-Campaign-Joint-Statement-Against-Extremism-of-All-Kinds.aspx

http://www.homelandsecurityssi.com/ssi/content/view/330/201/

http://www.homelandsecurityssi.com/ssi/content/view/323/201/

10 http://www.cair.com/Portals/0/pdf/islamophobiareport2009-2010.pdf

11 http://www.prnewswire.com/newsreleases/cairwash-state-agencies-drop-webinar-over-anti-islam-bias-92990484.html

12 http://www.homelandsecurityssi.com/radical-islam-training

13 http://libertybeat.blogspot.com/2010/03/recipefor-profiling-boston-transit.html

14 http://www.pfaw.org/rww-in-focus/the-right-wing-playbook-anti-muslim-extremism

15 http://www.loonwatch.com/2011/11/exclusive-loonwatch-interview-with-reza-aslan

16 http://www.thenation.com/blog/162387/muslim-students-challenge-allen-west’s-anti-islamic-speaker-capitol-hill

17 http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/09/fbi- muslims-radical/

18 http://www.muslimadvocates.org/Losing_Liberty_The_State_of_Freedom_10_Years_After_the_PATRIOT_Act.pdf

19 http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2016396669_cair04m.html

20 http://cairseattle.org/files/Letter%20to%20the%20DOJ%20to%20investigate%20FBI%20trainings.pdf

21 http://ikhwanophobia.com/2012/01/fbi-library-and-online-training-resources-stocked-with-islamophobic-material/

22 http://www.dhs.gov/xlibrary/assets/cve-training-guidance.pdf

23 http://www.brennancenter.org/content/resource/rethinking_radicalization/p.26

24 http://www.aljazeerah.info/Opinion%20Editorials/2012/January/9%20o/Mit%20Romney’s%20ME%20Adviser,%20Walid%20Phares,%20Israeli%20Stooge,%20Islamophobe,%20Implicated%20in%20Sabra-Shatila%20Massacre%20By%20Brooke%20Anderson.htm

25 http://thinkprogress.org/security/2011/07/29/283215/gaffney-bachmann-foreign-policy/

26 http://motherjones.com/politics/2011/02/david-yerushalmi-sharia-ban-tennessee

27 http://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2012/01/singling-out-islam-newt-gingrichs- panderingattacks/252300/

28 http://mediamatters.org/research/200706120009

http://www.jewsonfirst.org/07c/keller.html

29 www.changethestory.nethttp://www.islamproject.org/community/

community.htmhttp://www.activevoice.net/newmuslimcool.htmlhttp://www.shelbyvillemultimedia.org/;

http://www.obsessionforhate.com/index.phphttp://www.mpac.org/programs/truth-over-fear/obsession-a-case-study.phphttp://www.obsessionforhate.com/therebuttal.php

30 http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5hCe7GFq5cXy_sK1F064mOMwFXQwdocId=abc9fc7750a9483388231a4e7bcc13f7

31 http://articles.latimes.com/2007/nov/10/local/me-lapd10

32 http://atlasshrugs2000.typepad.com/atlas_shrugs/2011/02/in-an-expected-move-from-a-longtime-dhimmi-democrat-sheriff-lee-baca-is-attacking-representative-peter-king-for-his-national.html

33 http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/2011/08/pdf/islamophobia.pdf

34 http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/is-the-united-states-still-the-land-of-the-free/2012/01/04/gIQAvcD1wP_story.html

35 http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/cair-files-multi-state-records-requests-on-anti-muslim-law-enforcement-trainings-133886103.html

36 http://intelfiles.egoplex.com/2011-04-27-CAIR-FOIA-Ruling.pdf

37 http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/24/nyregion/in-police-training-a-dark-film-on-us-muslims.html_r=2&pagewanted=2&hp

38 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/len-levitt/kelly-on-muslim-spying-wh_b_1105539.html

39 http://maclc1.files.wordpress.com/2011/08/maclc.pdf

40 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2012/jan/26/nypd-commissioner-kelly-anti-muslim-film?fb=optOut

41 http://newyork.cbslocal.com/2011/12/30/muslims-boycotting-bloombergs-interfaith-breakfast/

42 http://www.politicker.com/2012/01/26/lone-muslim-councilmember-defends-nypds-screening-of-the-third-jihad/

43 http://articles.nydailynews.com/2012-02-05/news/31028263_1_cair-radicalization-nypd-commissioner-raymond-kelly

44 http://homeland.house.gov/press-release/king-announces-hearing-iranhezbollah-threat-us-homeland

Law Enforcement Training and the Institutionalization of Islamophobia

According to Slate,1 Department of Homeland Security has doled out more than $300 million since 9/11 to at least eight prestigious U.S. universities to support “centers of excellence” including the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), the Center for Risk and Economic Analysis of Terrorism Events (CREATE), and the National Center for the Study of Preparedness and Catastrophic Event Response (PACER). Since 9/11, more than 200 colleges have created homeland-security degree and certificate programs. According to Slate, another 144 have added emergency management2 programs “with a terrorism bent” focused on narrow topics like “the psyche of terrorists.”

Among such centers, the Center for Homeland Defense and Security,3 funded by DHS and FEMA, offers a free, ready-made curriculum to more than 130 universities. The Naval Post Graduate School’s curriculum4 has also been especially popular. Slate notes a number of “disaffected Bush Administration officials” involved in this influential sector. The last time such a substantive academic shift took place on college campuses was the creation of African-American and women’s studies departments in the 1960s and ’70s.5

The NYPD’s acknowledged 2011 “one-off” training does not seem to have been an anomaly. A Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) surveillance detection course at the U.S. Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., allegedly included the viewing of a propagandistic anti-Islam film that features notorious Islamophobes such as Daniel Pipes,Nonie Darwish, and Walid Shoebat, and promoted the theme “that “Islam is synonymous with Nazism.”6

Law enforcement is an enormous market. According to PRA’s Thomas Cincotta, “the domestic security apparatus is estimated to employ 854,000 individuals. Another 800,000 or more police, sheriff or tribal law enforcement and emergency personnel are being mobilized to respond to terrorism threats both real and perceived” across the nation.  He documents in chilling detail how some trainers troll this space to spread hateful distortions about Islam, operating with no professional standards and little accountability.7

Cincotta reports how in 2009 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) worked without tracking how counterrorism training grants were being used and had no way to even measure if attendance at such meetings or conferences was “mission-critical.”8 Similarly, in a Washington Monthly article,9 Meg Stallcup and Jonathan Craze documented the bewildering bureaucratic tangle that hinders oversight.

With accountability so compromised, the politicization of intelligence-related training has continued unchecked– possibly also degrading standards at more established intelligence related institutes from Monterrey to West Point.10

Nonetheless, Muslim community efforts are largely reactive and under-resourced, often dependent on volunteer-led campaigns. Muslim donors and foundations continue to be scared away from donating to certain Muslim charities and social service organizations.11 Over 246 Muslim organizations and individuals were slapped with the stigmatizing and confusing designation “Unindicted Co-Conspirator” following the Holyland Foundation trials, a move that has been criticized by civil liberties groups.12 There is a profound impact on struggling organizations when donors are advised by risk management consultants to stay away from any potential controversy. 

Endnotes

1 http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/teachings/2008/03/terror_u.html

2 http://www.training.fema.gov/emiweb/edu/collegelist/

3 http://www.chds.us/

4 http://www.chds.us/?masters/curriculum

5 http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/teachings/2008/03/terror_u.html

6 http://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/cair-seeks-probe-of-anti-islam-bias-in-military-training-88935352.html
http://www.islamophobiatoday.com/2011/06/01/pat-robertson-fighting-muslims-is-just-like-fighting-nazis/

7 http://www.publiceye.org/liberty/training/Muslim_Menace_Complete.pdf

8 http://www.publiceye.org/liberty/training/Muslim_Menace_Complete.pdf p. 14

9 http://www.washingtonmonthly.com/features/2011/1103.stalcup-craze.html

10 http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/07/fbi-islam-101-guide/

11 http://www.charityandsecurity.org/Resource/ACLU_Report_Muslim_Donors

12 http://www.charityandsecurity.org/news/Appeals_Court_Holds_Closed_Door_Proceedings_Challenge_NAIT_Listing_Unindicted_Co-conspirator
http://www.aclu.org/nationalsecurity/designating-non-profits-terrorist-organizations-without-due-process-undermines-sec

Is the Obama Administration Serious about Anti-Muslim Demonization in Law Enforcement?

On August 4, 2011, the White House released a new strategy to counter violent extremism. The Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPAC) expressed support for the plan, Empowering Local Partners to Prevent Violent Extremism in the United States, which must be seen as a rejection of the Senator Joe Lieberman’s (I-CT) and Rep. Peter King’s (R-NY) narrow focus on Islamic-inspired terrorism as the pre-eminent domestic threat. The administration’s plan recognizes that “individuals from a broad array of communities and walks of life in the United States have been radicalized to support or commit acts of ideologically-inspired violence.”

