Three Pillars of the Alt Right: White Nationalism, Antisemitism, and Misogyny

Photo credit: Karla Cote, August 11, 2017, Charlottesville, VA https://flic.kr/p/XuUyHe

The new wave of avowed White nationalists who have been energized by Donald Trump—most prominently the Alt Right—have held demonstrations across the United States, most famously in Charlottesville, Virginia in August 2017. Progressive activists have struggled to conceptualize and oppose the movement, and there have been a variety of different responses to it. However, some of these responses show a deep misunderstanding by progressives of what the Alt Right and other White nationalists believe. To misunderstand the multifaceted politics of fascism—and in particular, to ignore antisemitism—is to fail to comprehend the motivations and actions of the Alt Right and other White nationalists. It can also create a situation in which those who are targeted are left to fend off their would-be oppressors without solidarity.

The Alt Right can be understood as a Far Right style and approach, rather than having a single ideological position. It does have two wings, however: one is the so-called Alt Lite, which includes the open participation of people of color, Jews, and gay men, including in leadership roles. This includes figures like Jack Prosobiec, Laura Loomer, Baked Alaska, and Kyle Chapman (“Based Stickman”). They support Donald Trump and espouse a Patriotic ultra-nationalism, oppose immigration, demonize Muslims, and are hostile to the left. The other wing is the explicit White nationalists, who are driven by fascist ideology; they include Richard Spencer, Mike Enoch, and Andrew Anglin. They are like their Alt Lite relations, but also are open proponents of White nationalism. It is this fascist wing—who organized the 2017 demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia in August, and Pikeville and Shelbyville, Kentucky in April and October respectively—that will be addressed when the Alt Right is referred to here. (All of this is not to deny that there is a reciprocal interchange between these wings, particularly with Alt Lite figures frequently adopting White nationalist slogans and positions.)

There are three main themes the Alt Right organizes around: White nationalism, antisemitism, and misogyny, with lesser concentrations on Islamophobia, and opposition to LGBTQ people, and “Communists.” This range of targets should be no surprise; the German Nazi Party was no different in the 1930s and ‘40s. One of their first actions upon taking power was to smash the Communist and Socialist parties, as well as the trade unions; the organizations were banned and the leaders imprisoned. In addition to Jews, the Nazis murdered people who were disabled, Sinti and Roma, queer, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and certain prisoners of war. Slavs, Black folks, and others also faced repression and death to varying degrees.

White Nationalism

White nationalists live in a topsy-turvy world where they conceive of White people as being not only oppressed but as victims of a “genocide” that is in motion. For some of them, movements like Black Lives Matter—rather than being attempts at equality—are actually attempts to establish outright Black supremacy. In their view, it will elevate what they see as an already privileged group to an even higher level.

White nationalists assert that race is the central element in society that gives us our identity and a sense of belonging. But White nationalists go much further in their claims and political goals than the mainstream supporters of White supremacy as it exists today. Those in the mainstream deny the differences between how White people and people of color—especially Black folks—are treated in access to housing, equal police treatment, education, income, etc; and often support comparatively subtle techniques, such as voter suppression or removing funding for civil rights enforcement.

White nationalists in the U.S. have been advocating for pure White racial areas since the 1970s. This is where the rhetoric of “White separatism” arises, which differs from earlier forms of U.S. racism from the pre-Civil Rights era. For example, instead of slavery or Jim Crow segregation—where White people would remain in contact with Black people but exploit them economically and remain on a higher social level—the emphasis has shifted to having racially homogenous White communities, without contact with racial others. With the failure to uphold segregation, and coming under the influence of German Nazism, U.S. White nationalists came to see breaking up racial homogeneity as damaging to their interests.

This is why many White nationalists, including those in the Alt Right, want a White ethnostate, and not just a maintenance of the White supremacist status quo as it exists. This is, in fact, the “alternative” that the “Alt” Right seeks—it is opposed to the neoliberal conservatives who want to either maintain the racial status quo, or slowly make it worse for people of color through comparatively subtle techniques of political disempowerment. It is this goal of a White ethnostate that makes the Alt Right not just different than mainstream White supremacists—not just are their politics more aggressive, but they have a fundamentally different vision of the future.

The Alt Right’s opposition to immigration and, to a lesser extent, Islamophobia can be understood as subsets of these White nationalist views. The Alt Right does not oppose European immigration, even when illegal; and Islamophobia’s ostensible emphasis on religion is a way to avoid naming race, while clearly speaking about it.