The vagueness of the plan combined with its calls for monitoring, more policing of communities, and early intervention to stave off undefined “extremism,” may undermine civil liberties and constitutional freedoms. Plus, the strategy’s emphasis on violence inspired by ideology may do more to elevate fears of terrorism that are out of proportion with the actual threat. As Charles Kurzmanreminds us this week, 15,000 people are murdered each year in the United States:

Islamic terrorism, including the Beltway sniper attacks, has accounted for almost three dozen deaths in America since 9/11—a small fraction of the violence that the country experiences every year. The toll would have been higher if the perpetrators had been more competent . . . Even so, the number of perpetrators has been relatively low. Fewer than 200 Muslim-Americans have engaged in terrorist plots over the past decade—that’s out of a population of approximately two million. This constitutes a serious problem, but not nearly as grave as public concern would suggest.

But there is good news in this document. The Obama White House takes a decided stance against the fearmongering and scapegoating of Muslims that is on the rise in our political discourse, and even with domestic security and law enforcement circles.

White House Plan Cautions Against Demonizing Muslim Americans

While the White House prioritizes the threat from al-Qa’ida in this strategy, it calls on law enforcement and federal agencies to counter propaganda that the United States “is somehow at war with Islam.” The plan reminds the public once again that

The United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam. Islam is part of America, a country that cherishes the active participation of all its citizens, regardless of background and belief. We live what al-Qa’ida violently rejects – religious freedom and pluralism.

The White House calls for a paradigm of engagement with Muslim communities based on mutual respect, warning that “our words and deeds can either fuel or counter violent ideologies.”

Here, the White House rhetorically condemns any “actions and statements that cast suspicion toward entire communities, promote hatred and division, and send messages to certain Americans that they are somehow less American because of their faith or how they look.” Such actions “reinforce violent extremist propaganda and feed the sense of disenchantment and disenfranchisement that may spur violent extremist radicalization.” But so far, federal agencies have not taken decisive, official action to prevent such destructive and counter-productive messages from being promoted within the ranks of the intelligence community.

Is Law Enforcement Getting the Message?

The White House is relying on local, state, and federal law enforcement to interact with individuals and deter them from using violence. Yet groups like the International Counter Terrorism Officers Association (ICTOA) are sending divisive messages to those very same ranks. The ICTOA is a private association of law enforcement and security professionals founded by NYPD officers. The ICTOA was profiled in a recent report by Political Research Associates called Manufacturing the Muslim Menace because it belongs to a pattern of flawed and biased trainings for law enforcement.

As reported by blogger Richard Bartholomew, the upcoming Ninth Conference of the ICTOA will include Senior Intelligence Analyst William Gawthrop. Speakers like Gawthrop cast suspicion on Muslims in precisely the way the White House has condemned.

Senior Intelligence Analyst Cites “High Birthrates” as Islamic “Tool of Penetration” 

A retired U.S. Army counterintelligence officer, Gawthrop once worked as program manager for the Joint Terrorism Task Force of the Defense Department’s Counterintelligence Field Activity (CIFA). According to the ACLU, CIFA was responsible for amassing secret databases on peaceful protest until the program was shut down in August 2008. In October, Gawthrop will be speaking to police officers, sheriffs, and intelligence analysts from around the country whose travel to the event is made possible by public tax dollars. He will present on the “Influence of the Sharia on Law Enforcement Investigations.” In a paper on the same topic, Gawthrop echoes GOP presidential candidates like Hermain Cain when he questions whether Muslim police or intelligence officers can effectively interview terrorism subjects, based on an assumed “divided loyalty.” After detailing what he described as Islamic legal prescriptions on keeping secrets and lying, Gawthrop writes:

Conflicting ideological beliefs impose an encumbrance on the believer. If the believer is also an investigator or analyst shouldering the responsibilities of an intelligence or law enforcement investigation, and he is confronted with a divided loyalty situation, it is logical that the believer may adhere to the calling of the higher authority. 

(Wm. Gawthrop, “The Influence of Islamic Law on Intelligence and Law Enforcement,” The Vanguard: Journal f the Military Intelligence Corps Association, Vol. 16, No. 1 Jan 2011, p. 9-19).

In other contexts, Gawthrop’s observations on Islam are far more inflammatory. In a working draft paper on “Islam’s Tools of Penetration,” Gawthrop cites Muslim immigration and “high birthrates” as methods for Islam’s supposed conquest of the world. He writes:

  • Westerners are not able to maintain their present numbers
  • Only Poland, Ireland, Malta, and Israel have naturally growing populations.
  • Muslims have some of the most robust birth rates in the world.
  • John R. Weeks study: Countries with large numbers of Muslims have a crude birth rate of 42 per thousand.
  • Developed countries have a crude birth rate of just 13 per thousand
  • 6 children per Muslim woman, 1.7 per woman in the developed countries

(Wm. Gawthrop, “Islam’s Tools of Penetration,” Working Draft, p. 39). This birth rate motif emerges from folks who worry about the “Islamicization of Europe” and the “Demographic Winter.” The message is both fundamentally racist and white supremacist, with close ties to the neoconservative and Christian right xenophobia toward Muslims. “Demographic Winter” is a code phrase for fears among white people that they are being outbred by people of color, and is pushed by the World Congress of Families, says PRA Senior Analyst Chip Berlet.

Gawthrop also casts mosques and the services they perform for communities “as the guarantor and essence of lines of communication penetrating and consolidating Islamic footholds in unconquered tterritories.” (p. 86) Citing former Muslim turned Christian evangelist Mark Gabriel, Gawthrop characterizes mosques as “a place of worship, weapons depot, [and] military planning headquarters.” (“Tools,” p. 85)

Biased FBI Training Manual on Arab Culture and Islam

This week, we learned that the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) alsorecommended Mark Gabriel’s Islam and Terrorism to new recruits as part of atwo-day training on Arab and Islamic Culture. The ACLU obtained a 62-page PowerPoint training presentation used by the FBI to teach new recruits ways to deal with “individuals from the M.E. [Middle East] during interviews and interrogations.” The briefing provides facts about Muslims and their religion which are replete with over-generalizations and over-simplifications. The training material acknowledges that there are more than fifty-one Muslim majority countries stretching from Mali to Malaysia and Afghanistan to Algeria, it paints the Muslim or Arab world as homogeneous. On a slide called “Islam 101”, four bullet points list:

  • No separation between church and state.
  • Hard for Westerners to understand.
  • Transforms country’s culture into 7th century Arabian ways.
  • Regulates most aspects of life.

On a slide entitled “Language,” one bullet point reads: “It is the characteristic of the Arabic mind to be swayed more by words than ideas and more by ideas than facts.” Wired’s Danger Room blog reported on the presentation and received this statement from representatives at the FBI: “The FBI new agent population at Quantico is exposed to a diverse curriculum in many specific areas, including Islam and Muslim culture. The presentation in question was a rudimentary version used for a limited time that has since been replaced.” While the training document is no longer in use, the latest revision date listed on its first page is January 15, 2009, notes Al Jazeera coverage.

I was happy to read in the August 4, 2011 New York Times that “the administration promised to identify accurate educational materials about Islam for law enforcement officers, providing an alternative to biased and ill-informed literature in use in recent years, including by the FBI.” Clearly, there is much work to be done in rooting out hateful or divisive stereotypes about Muslims which cast suspicion on entire communities. Kevin Gosztola of Firedoglake offered this poignant critical reflection:

The strategy presents a decent foundation for addressing whatever extremism the nation should address. However, it is an utterly meaningless strategy if some of the poorest communities in America continue to be used by the FBI as a laboratory for launching entrapment schemes to catch so-called terrorists. It is purely prose if law enforcement continues to train agents or police to investigate and monitor not just crime but the religious practice and social behavior of entire communities. And, it is merely something officials in law enforcement can use to cover their ass and argue they are not targeting Muslims if Muslim Americans continue to have reason to believe their government is conducting surveillance on the mosques they pray in because of their religion.

 

John Guandolo: Another Counterterrorism Expert Exposed

PRA’s groundbreaking exposé of how tax dollars fund anti-Muslim trainings for police and counterterrorism personnel won the attention of news outlets and policy makers at its release this spring. We’ve been keeping the pressure on the Department of Homeland Security to stop funding flawed and bigoted training courses and in the last week our efforts have gotten a boost from CNN and National Public Radio.

NPR’s Dina Temple-Raston, one of the first to report on PRA’s findings, broadcast a “Morning Edition” story this week about a counterterrorism training in Ohio that smeared a Jordanian-American professor with accusations of links to terrorism. NPR reports that the professor had worked with the Department of Homeland Security on a highly effective outreach program to the Muslim community. The only “evidence” the trainer, former FBI agent and ex- Marine John Guandolo, gave NPR for singling out the professor was a photograph of the man with members of a Muslim-American civil rights organization.