Antisemitism

A second, and too-often-overlooked, pillar of White nationalism is its reliance on antisemitic conspiracy theories, which frequently act as its central “theory.” These are constantly mutating, although they contain the same basic premises. Jews are seen as a cabal-like group who control the media, banks, and various international institutions. They use this fantastical power to undermine what White nationalists see as their racial interests. (Almost all White nationalists see Jews as non-White, regardless of whether they have European ancestry.) Kevin Macdonald, a former professor at California State University, Long Beach, is the main intellectual influence on the Alt Right in this aspect, and he has given an intellectual gloss to the more crude antisemitic theories.

The Jewish conspiracy is the explanatory mechanism for how Black Americans and Latinos in particular are defeating White nationalists, who see them as lazy and stupid. If they are inferior, how can they be winning? It is the Jewish conspiracy that is claimed to be working to destroy the White race through promoting immigration, civil rights for racial minorities, and globalization. Antisemitic conspiracy theories hold Jews responsible for creating and guiding the Civil Rights Movement for example. A newer permutation of this kind of antisemitic conspiracy theory is that “Cultural Marxism” is to blame for “political correctness” and movements for racial equality.

The Charlottesville rally itself had a strong antisemitic slant to it. Before the event, one of the schedule speakers, Traditionalist Worker Party leader Matthew Heimbach, said a Jewish conspiracy was behind the removal of the Confederate memorials. He opined that, “they want to be able to destroy knowledge of the past so they, the Jewish Power Structure, can try and control the future.”

At the infamous torch-lit rally on, August 11, the eve before the planned rally, marchers chanted “Jews will not replace us!” The next day, one very visible sign said, “The Jewish media is going down.” Calls had been made to burn a local synagogue down. The Washington Post said that White nationalist leader David Duke made an impromptu speech at the end of the gathering, saying:

“The truth is the American media, and the American political system, and the American Federal Reserve, is dominated by a tiny minority: the Jewish Zionist cause.” Addressing another group, Richard Spencer mocked Charlottesville’s Jewish mayor, Mike Signer. “Little Mayor Signer—‘See-ner’—how do you pronounce this little creep’s name?” Spencer asked. The crowd responded by chanting, “Jew, Jew, Jew.”

The antisemitism at the Charlottesville rally was discussed in the mainstream media—but, tellingly, not nearly as widely on the Left. Articles appeared, for example, in the Atlantic, the Washington Post, and the New Republic about the role of antisemitism—but in almost no more left-leaning publications. This, in turn, reflects a longstanding failure of the Left to recognize and confront issues of antisemitism.

Misogyny

The organized White supremacist movement has always been entangled with misogyny. Its vision of a racial hierarchy is intimately tied up with other social hierarchies.

This isn’t just one of a laundry list of social ills that White nationalists embrace, however; for the Alt Right, it is central. This is even more so than for past iterations of white supremacists; as Matthew Lyons points out in “Alt-right: More Misogynistic Than Many Neonazis,” the last generation of U.S. neonazis embraced a semi-feminism that “rejects the idea of male-female equality yet encourages women to become activists and leaders as well as wives and mothers.” But the Alt Right was energized when the Gamergate crowd (including Milo Yiannopoulos, then an editor at Breitbart) affixed itself to the more intellectual elements around Richard Spencer, Counter-Currents, and Arktos Press.

Lyons describes the Alt Right’s views in his Political Research Associates report Ctrl-Alt-Delete: The Origins and Ideology of the Alternative Right:

Going beyond traditionalist claims about the sanctity of the family and natural gender roles, Alt Rightists have embraced an intensely misogynistic ideology, portraying women as irrational, vindictive creatures who need and want men to rule over them and who should be stripped of any political role. The Traditionalist Youth Network claims that “women’s biological drives are contrary to the best interests of civilization and… the past century or so of women’s enfranchisement and liberation has been detrimental to societal stability.” But the group frames this position as relatively moderate because, unlike some rightists, they don’t believe “that women are central to the destruction of Western Civilization”—they are simply being manipulated by the Jews. The Daily Stormer has banned female contributors and called for limiting women’s roles in the movement, sparking criticism from women on the more old school White nationalist discussion site Stormfront. Far-right blogger Matt Forney asserts that “Trying to ‘appeal’ to women is an exercise in pointlessness…. it’s not that women should be unwelcome [in the Alt Right], it’s that they’re unimportant.”

Prior to Charlottesville, there was a discussion in Alt Right circles about if women could attend. (It was finally decided that they could, although they were encouraged to be in support positions, and only a small minority were in the crowd.) A number of attendees espoused the idea of “White sharia”—controversial in their own circles—which holds that in a future White ethnostate, men will be able to control women a super-restrictive manner. One video promoting the concept says:

Under ‘white sharia,’ our women will no longer be permitted to live their lives as sluts…. And you won’t have any career women invading your workplace either. Nope. Under ‘white sharia,’ our women won’t even be able to leave the home without being escorted by a male family member. And they definitely won’t be voting for liberal politicians anymore.

Anglin adds an antisemitic element, saying that, Basically, your only choice in this matter is whether you will choose WHITE SHARIA or Islamic Sharia. Because the Jews are obsessed with destroying the white race, they have weakened us internally to the point of collapse while emboldening and propping up the Islamic hordes.” At Charlottesville, the fascist crowd chanted “White sharia now.”

A Constellation of Other Toxic Views

Circling around their triadic emphasis on White nationalism, antisemitism, and misogyny are plenty of other noxious views held by the Alt Right and other White nationalists.

Islamophobia

Islamophobia has been popular favorite, which has the added element of uniting a broad group of right-wing actors. It is a popular political issue for the Alt Right, which they use to mobilize their base and for publicity. However, underneath the surface, it lacks the theoretical centrality that antisemitism has—they are not using their Islamophobia to think through or guide their politics.

Islamophobia also creates some complex political interactions here that don’t lead to long-term collaboration in the right. Many core Islamophobic organizers claim Zionism, feminism, and pro-LGBTQ positions as part of their politics, conflicting with the views of many more traditional White nationalists.

Homophobia and Transphobia

Homophobic and transphobic sentiments are the norm rather than the exception on the fascist end of the Alt Right. At Charlottesville, fascists chanted repeatedly at anti-racist protestors, “Fuck you faggots!” (The reply chanted back was, “We’re here / we’re gay / we fucked the KKK.”)

This also has some complications. Fascism Today author Shane Burley said in an email, “The hardcore homophobia is actually kind of new for the Alt Right, it wasn’t an area of importance for quite a while. It essentially returned when the less academic voices in the Alt Right came back and the queer voices receded, like Jack Donovan.” For example at the 2016 National Policy Institute (then run by Richard Spencer) conference, the most pro-GLBTQ strain was on display. Donovan spoke, Heimbach was banned from attending due to his aggressive homophobic approach, and longtime White nationalist lawyer Sam Dickson made the amazing statement that “gay people” will be allowed in the new White ethnostate.

Anti-Communism

In addition to these views, to a lesser extent, the Alt Right has a fixation on anti-Communist conspiracy theories. These are classic conspiracy theories in which “Communists” are the agent of the global conspiracy. They have been revived as of late, with “antifa” often taking the place of the Soviet Union or Western Marxist parties as the agent of the conspiracy. As with other questions however, some Alt Right leaders have a more favorable view of Communist nations as they have existed in reality (which tended to be strongly nationalist) rather than how they portrayed themselves in the abstract. For example, Heimbach, among others, praises North Korea as an ethnostate that practices a national socialism.

Theoretical Challenges to Conceptualizing Progressive Resistance

These questions of how the Alt Right thinks—and who it targets—should be kept in mind when shaping resistance strategies. And it is of particular importance to progressive activists who believe that people of certain identities have obligations to oppose oppressive politics aimed at those who have different identities than their own.

First, the kind of White supremacy that the Alt Right and other White nationalists advocate is substantially different—and potentially far more dangerous—than the current daily grind of racism in U.S. society. White nationalists see the status quo as a problem, and desire a far more aggressive form—a program of genocide and expulsions—to be implemented. It creates new arguments, slogans, images, and conceptualizations that, even when out of power, seep into the mainstream. The Alt Right’s ability to influence the Trump administration is a shining example of this, with Trump adopting the style and positions of Alt Right groups, even though their actual members are not in positions of direct contact with him.

Second, fascists and other White nationalists are best countered by a unified opposition of people from different identities. The Civil Rights Movement involved both Black and White people. In this way, it practiced a unity of means and ends in what it sought to create in society—integration. This is in part, alongside sophisticated organizing and bold tactics, what made it inspiring and successful. The anti-racist counter-protestors at Charlottesville attempted to do the same; one chant was, “Strong, united, interracial crew / We have replaced you.” Countering the White nationalist vision of a racially monolithic society with an opposition that intentionally replicates its racial exclusivity seems bound to fail.

Third, as has been shown, most White nationalists seek to oppress not just people of color as such, but also Jews, Muslims, feminists, immigrants, LGBTQ people, leftists, and anti-racists of all racial identities. If the Alt Right is reduced singularly to the issue of race, this leaves all of these other targeted groups out in the cold. But for those who follow a politics guided by doing political work for people of identities different than their own, is it not the obligation of heterosexuals, non-Jews, and non-Muslims to stand up for Jews, Muslims, and queer people? Or do they have to stand up for themselves without solidarity?