John Guandolo is a 1989 graduate of the Naval Academy and served in the Marine Corps until 1996, when he joined the FBI Washington Field Office. In 2009, he left the FBI after having a sexual affair with a key witness in the corruption trial of former Congressman William Jefferson. Guandolo is currently Vice President for Strategic Planning and Execution at Strategic Engagement Group, Inc. (SEG), a consulting firm specializing in “unconstrained analysis in defense of America.” SEG offers trainings for law enforcement on the Islamic threat in America; options of varying lengths ranging from 1 day to 3 days, 1 week and 2 weeks – with each session advancing in detail.

SEG’s specialty – so-called “unconstrained analysis” – draws on a catch phrase that has cropped up in Islamophobic parlance. “Unconstrained analysis” functions as shorthand for analysis that is not constrained by respect for Muslim Americans’ voices and concerns. Nor is it constrained by the reality millions upon millions of followers of Islam do not experience or relate to the narrow-minded, bigoted interpretation of Islam promoted by so-called counter-terrorism experts who view warfare against non-Muslims as a central tenet of Islamic teachings and law. Whereas explicit calls for racial and religious profiling could result in “experts” being shunned in official circles, it’s critical that watchdogs in government recognize the codewords that could justify profiling or discrimination.

Guandolo focuses on the Muslim Brotherhood and its alleged activity in the U.S. According to Guandolo and many self-appointed counter-terrorism experts like him, the Muslim Brotherhood is infiltrating our fundamental institutions through front organizations: “From several major terrorism trials in the United States, and other information, we now know nearly every major Muslim organization in North America is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) or a derivative group.” The alleged “front groups” include authentic Muslim advocacy and civil rights groups such as Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA).[1] According to Guandolo, the ultimate goal of the Muslim Brotherhood is to establish an Islamic Caliphate in theU.S. and Shariah doctrine as the supreme law of the land.[2]Guandolo cites examples such as the installation of footbaths or separate pools for men as women as evidence of the growing Islamic Threat and complains that the reason why law enforcement has thus far abstained from action is due to potential lawsuits and political correctness.[3]

A number of experts on the Muslim Brotherhood have debunked the conspiracy theory voiced by Guandolo. For instance, Nathan Brown, a George Washington University professor of political science, testified before Congress that the Muslim Brotherhood is not a violent organization in most places it operates. The Brotherhood’s rejection of violence, said Brown, is “not a mere tactical adjustment” but a “deep strategic commitment.” He noted that the Brotherhood is not on any U.S. terrorism list and argued that the U.S. should not have any official policy toward the Brotherhood any more than it has a policy toward the greens, feminists, or nationalist right.

During the same hearing, Tarek Masoud, a Harvard Universityassistant professor of public policy, also criticized videos on Rep. Myrick’s website for giving too much credit to the Muslim Brotherhood and for using this conspiracy theory to tar Muslim groups as a “Fifth Column.” Masoud noted that communism did not make much headway in the U.S. with the backing of a major superpower. The Brotherhood could not likely “infiltrate” the States even if it wanted to. Masoud emphasized that an Islamic caliphate envisioned by some Brotherhood groups is a federation of Muslim states, not a grand global conquest. He also debunked a “1991 Exploratory Memo” used by the right-wing to justify their claims of a Brotherhood campaign to take over America. This memo, authored by Mohammed Akram, is an example of a Brother writing to people back home to urge them to make the U.S. a proselytizing priority. When the author said, “these are the organizations of our friends in America,” he followed that by writing, “imagine if they all marched together.” The list of Muslim groups contained in that memo, says Prof. Masoud, is properly interpreted as one individual’s aspirations, rather than as “arms of the Muslim Brotherhood octopus.”[4]

Setting aside basic problems such as selective reading, Guandolo’s analysis also suffers largely as a result of its paranoid associative tactics. In one example, which was highly publicized by NPR, Guandolo falsely accused Omar al-Omari, a 59-year-old Jordanian college professor who is an American citizen and has lived in Ohiofor 30 years, of having ties with terrorists.[5] During a training session with the Columbus Division of Police, Guandolo showed a picture of Omari with members of CAIR as evidence of his guilt. However, several training attendees had worked with Omari before in his work in Muslim outreach for the Ohio Department of Public Safety and found the accusations ludicrous. NPR interviewed almost a dozen members of the national intelligence community including current members of the FBI and Department of Homeland Security, all of which disagreed with Guandolo’s assessment.

Fortunately, since Guandolo can play guilt-by-association, so can his critics. Guandolo’s partner at SEG is Stephen Coughlin, a right-wing proponent of the thesis that Islam is inherently violent and Muslims are our enemies. Along with Coughlin, Guandolo also co-authored a report at the Center for Security Policy with other Islamophobic activists Frank Gaffney, Clare Lopez, and David Yerushalmi called “Shariah: The Threat to America” which jumbles as many Islam conspiracy theories as possible into one book.[6] The report mentions terms like “demographic jihad” and “stealth jihad” in the hope to scaring readers into fearing the Muslim disease. Moving forward, those defending the rights of Muslims, Arabs, Middle Easterners, Sikhs, and South Asians nationwide should heed the danger behind such racist rhetoric. Government officials should be especially mindful of the risk of spreading inflammatory ideologies among domestic security personnel, especially where they blatantly contradict stated U.S. policies of treating Muslim Americans as full partners and respecting Islam as a religion of peace.

Special thanks to PRA intern Ryan Katz for his work researching and drafting this post.

Sites on John Guandolo:

On the Guandolo scandal:http://www.rightwingwatch.org/category/individuals/john-guandolo

On the Guandolo scandal:http://tpmmuckraker.talkingpointsmemo.com/2009/09/the_strange_case_of_the_philandering_fbi_agent.php

http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/guandolo/0018504 – Great article on Guandolo by Sheila Musaji on theamericanmuslim.org

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part I:http://bigpeace.com/jguandolo/2011/03/02/the-muslim-brotherhood-in-america-part-i-understanding-the-threat/

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part II:http://bigpeace.com/jguandolo/2011/03/06/the-muslim-brotherhood-in-america-part-ii-mb-history-their-arrival-in-america/

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part III:http://www.humanevents.com/article.php?id=42562

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part IV:http://bigpeace.com/jguandolo/2011/04/10/the-muslim-brotherhood-in-america-part-iv-crossing-the-bridge-the-implications-of-the-holy-land-foundation-trial-part-1/

“The Islamists Battle Plan” featuring both Coughlin and Guandolo:http://bigpeace.com/smandel/2010/12/17/the-islamists-battle-plan/


 

[1] Guandolo, John. “The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part I – Understanding the Threat.” http://bigpeace.com/jguandolo/2011/03/02/the-muslim-brotherhood-in-america-part-i-understanding-the-threat/

[2] Guandolo, John. “The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part IV – Crossing the Bridge: The Implications of the Holy Land Foundation.”http://bigpeace.com/jguandolo/2011/04/10/the-muslim-brotherhood-in-america-part-iv-crossing-the-bridge-the-implications-of-the-holy-land-foundation-trial-part-1/

[3] Musaji, Sheila. “John Guandolo, terrorism ‘expert.’”http://www.theamericanmuslim.org/tam.php/features/articles/guandolo/0018504

[4] “Open Hearing on the Muslim Brotherhood,” House Intelligence Subcommittee on Terrorism, Human Intelligence, and Analysis, hearing chaired by U.S. Representative Sue Myrick (April 13, 2011). http://www.c-spanvideo.org/program/TheMusli (see video at 1:29:40).

[5] Temple-Raston, Dina. “Terrorism Training Casts Pall Over Muslim Employee.”http://www.npr.org/2011/07/18/137712352/terrorism-training-casts-pall-over-muslim-employee

[6] Ibid. Musaji.

Praying as Suspicious Behavior in the Henderson 7 Case

Since 9/11, practicing Islam has been unfairly viewed as suspicious in some circles, including among many in law enforcement. On December 20, 2009, in Henderson, Nevada, a concerned caller notified police that seven Muslim men were praying in a gas-station parking lot. The men had been traveling through the area and had stopped to perform one of the five daily prayers required in their religion. Although the caller did not describe any illegal conduct, the Henderson police investigated the “incident,” detaining the seven Muslims for approximately forty minutes and searching their vehicle. No arrests were made that night, but the FBI recently questioned five of the men again. [1] Muslim advocacy groups have raised alarms about this unfair and prejudicial treatment, emphasizing that the men were doing nothing suspicious and should not have been placed under so much scrutiny for an innocuous, legal activity.

Although police claim that local policy required them to check out the scene since they received a terrorism-related tip, it is unclear why they needed so much time to investigate the men. Indeed, it is disquieting that the simple act of praying prompted suspicion, on the parts of both U.S. citizens and police. Would they respond the same way to yoga, tai chi, or other peaceful movements in a public space?

One of the seven men recorded part of the investigation on his camera phone. In the recording, a police officer says he doesn’t know what the Muslims could be praying about and ignorantly suggests that they could be chanting, “I want to kill a police officer today.” [2] Police later admitted that “they were not trained well enough to know how to appropriately respond to Muslim religious behavior.” [3]

This is not the first time practicing Islam has been deemed suspicious activity by authorities. The Henderson Seven case is similar to a May 2002 incident in Stoughton, Massachusetts, in which fire trucks, police officers, and the bomb squad converged on a BJ’s Wholesale Club after Muslim men were sighted there praying at sunset. [4] The police evacuated the entire establishment and questioned the men. Clearly, racial bias influences these kinds of 911 calls about “suspected terrorists.”

Muslims, Middle Easterners, and South Asians are often subjected to slurs, and hate crimes on the streets and discrimination in housing, public accommodations, education, and employment. The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) recommends training police about Muslim religious practices and civil rights, and disciplining officers who inappropriately target Muslims. Perhaps flagrant abuses from law authorities will serve as catalysts for ensuring better treatment of ethnic and religious minorities.

Continued unfair treatment, in contrast, is bound to result in the alienation and even disenfranchisement of Muslim American communities, just when the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, and President Obama recommend that we develop relationships of mutual trust. John Brennan, Obama’s chief counterterrorism advisor, has publicly recognized that domestic counterterrorism efforts will fail if Muslims are not involved as partners. [5] When police officers and FBI agents spend their time pursuing innocent people because of ethnic or religious bias, they waste time they could spend on developing real leads.

Sources
1. Ritter, Ken. “Muslim Group Says FBI Still On Nevada Prayer Case,” SFGate, June 21, 2010. (accessed 6 July 2010). http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-06-21/news/21920575_1_fbi-agents-fbi-spokeswoman-laura-eimiller-henderson
2. see http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I0qxUATacuc
3. Blasky, Mike. Las Vesgas Review Journal. “Racial Profiling Alleged: Muslims Criticize Henderson Police Tactics” (accessed 6 July 2010). Mar. 06, 2010 http://www.lvrj.com/news/muslims-criticize-henderson-police-tactics-86706812.html
4. “Evacuation Due to Muslim Prayers Sparks Debate,” by Ray Henry, The Boston Globe, May 16, 2002.
http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-chat/685014/posts?page=1
5. “John Brennan’s Counterterrorism Vision vs. American Muslim Reality,” by Spencer Ackerman, The Washington Independent, June 17, 2010. http://washingtonindependent.com/87386/john-brennans-counterterrorism-vision-vs-american-muslim-reality

Muslims Feel Targeted by FBI, Question Contact on Campus

According to students at the University of Texas-Dallas, agents from the Federal Bureau of Investigation approached them on campus and at work to inquire about their beliefs and affiliations. Without a reasonable suspicion that individuals were involved in illegal activity, such tracking is not only unconstitutional, but ultimately counterproductive.

In an April 11, 2010 article in the UTD Mercury, political science senior Boma Danesh describes how FBI agents questioned him, asking him to identity radical UTD students, radical preachers, and asking him about his political views. Danesh is a member of Muslim Students for Justice, an off-campus group that hosts pro-Palestine and Malcolm X-influenced events. The FBI denied investigating anyone solely for First Amendment activities not because of their ethnicity, nationality or religious affiliation. Nevertheless, other Muslim students expressed the feeling that they were targeted based on their religion.

Although the FBI repeatedly stresses its desire to build positive, strong relationships with Muslim and Arab-American communities, singling out Muslim students on campus for questioning sends a different message.

In related news, a University of Michigan study published in the American Journal of Public Health in February 2010 found that one quarter of Detroit-area Arab Americans reported personal or familial abuse because of race, ethnicity, or religion since 9/11, leading to higher odds of adverse health effects. According to the study, entitled “Association of Perceived Abuse and Discrimination after Sept. 11, 2001 with Psychological Distress,” the American Muslim population is estimated at approximately 5.4 million people, consisting of African Americans, South Asians, and Arabs. In addition, up to 2.5 million non-Muslim Arabs reside in the United States. The Federal Bureau of Investigation found a 1600% increase in hate crimes directed against these populations in the year after the events of September 11. According to the researchers:

given that perceived discrimination is strongly tied to mental health outcomes and that mental health often predicts happiness in Arab populations, these findings provide the strongest indication of the negative impact of perceived post-September 11 abuse and discrimination on respondents’ well-being.

Adverse health effects are just one negative outcome of discrimination and abuse. A recent study by Political Research Associates (Platform for Prejudice) examines how the new nationwide “suspicious activity reporting initiative” invites racial or religious profiling and erodes community trust and safety. This report builds on prior reports by the American Immigration Policy Institute (download here) and the ACLU and Rights Working Group (download here) about the persistence of racial profiling and its deleterious impacts on American communities.

 

Recipe for Profiling: Boston Transit Police Study the “Legal Wing of Jihad in America”

Why are Boston Transit Police Studying Islam?

While reading the February/March 2010 issue of the industry magazine Counter Terrorist (a publication of Security Solutions International), I came across a troubling advertisement.

On May 10-12, 2010, the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is sponsoring a three-day seminar in Florida that takes participants through the “formative phases of the Islamic religion” and the branches and ideologies of Islam to help them “really understand how extremism is organized in Radical Islam.”

The MBTA is promoting a discriminatory seminar, led by SSISecurity Solutions International, which raises concerns about whether such training is counter-productive, promotes racial and religious profiling, and makes local residents less safe. Why is the cash-strapped MBTA using limited funds to study the political or religious motives of potential terrorists? Is this the best way to keep T riders safe? How will this training affect religious and ethnic/racial bias among intelligence officials and the police?

The course content, according to the advertisement, includes “Arab naming conventions,” “Women in Islam and Female Suicide Bombers,” and “The Legal wing of Jihad in America.” Of what concern is the LEGAL wing of [alleged] jihad in America to theBoston’s transit police since it is, by that definition, legal?

This course promotes thinly-disguised Islamophobia that harkensback to McCarthyistic witch hunts for communist front organizations. It has nothing to do with effective law enforcement. Indoctrinating metro Boston law enforcement with these inflammatory views is a recipe for racial, ethnic, religious, and political profiling. Unquestionably, courses of this nature will lead law enforcement attendees to subject individuals to increased scrutiny (and possibly illegal searches) based on their appearance and beliefs, rather than conduct. Law enforcement resources are better spent protecting infrastructure and observing criminal conduct, not studying (or tracking) peoples’ religious belief systems and political motivations.

Security Solutions International is a Miami-based company founded in 2004 [1] that bills itself as a frontline defense against the threat of “radical Islam” and prime provider of “homeland security training” to a range of clients, including local police forces, corporations, and federal agencies. [2] Employing alarmist rhetoric about Islamic groups’ purported existential threat to the United States in the “war on terror,” SSI’s website encourages “first Responders and interested members of the concerned public to help Security Solutions International fight the war on terror. Radical Islam has an agenda and wants to destroy our country. As part of our mission, we are dedicated to keeping you informed about the enemy and developments in this global conflict.”[3]

According to the bio of SSI’s CEO, Solomon Bradman, he formerly managed “Diplomat Trading, a multi-million dollar exporter of Electronic Equipment specializing in Central America, South America and the Caribbean. He has a Bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State College in Aviation. His management and administrative training and experience began while running the fixed base operation at Marathon Airport back in 1984 where he eventually ended up manager, chief pilot, and head flight instructor until moving to Denver to pursue a pilot position with Rocky Mountain Airways. … Over the last three years his responsibilities as CEO of SSI have required his experience and full attention to Administration, Marketing, Sales, Product Development and Public Relations, including being a spokesperson for SSI and appearing on news casts on NBC, CBS, and ABC commenting on SSI programs and security issues. He also provides articles on Aviation-related security issues to top publications such as Business Aviation, Helicopter Monthly and others.” [4]

SSI lists two products that are presumably provided to people who sign up to be SSI “Patriot Partners”: the Counter Terroristnewsletter, an SSI publication that claims to keep readers “up-to-date with developments, technologies, successes and … failures in the global struggle against Islamofascism”; and “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War against the West,” a controversial film described as “hate propaganda” by some critics and distributed by the Clarion Fund, a nonprofit organization closely linked to both the U.S. and Israeli right-wing. [5]

Among the activities SSI advertises on its website are a training course for law enforcement agencies that is entitled “The IslamicJihadist Threat” and a Department of Homeland Security-funded training program in Israel for U.S. clients. According to SSI’s website, this course is a two-day program “designed to give First Responders a deep understanding of the terror mindset and an explanation of the reasons for the Global Jihad as well as practical tips for Law Enforcement in detecting, preventing and responding to acts of terror.” Course topics include “Where does the hatred come from?- Arab naming conventions – Jihad – The Five Pillars of Islam – Ramadan – Domestic Terror groups – International Terror groups – Understanding the culture of Jihad.”[6]

The course has been harshly criticized. In 2008, for example, theWashington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) argued that SSI’s training at the Washington State Criminal Justice Training Commission promoted stereotypes that could lead to prejudicial profiling of Muslims. A CAIRrepresentative told the Seattle Times, “Most police officers don’t have a basic grounding in Islam, so before you teach them about Islam, how can you teach them about radical Islam? It just makes you nervous because when a law-enforcement person pulls someone over, when they see a Muslim person or someone who appears Muslim to them—all this information they just learned kicks in.”[7]

In August 2009, Political Research Associates attended a two-hour presentation by Long Beach, California, Police Detective EbrahimAshabi, SSI’s purported expert on Islamic culture. Det. Ashabi says he is trying to help law enforcement “gain a better understanding of how terrorists think and why they are terrorists.” He offered an explanation of the political and social origins of Islam, the Spread of Islam, Prophet Muhammad, Ottoman Empire, The Crusades, the Muslim brotherhood, Hezbollah, and the long-term goals of terrorism. Such lessons are counter-productive; by suggesting that violent terrorism finds its roots in the Islamic religion, SSI is legitimizing claims by terrorist organizations that their acts are justified by faith, when in fact they are distorting Islam for their own political aims.