Fascism targets a whole range of identities: it is a politics of full-spectrum oppression.

Fascism targets a whole range of identities: it is a politics of full-spectrum oppression. This political movement should not be opposed just because of the future of genocide which it seeks, the violence of the movement as it exists now, and its ability to drive moderate conservatives even further to the right. It deserves an intersectional resistance because our actions should be bound up in a principled and consistent opposition to the many different forms of hierarchy that fascism promotes.

Donald Trump and Manufacturing the Muslim Menace

Protests against the travel ban occurred in many international airports across the country. Here, a crowd gathers at SFO on January 29, 2017 (photo: Kenneth Lu via Flickr).

Trump’s first week in office was punctuated by an executive order to ban travelers from Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the U.S. for 90 days, and refugee admissions for 120 days. Under the order, Syrian refugees are banned indefinitely.1 This has all been done under the guise of “national security,” spearheaded by men with a history of anti-Muslim ideology.

Despite the Right’s claim of patriotic allegiance to the constitution, the ACLU found many clear violations associated with Trump’s orders, calling him a “one-man constitutional crisis.”2The ink was barely dry on Trump’s order before even national security experts spoke against the ban.

Former CIA counterterrorism case officer Patrick Skinner, who served in Afghanistan as an intelligence advisor for General Petraeus3, called Trump’s actions immoral, stupid, and counterproductive, noting: “We’ve got military, intelligence, and diplomatic personnel on the ground right now in Syria, Libya, and Iraq who are working side by side with the people, embedded in combat, and training and advising. At no time in the US’s history have we depended more on local—and I mean local—partnerships for counterterrorism. We need people in Al Bab, Syria; we depend on people in a certain part of eastern Mosul, Iraq; in Cert, Libya. At the exact moment we need them most, we’re telling these people, ‘Get screwed.’”4

Kirk Johnson, who worked for the US Agency for International Development in Fallujah, said the ban will “have immediate national security implications, in that we are not going to be able to recruit people to help us right now, and people are not going to step forward to help us in any future wars if this is our stance.”5

Trump fueled his campaign with Islamophobic rhetoric. During his campaign in 2015, he called for a “total and complete shutdown of the entry of Muslims” and said “it is obvious the hatred is beyond comprehension” (Ironically, he was referring to Muslims.)6 He consistently criticized President Obama and Secretary Clinton for refusing to refer to “radical Islamic terrorism.” (They instead referred to them as “acts of terror and hate.”)7

Click to read our 2011 report, Manufacturing the Muslim Menace.

These shifts in semantics and cultural sensitivity arose after the Obama administration investigated and overhauled counterterrorism training in 2013, much of which was nestled in xenophobic and Islamophobic rhetoric and led by for-profit security firms. These firms—hired to train military and enforcement personnel on counterterrorism tactics—used generalized, inaccurate, and dangerous stereotypes designed to provoke suspicion, xenophobia, and religious hatred. These trainings and their leaders—many of whom were aligned with neoconservative Christian organizations—were studied extensively by the PRA over nine months and published in our 2011 report, Manufacturing the Muslim Menace: Private Firms, Public Servants, the Threat to Rights and Security. It is important now to re-visit some of those findings:

  • Government agencies responsible for domestic security had/have inadequate mechanisms to ensure quality and consistency in terrorism preparedness training provided by private vendors.
  • Public servants are regularly presented with misleading, inflammatory, and dangerous information about the nature of terror threats.
  • In place of sound skills training and intelligence briefings, a vocal and influential sub-group of the private counterterrorism training industry has marketed conspiracy theories about secret jihadi campaigns to replace the U.S. Constitution with Sharia law, and effectively impugns all of Islam—a world religion with 1.3 billion adherents—as inherently violent and even terroristic.

The report notes that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security expressed the importance of semantics in defining the terrorist threat, and—after meeting with influential Muslim American scholars equally concerned with acts of terror—found three tenants to be useful in describing such acts:

  • Do not demonize all Muslims or Islam.
  • Some terrorists believe their actions are based in theology and are therefore valid—as such, we should remove that validation by using accurate and descriptive language; i.e., avoiding the use of “jihadist,” as “jihad” has varied, textured, and non-violent meaning for Muslims worldwide.
  • Private and public servants should be conscious of history, culture, and context.

Rather than adhering to these and other principles, “counterterrorism experts” implied that Muslims who “practice their religion properly” are required to impose jihadist violence against Americans, the PRA report found. These alleged experts have made numerous dubious and dangerous claims, including:

  • Jihadists pose as civil rights advocates and patiently recruit until almost all mosques, educational centers, and socioeconomic institutions fall into their hands.
  • Jihadists who put off militant action are simply waiting until their holy moment comes.
  • Muslims are stealthily infiltrating the United States from within, intending to make it a Muslim nation.
  • Muslims are aligned with Satan.

Unfortunately, government standards for homeland security professionals’ certification appear undefined and by presenting themselves as law enforcement and intelligence specialists, these organizations and spokespeople lend their credentials to religious bigotry.

PRA’s report went on to outline some of the dangers of these training methods, all of which are prevalent in the wake of Trump’s actions:

  • Biased intelligence analysis.
  • Unlawful searches, surveillance, and actions.
  • Violence and hate crimes.
  • Threats to free speech.

The 2013 overhaul under the Obama administration sought to avoid these dangers by referring to acts of terror accordingly and maintaining respect for a religion in which the vast majority of its followers are peaceful. In a matter of weeks, the current administration reversed such overhauls and regressed back to stereotypical anti-Muslim dialogue. In addition to enforcing a moratorium on entrants from Muslim-majority countries, Trump will now focus counter-extremism solely on Islam,8 even though more people have died in the U.S. from politically-motivated violence perpetrated by right-wing militants than by Muslim militants since 9/11.9

Our 2015 report, “Terror Network or Lone Wolf,” provides comprehensive information on how the government, media, and Right Wing approach the issue of terrorism, and how these issues are framed through semantics, enforcement of laws, and politics. Sociologist Naomi Braine finds that “the differential treatment of right-wing and Muslim cases draws attention to the political contexts surrounding terrorism-related law enforcement … mainstream conservative politicians and [media] protest depictions of right-wing militants as anything more than troubled but patriotic Americans, while Muslim men … are constantly monitored as intrinsic security risks. In the process, Muslims lose Constitutional protections for belief, speech, and association—forced to inhabit an ambiguous territory as ‘un-American.’”10

Sadly, an example of this differential treatment played out before the American public after the Quebec mosque shooting on January 29, in which a right-wing militant named Alexandre Bissonnette murdered six people. As of February 8, Trump—who took time to condemn an attack at the Louvre by 29-year-old Abdullah Hamamy—remained completely devoid of a direct response.11

It’s alarming that the leader of our country has aligned himself so undeniably with the generalized concept of the Muslim menace that he has already caused irreparable damage to national security—jeopardizing tens of thousands of lives and causing a crisis that “will do long-term damage,” as government leaders noted12—all in the name of national security.

Endnotes

[1] Laurel Raymond, “Trump, Who Campaigned on a Muslim Ban, Says to Stop Calling it a Muslim Ban,” Think Progress, January 30, 2017, https://thinkprogress.org/trump-who-campaigned-on-a-muslim-ban-says-to-stop-calling-it-a-muslim-ban-630961d0fbcf#.vwgpyd6e3.

[2] Anthony Romero, “Donald Trump: A One-Man Constitutional Crisis,” ACLU, https://www.aclu.org/feature/donald-trump-one-man-constitutional-crisis.

[3] The Soufan Group, “Patrick Skinner,” http://soufangroup.com/about/team/patrick-m-skinner/28/.

[4] Bryan Schatz, “Immoral, Stupid, and Counterproductive: National Security Experts Slam Trump’s Muslim Ban,” Mother Jones, January 28, 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/trump-muslim-refugee-ban-disaster-national-security

[5] Bryan Schatz, “Immoral, Stupid, and Counterproductive: National Security Experts Slam Trump’s Muslim Ban,” Mother Jones, January 28, 2017, http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2017/01/trump-muslim-refugee-ban-disaster-national-security

[6] Laurel Raymond, “Trump, Who Campaigned on a Muslim Ban, Says to Stop Calling it a Muslim Ban,” Think Progress, January 30, 2017, https://thinkprogress.org/trump-who-campaigned-on-a-muslim-ban-says-to-stop-calling-it-a-muslim-ban-630961d0fbcf#.vwgpyd6e3.

[7] Jeremy Diamond and Nicole Gaouette, “Does it Matter if Obama Uses the Term ‘Islamic Terrorism’?” CNN, June 13, 2016, http://www.cnn.com/2016/06/13/politics/islamic-terrorism-trump-obama-clinton/.