Det. Ashabi provided a window into the mindset of some counter terrorism specialists who believe that there are no good Muslims, only bad ones. Ashabi contends that the Muslim Brotherhood aims “to destroy Western civilization from within, through subversive means, legal, political and non-terrorist means, and by changing laws and U.S. constitution. He cited several examples of Islamic “infiltration,” such as the July 29, 2009 arrest of 7 men in North Carolina charged with terrorist conspiracy to wage an Islamic holy war overseas; the Holy Land Foundation case (wherein individuals were accused of giving aid to a group with ties to Hamas that was not on the U.S. government’s list of forbidden charities); and the shooting of police deputy in Fresno by a Kashmir group.

However, with those criminal cases, Ashabi lumps in “on-going threats of lawsuits against police and other law enforcement agencies that offer counter terrorism and race awareness training programs (alleging racial, religious profiling) as means of intimidating police departments to stop training programs.” He cited the July 2009 case (above) of the Seattle Police Department taking criticism from CAIR over its race awareness program. PRA’s investigator, Mary Fischer, observed, “It’s Ashabi’s belief that CAIR is a serious threat to U.S. safety and that the organization continues to permeate all facets of our society in effort to undermine it. One strategy it seeks to use–nominate Muslim sympathizers to political office and law enforcement ranks to then gain access to computer databases.”

So, the MBTA is sponsoring a seminar which views as suspect Muslim-Americans’ participation in the democratic political process. We need to tell MBTA officials that the public does not approve of this religious prejudice. This is not the first time that MBTA has partnered with SSI. In August 2009, PRA requested records related to a similar course held in Massachusetts last year, but the MBTA failed to supply the requested materials. No law enforcement agency should not be lending its name or funds to SSI, whose aim is to stir up suspicion of all Arab, Muslim, Middle Eastern, and South Asian persons, or to get rich trying.

* UPDATE: In response to community concerns, the MBTA canceled its sponsorship of the seminar run by Security Solutions International on March 31, 2010.

Sources

1. Market Wire, “Miami Becomes the Homeland Security Capital of the USA during the UASI National Conference April 10th-April 13th,” April 5, 2007.
2. See Security Solutions International website.
3. SSI, “Patriot Partners,” (accessed September 28, 2009)
4. SSI, “Corporate Officers,” (accessed September 28, 2009)
5. SSI, “Patriot Partners,” (accessed September 28, 2009)
6. SSI, “The Islamic Jihadist Threat,” (accessed October 1, 2009)
7. Janet I. Tu, “Does Course on Islam Give law Enforcers Wrong Idea?” Seattle Times, May 26, 2008.

Information for this posting also comes from Right Web, a project of Political Research Associates, http://www.rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/bradman_solomon

 

From Movements to Mosques, Informants Endanger Democracy

In February, California mosques discovered the FBI had hired a con man to infiltrate their communities.

In February, California mosques discovered the FBI had hired a con man to infiltrate their communities.

In February, 2009, members of the Islamic Center of Irvine learned that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) had hired Craig Monteilh, a 46-year-old fitness instructor and convicted con man, to infiltrate their mosque and keep it under surveillance. Members had wondered about Monteilh for a while. Back in 2007, the local chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), alarmed by his talk of jihad and plans for a terrorist attack, reported him to Irvine police and secured a three-year restraining order against him.

The news that Monteilh not only infiltrated the Irvine mosque but mosques across Orange, Riverside and Los Angeles counties came out during a bail hearing for Ahmadullah Niazi.1 Niazi, an Afghan native and U.S. citizen, was up on charges that he had lied about ties to terrorist groups on immigration applications, because he did not disclose that his brother-in-law was Osama bin Laden’s bodyguard, and that he traveled to Pakistan in 2005 where he allegedly met with a terrorist.

Posing as a new convert, Monteilh arrived at the Irvine Islamic Center in 2006 wearing robes and a long beard, using the name Farouk Aziz. Monteilh had a long rap sheet and had served 16 months in state prison on two grand-theft charges. But he found new friends in government in his new role. FBI Special Agent Thomas J. Ropel III testified that Monteilh recorded Niazi on multiple occasions, talking about blowing up buildings, sending money to the mujahedeen, and acquiring weapons, although the government has not charged Niazi with terrorism. Niazi is said to have refused to become an FBI informant after he complained to the agency about Monteilh.2

We don’t yet know if Monteilh’s talk of jihad egged Niazi on. Was he an agent provocateur, like the two well-paid FBI informants in the 2006 Sears Tower terror plot,  supposedly concocted by men from Miami’s deeply impoverished and predominantly black Liberty City neighborhood? After two hung juries, in May a third jury finally convicted five out of the six defendants for planning to blow up the Chicago landmark. The New York Times quoted a law professor as saying, “It goes to show that if you try it enough times, you’ll eventually find a jury that will convict on very little evidence.” Previous juries viewed the FBI informant posing as a member of al Qaeda as the driving force behind the plot. Despite paying informants over $130,000, the FBI produced no evidence of explosives, weapons or blueprints, only a videotape of defendants pledging an “oath” to al Qaeda, recorded in a warehouse wired by the FBI. The defendants are petitioning for a new trial.

Since the government’s use of secret informants is increasingly visible, in mosques and in an array of activist networks, so too are questions about whether the spies instigated events and infringed on people’s constitutionally protected rights to free speech, association, and privacy.

In a dozen or so cases exposed within the last few years, informants facilitated bomb-making, provided logistical support, cajoled others with provocative language, and goaded people to break the law. Not every informant can be blamed for provoking illegal activity, and entrapment is a difficult thing to prove. Targets of surveillance do often plan or commit crimes: witness the five men sentenced to life terms in April 2009 for their role in plotting an armed assault on Fort Dix in New Jersey. Yet, even in that case, informants played key roles in planning those crimes.

By and large, evidence shows informants do not merely observe and collect data. They make things happen. Their mere presence creates distrust and conflict, making them an efficient tool of repression that in recent years has affected broad, predominantly Muslim communities in the United States, as well as left-wing activists. Informants can cause confusion and dissatisfaction among members of groups and communities they infiltrate, discrediting leaders, and fostering factionalism as people wonder if any of their colleagues are spies. Their handlers’ structure of incentives – raises, promotions, transfers, financial rewards, waived jail time – creates a system where informants consciously or subconsciously create and then destroy terrorist threats that would not otherwise exist. These pressures can push them from passive observer to aggressive actor, with serious consequences for constitutionally protected free speech. Another unplanned result: government loses legitimacy and support in the eyes of targeted communities, if they feel they have been manipulated.

Today’s informants carry the same disruptive potential as their counterparts in the FBI’s 1960s-era counterintelligence program (COINTELPRO), which aimed “to expose, disrupt, and otherwise neutralize the New Left organizations, their leadership and adherents.”3 Today’s agents are shrugging off constraints placed on them in 1976, after the program’s illegal break-ins, assassinations, and dirty tricks against civil rights, antiwar and other activists were exposed. Following high-profile investigations, Congress limited the Bureau to investigating activists they believed were about to be, or were actually engaged in, criminal activity.4

But in the post-9/11 environment, intelligence gathering is driven by a theory of preventive policing: in order to anticipate the next terror attack, authorities need to track legal activities – much like the “pre-crime” units depicted in the film Minority Report. Pre-emptive policing dovetails with a police-promoted belief that “radicalization” is a key cause of violent extremism.5

This emphasis on prevention and radicalization blurs the distinction between thought and action by specifying ideological orientation as grounds for suspicion. It justifies investigating anyone or any group identified as fostering “subversive” ideas. It focuses not on crime, but on the possibility that a crime might be committed at some future date. This entire approach conflicts with the democratic notion – enshrined in the Constitution and numerous Supreme Court decisions – that government may not inquire into or restrict thought and speech.