[8] Julia Ainsley, Dustin Volz and Kristina Cooke, “Trump to Focus Counter-Extremism Program Solely on Islam,” Reuters, February 2, 2017, http://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trump-extremists-program-exclusiv-idUSKBN15G5VO

[9] Naomi Braine, “Terror Network or Lone Wolf?” Political Research Associates, June 19, 2015, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/06/19/terror-network-or-lone-wolf/#sthash.36kbR5kc.dpbs

[10] Naomi Braine, “Terror Network or Lone Wolf?” Political Research Associates, June 19, 2015, https://www.politicalresearch.org/2015/06/19/terror-network-or-lone-wolf/#sthash.36kbR5kc.dpbs

[11] May Bulman, “Kellyanne Conway Defends Donald Trump’s Silence Over Quebec Mosque Shooting,” The Independent, February 8, 2017, http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/kellyanne-conway-defends-donald-trump-s-silence-over-quebec-mosque-shooting-a7568686.html

[12] Laura Koran, Elise Labott and Jim Sciutto, “Ex-National Security Officials in Both Parties Protest Trump Order,” CNN, January 30, 2017, http://www.cnn.com/2017/01/30/politics/letter-opposition-trump-immigration-order/.

#First100Days Crash Course: Week 2

Coinciding with Trump’s first 100 days in Office — a period of time historically used as a benchmark to measure the potential of a new president — PRA will share readings, videos, and tools for organizing to inform our collective resistance based on principles for engaging the regime, defending human rights, and preventing authoritarianism. Daily readings will be posted on our Facebook and Twitter accounts and archived HERE.

Week 2: Islamophobia & Antisemitism

Contemporary Islamophobia rests on a long history of conflict and it is important to to be aware of how Islam was seen in Europe over many centuries, because these tropes are the basis for most contemporary narratives. There are complex interactions among Islamophobic prejudice, discrimination, exclusion, and violence and it may be more accurate to discuss the topic as “Islamophobias” rather than as a single phenomenon.

Antisemitism is a durable and unique historic and contemporary form of prejudice or demonization appearing at various times based on perceptions of religion, ethnicity, and race. In the U.S., Christian supremacist notions created systems of oppression that kept Jews in a second-class status until after WWII. While institutionalized antisemitism as a form of oppression is no longer a major force, prejudice and demonization remain. Although Jews are actually a diverse ethnoreligious group, their biased critics often project on them a racial identity that has motivated intimidation and violence.

Media: Click to download

Featured resources:

Additional Readings:

Engage:

Do’s and Don’ts for Bystander Intervention
If you witness public instances of racist, anti-Black, anti-Muslim, anti-Trans, or any other form of oppressive interpersonal violence and harassment, use these tips on how to intervene while considering the safety of everyone involved.

Pro-LGBTQ Smokescreens for Anti-Muslim Attacks

Two activists with placards at London’s vigil in memory of the victims of the Orlando gay nightclub terror attack. Photo: Alisdare Hickson via Flickr.

In a press release issued after last year’s Pulse Nightclub massacre in Orlando, Florida, where a Muslim-American gunman killed 49 people at a gay dance club, Donald Trump said, “Hillary Clinton can never claim to be a friend of the gay community as long as she continues to support immigration policies that bring Islamic extremists to our country who suppress women, gays and anyone who doesn’t share their views.”

His solution? Ban Muslims.

“When I am elected,” he said, “I will suspend immigration from areas of the world when there is a proven history of terrorism against the United States, Europe or our allies.”

“I don’t want them in our country,” he declared. Less than a year later, Trump’s recent executive order—regarded by many as a “Muslim ban”—went into effect.

As Dylan Matthews reported in Vox, Trump’s post-Orlando rhetoric is a favorite trick of the European Far Right. The strategy of invoking LGBTQ rights as just cause for anti-Muslim policies first gained popularity in 2002 when Dutch activist Pim Fortuyn, an openly gay man, rose to political prominence based, in part, on his advocacy for zero immigration. Fortuyn, who aspired to be the Netherlands’ next Prime Minister, once argued, “In Holland, homosexuality is treated the same way as heterosexuality. In what Islamic country does that happen?”

Like Trump, Fortuyn was described as a demagogue and populist, and in the weeks leading up Holland’s 2002 election, a journalist for The Guardian observed, “Fortuyn believes he dares to say what most people are thinking. On 15 May he will discover whether his instincts are right. If they are, the ripples of his success will radiate far beyond the Netherlands’ borders.” But before the Dutch could cast their ballots, Fortuyn was assassinated by a lone shooter: a vegan animal rights activist who later confessed that he killed Fortuyn in order to “protect Muslims.”

Fortuyn’s contemporary, Geert Wilders, leader of the Netherlands’ far-right Party for Freedom, is keeping his mentor’s legacy alive, using the same twisted trade-off that pits gays (as well as women and Jews) against Muslims. In a recent op-ed, Wilders argued, “Islam is a totalitarian ideology. Muslims are its victims. … [T]he more Islamic apostates there are, the less misogyny, the less hatred of gays, the less anti-Semitism, the less oppression, the less terror and violence, and the more freedom there will be.”

Dubbed “the Dutch Donald Trump,” Wilders promises to return the Netherlands to its White, Christian roots. In a rare interview with NPR last December, Wilders said, “Donald Trump did the job in America, and I hope that here in Europe, we will see a patriotic spring in Holland and also in Germany, in France—in many other countries where parties like mine are getting stronger every day.”

While his European admirers cheer him on, Trump has issued an onslaught of regressive executive orders. His actions have encompassed a wide range of targets including health care, the environment, immigrants, refugees, and, of course, Muslims.

Shortly after last week’s anti-Muslim executive order, rumors began to circulate that LGBTQ people would be next on the list. The White House issued a statement indicating that Trump was not seeking to roll back the protections for LGBTQ federal workers that Obama established by way of executive order in 2014, but this small concession was no kind of victory. LGBTQ Muslims and LGBTQ immigrants are still squarely in the crosshairs of the Trump Administration, and outside of the federal workforce, LGBTQ workers in more than 20 states remain vulnerable to discrimination.

Meanwhile, a draft order on “religious freedom” obtained by The Nation on February 1 included language that would “create wholesale exemptions for people and organizations who claim religious objections to same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion, and trans identity.” Legal experts described the document as “sweeping” and “staggering,” and argued that it may be in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment to the Constitution.

The threat of the proposed First Amendment Defense Act (FADA) also looms. FADA is the most threatening chapter in the Christian Right’s ongoing effort to redefine religious freedom in order to impose oppressive ideologies and justify discrimination. The law, which Trump has vowed to pass, would open the door to widespread discrimination against LGBTQ people (and countless others) by granting legal protections to people, businesses, or institutions that believe “marriage is or should be recognized as the union of one man and one woman, or that sexual relations are properly reserved to such a marriage.” Specifically, it prevents the government from revoking tax-exempt status, issuing fines or penalties, canceling contracts or grants, or “otherwise discriminat[ing] against such a person.”

Any supposedly “pro-gay” concessions made by the Trump Administration should be seen for what they really are: a smokescreen through which to push through other regressive attacks on Muslims, immigrants, women, and other marginalized and threatened communities.

The ACLU’s Ian Thompson, a legislation representative specializing in LGBTQ policy, warns that FADA “would impact LGBTQ people everywhere,” even in states where LGBTQ people are otherwise protected by civil rights ordinances that include sexual orientation and gender identity.

So regardless of whether or not Trump moves forward with the draft religious freedom executive order (or something close to it), LGBTQ rights are still at grave risk, and any supposedly “pro-gay” concessions made by the Trump Administration should be seen for what they really are: a smokescreen through which to push through other regressive attacks on Muslims, immigrants, women, and other marginalized and threatened communities.

 

 

Ebola: The Right’s New Code Word for Islamophobia, Homophobia, & Xenophobia

The recent Ebola cases in the U.S. have sparked popular news outlets and Religious Right leaders into an undeniable state of panic. The mention of Ebola is accompanied by an urging to close “the border,” as the U.S. Right re-employs its all-too-familiar tactic of using popular discourse as a platform for Islamophobic, racist, anti-immigrant, and homophobic rhetorical shots.

A protester stands outside the White House. image via JACQUELYN MARTIN / AP

A protester stands outside the White House. image via JACQUELYN MARTIN / AP

The physical impact of the Ebola virus is well documented. According to the Center for Disease Control, there have been 1,018 deaths due to Ebola in Guinea, 2,413 deaths in Liberia, and 1,510 in Sierra Leone. In the United States, there have been only four confirmed cases, one resulting in death. As several recent articles point out, the medical effects of Ebola in the U.S. are miniscule compared to those of other common and well-known viruses, such as the flu—which results in between 3,349 – 48,614 deaths annually in the U.S.

The near ubiquitous discussion on Ebola is rarely solely comprised of statistics or its biological effects. Ebola—not the virus, but the newsworthy discussion topic—has become a cultural phenomenon acquiring meaning and consequence beyond its medical character. In approaching Ebola from a cultural lens, we expose how it has become a tool for the Right, inserted amid public discourses on race, religion, immigration, sexuality, and terrorism.