Attorney General Eric Holder has not stated whether he will revisit lax Bush-era guidelines (see box). Despite the availability of alternative, less constitutionally “iffy” investigative techniques, the use of informants appears to remain a favorite tactic – not only of the FBI, but, as we know from 2008’s political conventions, local police as well.

Agents Provocateurs at the RNC

Few civil liberties advocates were surprised when they learned police had deployed informants before and during the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minnesota. Both the FBI and the Ramsey County Sheriff’s Department dispatched informants to spy on protest organizations. Their efforts eventually led to the arrest of eight activists prior to the convention on charges of conspiring to commit illegal acts. While the county prosecutor dropped terrorism charges against them in early April, the RNC 8 still face felony conspiracy charges that they promoted riot and property destruction in an effort to “shut the city down.” The trial is expected to begin in September 2009.6 But activists and civil libertarians have already learned about tactics that cause grave concern about the protection of free speech rights.

The spies filed about a thousand pages of reports for an investigation that cost $300,000 to the county alone.7 The sheriff’s three undercover operatives are notable for their diversity: a female narcotics officer in her 50s, a 20-something female jail guard, and a headstrong muscular guy looking to be pushing 30.

Marilyn Hedstrom, the narcotics officer, introduced herself to anarchists as “Norma Jean Johnson” in August, 2007, telling activists she had issues with Bush and the Iraq war.8 She cooked meals, ran errands, worked the security detail, and represented the organization at gatherings. Her reports show no talk of property damage or even protests at meetings she attended, but much discussion of internal strains, gripes, and names of activists.

Informant Rachel Nieting, a guard in the county jail, accompanied Hedstrom posing as her niece, but did not fit in. Complete with a fake Facebook page under the alias “Amanda,” Nieting did not gain the same level of acceptance from the anarchists as Hedstrom had, and dropped out. Hedstrom covered for “Amanda,” explaining that she found a new boyfriend.

In their various roles, undercover agents can seriously distort the life of a social movement, as sociologist Gary Marx has argued.9 Hedstrom and Nieting’s participation made the organization seem larger and more inclusive. Nieting wrote that she and Hedstrom were the only two women to join Karen Redleaf at a women’s caucus. Redleaf, a committee member, talked about how disconnected she felt and said was only coming to Sunday meetings because “Norma Jean” was there.10

The third informant, Chris Dugger, had tattoos and resembled a biker. He portrayed himself as participating in a radical movement for the first time. Still, he was accused by another member of being a cop. Denying the charge that he was an informer, Dugger became visibly emotional, wiping his eyes, blowing his nose, and telling the group how bad he felt. He must have been convincing, since two of the anarchists later told him “a cop would have just walked away and never returned and wouldn’t cry.”

By August, 2008, Dugger reportedly urged one anarchist to suspect another of being an informer. This highly disruptive practice, known as “snitch-jacketing,” was a common tactic of COINTELPRO operatives. Snitch-jacketing not only stirs distrust, but can also provoke violence. For his efforts, Dugger’s handlers won him a job in the county jail.

The FBI’s informant, Andrew Darst, infiltrated the “action faction” having been first seen in anarchist circles three years before. He became active in committee meetings of the RNC Welcoming Committee and reported on events held by other, nonanarchist organizations. Not only did he record meetings, his apartment in Minneapolis was wired for audio and video recording.11 In March, 2009, Darst pled guilty to two counts of misdemeanor assault and one count of property damage after breaking into a house by ripping the door off its hinges, confronting his wife, and striking two men present.

But this Minnesota-based spy was not the only person the FBI deployed to track people planning to protest the RNC. The example of Brandon Darby, a magnetic, discontented Texas activist, reveals how easily the fuzzy line between informer and instigator can be crossed.

The Darby Case

For eighteen months before the 2008 RNC, the FBI paid more than $11,000 to Darby, a gun-toting, outspoken Texas radical, to spy on fellow activists in Austin and then St. Paul. Darby was a charismatic leader with a reputation for defying authority who infiltrated the Austin Affinity Group for the FBI after becoming disgruntled with anarchist tactics. Government infiltration by a respected leader, handled by an FBI agent untrained in handling informants, presented the perfect setting for an agent provocateur to thrive.

Darby’s deep involvement illustrates the pressures inherent in the informant’s role. Informants must choose between being passive observers who yield sparse information and wield little influence, or more active participants who produce better information, but also affect what happens more directly – raising the risk of possible complicity and entrapment.

On the eve of the convention, two activists under Darby’s surveillance, 22-year old David McKay and 23-year-old Bradley Crowder, concocted eight Molotov cocktails and stored them in a basement. Crowder pled guilty in the fall of 2008, but McKay’s case went to trial. The jury split evenly on the issue of whether Darby, the elder turncoat, had entrapped him. McKay eventually pled guilty before his second trial began, saying he would have made the Molotov cocktails even without Darby’s encouragement. But the question remains: Were the two men egged on by the charismatic Darby?

Darby was a self-identified revolutionary who slept with a gun under his pillow, according to friends. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, he took an AK-47 and a handgun to New Orleans to help rescue an old friend in a neighborhood inundated by muddy water and White militias. He was a leader of the Common Ground relief effort in New Orleans and a member of the Austin activist community for more than ten years. Friends in New Orleans say he openly supported the use of firebombing as a tactic.

The government loses support among targeted communities if they feel they have been manipulated by the use of secret informants.

Given the need for informants to observe rather than lead, it is curious that the FBI found someone like Darby suitable for the task. Guidelines require the Bureau to evaluate the potential informer’s motivation, dangerousness, and the extent to which the FBI can ensure that the information gathered is related to criminal matters. The guidelines do not address the potential for provocation per se, but FBI Agent Timothy Sellers said he cautioned Darby not to take a leading role.12

Sellers charged Darby with spying on a range of Austin-area activists, particularly the Austin Affinity Group.13 Darby gathered information on a number of people engaged in lawful activism, including some who had no plans to attend the Republican Convention. He described meetings with his affinity group and people in Austin, Minneapolis, and St. Paul for the FBI. At times he wore recording devices, including a transmitter embedded in his belt. Four months before the RNC, he went to Minnesota and provided detailed narratives to authorities on meetings with activists from New York, San Francisco, Montana, and elsewhere.14

“The wider net cast by Darby in his information gathering shows that he was part of an FBI campaign to suppress political dissent and activism,” said Will Potter, a journalist with the alternative press. “By gathering information on law-abiding activists and then defending his actions as stopping violence, Darby contributes to the public perception that political dissent is criminal, which has a chilling effect on free speech.”15

Sociologist Gary T. Marx’s study of agents provocateurs and informants suggests that the nature of informing may lead the informer beyond his or her assigned task, particularly when the motivation is personal or ideological. In his study, Marx identifies the potential motives of informants, including patriotism, coercion, financial reward, disaffection with activists, double agents who want to assist the movement, converts who lose their zeal, and provocateurs who find success in the role by exceeding their mandate.16

After returning from a trip to Venezuela, Darby said, he began to see major problems with “violent elements” of the movement and actions being planned by the RNC Welcoming Committee. Explaining his motivation to work for the FBI, he said he merely wanted to protect the Republicans’ right to participate in the political process.

Ideological motives may produce poor information, says Marx. Disgruntled informants tend to exaggerate or even lie: “There is no limit to which people will go to get even for a real or imagined wrong.”17 Darby shared his employers’ assumptions that anarchists were determined to use violence. “Such agents may thus feel free to encourage activists to take violent action or to report false information. They may feel that the group poses such a severe threat that any means (even lying to superiors) are necessary to destroy it,” warns Marx.18

The FBI did not require Darby to shed his revolutionary fervor. Militant language and a reckless temperament remained part of his public persona. According to Lisa Fithian, who worked with Darby for a number of years, “Brandon was always provoking discord and aggression, in the antiwar movement in Austin in 2003, in protests in Houston against Halliburton, and in disaster relief at Common Ground in New Orleans.”19 At his first meeting with McKay and Crowder, he said, “I’m going to shut this f..ker down” and “any group I go with will be successful.” Darby lambasted the two for looking like a bunch of “tofu-eaters” who needed to “start eating meat and bulk up” so they could fight.20 In fact, he trained them in martial arts.

Disgruntled informants tend to exaggerate or even lie, producing poor information.

There was no reason for Darby to tone down his rhetoric as an informant, although such language could inspire illegal action by younger colleagues. The informant’s secret status frees him or her from the constraints with which more prudent activists contend. Just as Monteilh championed violent jihad, Darby could express militancy without fear of reprisal. As Frank Donner observed, “the infiltrator’s secret knowledge that he alone in the group is immune from accountability for his acts dissolves all restraints on his zeal.”21

One of Darby’s big moments came after the FBI seized shields that the affinity group made to use in blocking streets during the Republican Convention. Darby told McKay, “We’re not going to take this lying down. You’ve got to do something about it.” The next night, McKay and Crowder bought materials for Molotov cocktails. Darby claims that he urged restraint. When McKay considered hurling the Molotov cocktails at police cars parked at a station, Darby texted him, “It’s your call. I support you making whatever choice you are comfortable with. Be proud of yourself for your work and take a chill.” When McKay suggested that there were too many police around, Darby texted, “it’s all good, sometimes it’s best to fight another day … – it’s ok, I’ll support you.”

Although Darby wore a wire to transmit his conversation with McKay about the Molotov cocktails, FBI agents took notes but made no recording. This raised suspicion among jurors that Darby had crossed the line from surveillance to provocation.

Informers and Muslim Americans

Informers generate suspicion deep into the communities under surveillance. “What these guys have done is create an environment where every person begins to suspect the other and with the infighting and inward suspicion, the community becomes its own victim,” said Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council in southern California.

Across the country in New Jersey, two FBI informers helped lead the five Duka brothers down a similar path, ending with their sentencing on April 28, 2009 for conspiracy to commit terrorism.22 Authorities opened the Fort Dix file in 2006 after a Circuit City clerk showed police a video the brothers asked him to convert to DVD. On the video, camouflaged, bearded men shot semi-automatic weapons at a shooting range in the Poconos, where the defendants played paintball, skied, rode horses, and played videogames with their male buddies. On tape, the men shouted “Allahu Akbar,” meaning “God is Great.” Thinking the weapons were automatic, the clerk phoned police. In the eyes of the FBI, these were gun fanatics taping a training video or training for jihad. Had they not been Albanian Americans, the shooters’ bravado might not have raised suspicion. But in the post-9/11 world, the video offered cause for investigation.23

Rather than interview the brothers, or merely monitor them – investigative options that seem old hat in the informer age – the FBI dispatched two untrained civilians to ingratiate themselves with the men in the video. The first informer, Mahmoud Omar, was a convicted felon who entered the United States illegally in 1992 and faced fraud charges. The FBI told him they would clear his debts and help him obtain legal residence, and paid him $238,000 for his undercover work. The second informant, Besnik Bakalli, received $13,000 from the FBI, immigration assistance, and pardon for an old shooting charge from Albania.

Informant Omar was the apparent leader of any plot against Fort Dix. He organized “reconnaissance missions” in which he drove Mohamed Shnewer around potential targets while he railed against the United States. Omar stoked Shnewer’s fire, although he claimed during the trial that he was just trying to fit in. But Shnewer took the bait. On August 1, Shnewer told Omar, “If you want to do anything here, there is Fort Dix and I don’t want to exaggerate, and I assure you that you can hit an American base very easily…When you go to a military base, you need mortars and RPGs.” Omar offered to turn such fantasies to reality, promising to introduce his comrades to an arms dealer and giving them a list of weapons he could procure.

The recordings stretched out over a month, during which Omar badgered defendant Serdar Tatar to get him a map of Fort Dix. Tatar eventually did – but not before he called Philadelphia police to report being pressured for the map and voiced concern that it could be terror related.24

Informants can promote militancy without fear of reprisal from the government.

Without the FBI’s agents provocateurs, there might never have been a plot or weapons. Transcripts record some defendants explicitly rejecting violence. In a conversation recorded in April, 2007, Dritan Duka rebuffed Bakalli’s appeals for violent action. “We are good the way we are,” he tells him. “We are not going to kill anyone. Even if we kill anyone, you can’t run away. They will catch you right away.” But this did not deter the informers. At some points, the defendants seemed too scared to do anything. When they were supposedly shopping for weapons, one defendant worried that “as Muslims, if we get caught, we all get sent away to f…ing Guantanamo Bay for ten years with no court date.”25 Nevertheless, several defendants were caught on tape talking callously about killing as many soldiers as they could in a fantastic assault on the Fort. FBI arrested the six after the Duka brothers bought seven high-powered rifles in a deal set up by Omar.

“Many in the Muslim community will see this as a case of entrapment,” said Jim Sues, executive director of the New Jersey chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), who attended the trial. “From what I saw, there was a significant role played by the government informant.”26 Dr. Ian Lustick, political science professor at the University of Pennsylvania, notes that, Ever since 9/11, national, state and local authorities have tried with enormous resources to find, prosecute, and punish Muslim terrorists inside the United States. The result has been an increasingly embarrassing string of trumped-up charges that trigger much War on Terror warrior chest-pounding, and screaming, terrifying headlines for weeks following the arrests and indictments. Then, months or even years later, when evidence is put before juries and the public, we find that the real “perpetrators” were the paid government informants, seeking profit by inciting and enabling cheap talk and any acts they can produce by gullible, emotional and foolish suckers.27

The Impact on Mosques or Movements

Whether in a mosque or a movement organization, informants achieve the same results: demoralization, helplessness, cynicism, and immobilizing paranoia. After Brandon Darby admitted spying on his friends, Lisa Fithian told Democracy Now, “We feel traumatized. We feel as if somebody that we thought actually had good intentions and cared for this community has been a lie.” Conventional invasions of privacy are alienating and even dehumanizing. But government surveillance goes further, tampering with the very group dynamics through which political change is brought about.28

According to a recent study by sociologists Amory Starr and Luis Fernandez, government surveillance causes activists and citizens to fear participation in completely legal events and to be reluctant to donate to organizations, sign petitions, and receive newsletters. Civic participation is cut back. Allies such as churches will abandon groups under surveillance. Perceiving an increase in government repression, some activists quit entirely. Those who remain active find an organizing culture that was once open is replaced with a “security culture,” complete with reduced discussion, less note-taking (since it makes people look suspicious), and more secretive planning. A broad perception is created that activists’ political work is marginal, criminal, or suspicious.29

Inevitably, surveillance and even the fear of surveillance on the part of those not actually monitored produce a pervasive self-censorship. One activist described the effect: “I had to learn not to welcome people and not give out information . . . I’m interested in community building, and then you’re taught to be suspicious and not welcome people; it’s antithetical to your theory of change.”30

When a person’s politics come under hostile investigation by a secret police unit in a country like the United States that boasts of its freedom, it is traumatic, to say the least. The undercover character of the investigation, the assumed guilt of the person, the denial of an opportunity to answer any charges and confront the accuser, can all be shattering. People are made even more vulnerable by the secrecy of the probe and the knowledge that government may maintain a file on them for the rest of their lives.31 The hallmarks of a security culture are exclusion, wariness, withholding information, and avoiding diversity. As Starr and Fernandez report: “It’s hard to build when you’re suspicious.”32

The same is true for Muslim communities – it is harder to organize if you are wary about others. Through the reckless use of informants, the government has actively cultivated distrust in both activist and targeted populations.  “It gives you a little bit of apprehension about who you trust,” said Omar Turbi of the Islamic Center of Irvine. “Makes you think twice about what you say; what if people misunderstand you?” Hussam Ayloush, Executive Director of CAIR in Anaheim, added, “Some average Muslims interested only in praying are avoiding mosques for fear of somehow being monitored or profiled. Everybody is afraid, and it is leading to an infringement on the free practice of our religion.”33

Today many of the abuses of COINTELPRO are no longer illegal.

Not only is freedom of religion being chilled, but the government’s use of informants is alienating Muslim Americans. As recently as this spring, allegations of widespread infiltration of mosques led several Muslim and Arab civil rights and community organizations to call for ending ties with law enforcement.34 David Cole notes that “when law enforcement and intelligence officials treat a wide cross-section of the Arab and Muslim community as suspect largely by virtue of their ethnicity or religion, Arabs and Muslims will be less likely to cooperate with authorities and provided needed information.”35 CAIR, the largest Muslim group in the country, had played an important role as liaison between the agency and Muslim communities.

Do Informants Make People Violent?

A team of behavioral scientists paid by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security is studying what turns radicals into violent extremists. But what about the influence of highly motivated informants? Paid informants are highly intrusive, aggressive, and potentially provocative. The ability of informants to neutralize democratic change and disrupt communities should raise concerns about whether pre-emptive policing is worth its social and political costs. As civil rights lawyer Frank Donner said, sizing up the surveillance through the 1970s, “under the warrant of protecting the democratic process from disruption and violence, the intelligence state is seriously jeopardizing it.”36

When Maryland activists learned that a state trooper infiltrated dozens of social justice groups over a fourteen-month period, they banded together with the ACLU and Defending Dissent Foundation to urge passage of a state oversight bill.37 Social justice groups, including animal rights and environmental activists, must strengthen ties with Muslim, Arab, Middle Eastern, South Asian, and immigrant groups facing infiltration to demand constraints on how and when informants may be used to spy on Americans. Demands should include the use of less intrusive means of surveillance when a crime is suspected; independent oversight to ensure better supervision and training related to the use of informants for legitimate law enforcement purposes; and a ban on compiling dossiers on individuals and groups based solely upon their political, social or religious activities and beliefs. At a minimum, progressives must insist on re-establishing the protections instituted after the disastrous COINTELPRO programs, requiring suspicion of criminal activity as a threshold for government spying.

These are all in the best interests of the government, not just its citizens. In the long run, the government risks losing crucial support and legitimacy when its investigative tactics even appear to cross the line into provocation and unlawful investigation of protected First Amendment activities.

Candidate Obama explicitly invited Americans to mobilize as a counterweight to the “undue influence of the lobbyists” who “stand in our way.”38 “I’m asking you to believe,” he said, “not just in my ability to bring about real change in Washington; I’m asking you to believe in yours.” For that energy and enthusiasm to coalesce into an organized political force, the Obama administration must rein in domestic intelligence practices that disrupt communities and discourage activism.

Changes in Justice Department Guidelines Needed

Today many of the abuses of COINTELPRO are no longer illegal. Break-ins, wiretaps, and mail covers have been supplanted by national security letters and “sneak and peak” searches, authorized under the USA Patriot Act enacted after 9/11. The danger of these intrusions to privacy and free speech is magnified by the expansion of the domestic security apparatus. The fruits of surveillance can flow rapidly through 70 state intelligence fusion centers, channeling information across jurisdictions from local police to national security agencies.

The election of Barack Obama does not portend a sea change in domestic intelligence policy. There are no signs that his administration is rolling back definitions of terrorism stretched to encompass acts of nonviolent civil disobedience.39 FBI Director Mueller, who serves a ten-year term, worked with former Attorney General Mukasey to issue new Guidelines for Domestic Operations in 2008 that:

  • Authorize agents to attend meetings of a religious or political nature without any suspicion of criminal or terrorist activity;
  • Decrease internal supervision and coordination at various stages of investigation;
    Expand the scope and duration of preliminary inquiries that turn up nothing;
  • Permit agents to misrepresent themselves and conduct “pretext interviews” to elicit information; and
  • Encourage the use of more intrusive techniques with no sense of prioritization.40

Who is Anna?

“Anna” was an FBI informant for two years, who came to activists’ attention at a Fort Lauderdale protest of the Organization of American States (OAS) meeting in June, 2005. Ray Del Papa watched her, dressed as a medic with a red cross on her shirt and bag, directing young people to sit down in the street directly in front of a line of police in riot gear, using provocative language even though organizers had decided against sit-ins.41 They had not counted on an informer in their midst. Anna went on to sleep with a young anarchist who was eventually given a prison sentence of 19 years and seven months for conspiring to sabotage a U.S. Forest Service genetics tree lab and nearby fish hatchery in Rancho Cordova, California. Juror statements that they felt unfairly hemmed in by the judge’s instructions on whether the anarchist, Eric McDavid, was “predisposed” to commit the crime before meeting the informant; that now forms some of the basis of his appeal.42

Endnotes

1 Salvador Hernandez, “Tustin Man Suspected of Terrorist Ties Pleads Not Guilty,” Orange County Register, March 2, 2009.

2 Gillian Flaccus, Calif. case highlights use of mosque informants,” Associated Press, March 1, 2009; Matt Coker, “A look at Craig Monteilh,” OC Weekly, March 4, 2009 ; Teresa Watanabe and Paloma Esquivel, “L.A. area Muslims say FBI Surveillance has a chilling effect,” Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2009.

3 Gary T. Marx, “Thoughts on a Neglected Category of Social Movement Participant: the Agent Provocateur and the Informant,” American Journal of Sociology 80 (Sept. 1974) pp. 415-421, p. 434.

4 Gregory F. Treverton, Reorganizing U.S. Domestic Intelligence: Assessing the Options, (New York: RAND Corporation, 2008), p. 7.

5 This year’s National Fusion Center Conference featured a closed session on the radicalization phenomenon and “understanding the process that leads a person to support and/or pursue violence.” U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security, 2009 National Fusion Center Conference, March 10-12, 2009.

6 Randy Furst, “Terrorism charges against RNC 8 are dropped,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 10, 2009.

7 According to the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the reports documented internal strains, gripes and names of activists, but no talk of property damage.

8 Randy Furst, “Anarchist looked like someone’s mom,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, December 1, 2008.

9 Marx, p. 403.

10 Marx, p. 428. “Specious activists may help perpetuate a protest group by offering the kinds of resources and moral support that are often in short supply among those who take highly unpopular positions and engage in illegal actions. Because of their need to be accepted, agents often work very hard, are often very successfully at gaining new recruits for the movement, and even at starting new branches of a movement.”

11 Revolution, “Political Persecution of the RNC 8: Part 2 Informants and Undercover Agents,” March 11, 2009; Randy Furst, “RNC Informant Found Guilty in Minnestrista Assault,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, March 23, 2009.

12 FBI Confidential Informant Guidelines, § II.A.1. A September 2005 Special Report of the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) found one or more Guidelines deficiencies in 87 percent of the confidential informant files it examined. OIG also noted failure by executive managers to hold first-line supervisors accountable for compliance deficiencies and exercise effective oversight of agents operating informants. See also Dan Eggen, “FBI agents often break informant rules,” Washington Post, September 15, 2005, p. A15.

13 Diana Welch, “The Informant: Revolutionary to Rat,” Austin Chronicle, January 23, 2009, p. 7.

14 Colin Moynihan, “Activist unmasks himself as federal informant in G.O.P. Convention Case,” New York Times, January 5, 2009.

15 Austin Informant Working Group, “Austin RNC Informant Brandon Darby is Provocateur Not Hero.”

16 Marx, p. 421.

17 M. McMann, “The Police and the Confidential Informant,” M.A. thesis, University of Indiana (1954) in Marx, supra, p. 416, n.17.

18 Marx, p. 420.

19 Austin Informant Working Group, “Austin RNC Informant Brandon Darby is Provocateur Not Hero,”. “Prominent Austin activist admits he infiltrated,” radio interview.

20 Austin People’s Legal Collective unofficial verbatim notes of McKay’s trial.

21 Frank Donner, The Age of Surveillance (1971) as quoted in Marx, p. 434.

22 The jury acquitted them of attempted murder.

23 Amanda Ripley, “The Fort Dix Conspiracy,” Time, December 6, 2007.

24 Geoff Mulvihill, “Informants’ action key in Fort Dix terror case,” Newsday.com, May 10, 2007.

25 Stephen Lendman, “The Troubling Case of the Fort Dix Five,” Counterpunch, December 31, 2008.

26 Nick Juliano, “Entrapment? Five convicted in Ft. Dix plot,” Raw Story, December 22, 2008

27 Dr. Ian Lustick, Statement on the Fort Dix Terror Plot case, December 22, 2008.

28 Frank Donner, The Age of Surveillance: The aims and methods of America’s political intelligence system(New York: Vintage, 1981) p. 7.

29 Amory Starr, Luis Fernandez, Randall Amster, “The impact of surveillance on the exercise of political rights: an interdisciplinary analysis 1998-2006,” Qualitative Sociology 31, (July 2008), pp. 251-270

30 Starr, et.al.

31 Donner, p. 6.

32 Starr and Fernandez, p. 15.

33 Teresa Watanabe and Paloma Esquivel, “L.A. area Muslims say FBI surveillance has a chilling effect,” Los Angeles Times, March 1, 2009.

34 Samantha Henry, “Some Muslims Rethink Close Ties with Law Enforcement,” Associated Press, May 4, 2009.

35 David Cole, Enemy Aliens (New York: New Press: 2003), p. 183.

36 Donner, p. xv.

37 Lisa Rein and Josh White, “More Groups Than Thought Monitored in Police Spying: New Documents Reveal Maryland Program’s Reach,” Washington Post, January 4, 2009, p. A01.

38 Barack Obama, victory speech after primary, South Carolina, January 26, 2008.

39 Nancy Chang, Silencing Political Dissent, Seven Stories Press, 2002, pp. 112-113. See e.g., Dane E. Johnson, “Cages, Clinics, and Consequences: The Chilling Problems of Controlling Special-Interest Extremism,” Oregon Law Review 86 (2007), pp. 249-294.

40 James X. Dempsey, “Anti-Terrorism Investigations and the Fourth Amendment After September 11: Where and When Can the Government Go to Prevent Terrorist Attacks?” Statement before the House Committee on the Judiciary, May 20, 2003.

41 Jennifer Van Bergen, “FBI confidential informant also said to be provocateur,” The Raw Story, June 8, 2006. Anna was also the subject of an Elle magazine investigation in its “Green Issue.” Andrea Todd, “The Believers,” Elle, May 2008, pp. 266-325.

42 Dennis Walsh, “Student’s path to FBI informant,” Sacramento Bee, September 13, 2007, B5.