Conservative journalist Paul Sperry wrote an article in Investor’s Business Daily titled, “Islamic Burial Rituals Blamed for Spread of Ebola,” in which he states, “Islam isn’t just at the heart of the terror threat posed by the Islamic State. The religion is also contributing to the other major crisis plaguing the globe: the spread of Ebola” (emphasis added). Sperry names the religion of Islam itself as the culprit for the spread of Ebola and for the terror threat created by the self-described Islamic State, a militant Sunni Islamic group that has seized large territories in eastern Syria and northern Iraq, and whose casualties are mainly made up of fellow Sunni Muslims as well as Shiite Muslims. In naming Islam itself as blameworthy for these threats, Sperry adopts several of the pillars of Islamophobic rhetoric as identified by the Runnymede Trust Report including the following beliefs: Islam is monolithic and static, Islam is completely separate from other cultures and religions, Islam is inferior to the West, Islam is a political ideology used for military advantage, and Islam is violent and in support of terrorism.

Alan Keys, a conservative political activist, former diplomat, and radio talk show host, shares a similar sentiment when he warns that Obama’s “plan to import Ebola-infected persons into the United States” will have the majority of Americans “look(ing) upon a country no longer their own.” This begs the question, whose country is it? On October 14, 2014, conservative public interest lawyer, Larry Klayman, sued the Obama administration for using the Ebola virus to further Muslim bioterrorism on “Christian and Jewish Caucasian Americans.” Klayman alleges that President Obama’s actions exposing Americans to Ebola is a “direct result of discrimination against Plaintiff [Klayman] on the basis of his Caucasian race and Jewish-Christian religion and in favor of people of the African-Black race and the Islamic religion.”

Klayman has not written a single article about the devastating number of deaths the Ebola virus has caused in Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia. As journalist Hannah Giorgis aptly writes in the Guardian, the “death [of Black people] is remarkable only to the extent that its perpetrator could also affect citizens more deserving of sympathy, of news coverage and of life.” Judging by the upsurge in media coverage since the documented U.S. case, Ebola was not considered a threat to most in the United States until the lives of White Americans came into question. Klayman’s answer to the presence of Ebola in the U.S. is to blame “suicide terrorists from ISIS, [and] perhaps American Muslim traitors” and to sue Obama for refusing to issue a travel ban on persons flying to the U.S. from West Africa and from “all Muslim nations where terrorists have a beachhead.” In the face of public health experts’ nearly unanimous position that a ban could increase the threat of the virus spreading, President Obama continues to undergo pressure from Capitol Hill and others to prohibit travel into the U.S. from West Africa.

Moreover, despite lacking any backing from scientists or public health officials, several conservative politicians have expanded upon these nativist fears, insisting on the urgent threat of Ebola emanating from the “porous” U.S.-Mexico border. Former Massachusetts Senator Scott Brown, North Carolina Senator Thom Tillis, and Kentucky Senator Rand Paul have all recently stated their beliefs that the U.S.-Mexico border is not secure enough to keep Ebola out of the United States. Representative Phil Gingrey (R – Georgia) agrees. In a letter to the director of the CDC, Gingrey writes, “Reports of illegal migrants carrying deadly diseases such as swine flu, dengue fever, Ebola virus, and tuberculosis are particularly concerning.” To date, not a single case of Ebola has been reported in Mexico or in any Central or South American country.

While some blame the spread of Ebola on a “porous” national border, several evangelical religious leaders have recently jumped into the Ebola debate by linking the virus to LGBTQ people and to same-sex marriage, including  New York Pastor James David Manning of the ATLAH Worldwide Missionary, who cautioned the public that Starbucks coffee shops are “ground zero for Ebola,” because they attract “a large number of sodomites” interested in “clandestine sexual activities” and who “exchange a lot of body fluids.” North Carolina Pastor Ron Baity, recipient of The Family Research council’s top “pro-family” award, warns the End Times—in the form of Ebola—are now upon us in the wake of recent court actions overturning North Carolina’s ban on same-sex marriage. Conservative Christian radio host of Trunews, Rick Wiles, is more optimistic about the effects of Ebola on the U.S., “Ebola could solve America’s problems with atheism, homosexuality, sexual promiscuity, pornography, and abortion.” Speaking on the causes of Ebola, Archbishop Lewis Zeigler of the Catholic Church of Liberia asserts “one of the major transgressions against God for which He may be punishing Liberia is the act of homosexuality.”

This rhetoric mirrors religious conservative statements about the LGBTQ community during the height of the AIDS crisis. Jerry Falwell, founder of Liberty University and co-founder of the Moral Majority, famously referred to the AIDS epidemic as “the wrath of a just God against homosexuals.” While Liberian and U.S. religious and political leaders publicly ponder the “threat” of the LGBTQ community on the wider public’s health, the material effects of anti-gay policies and violence against the LGBTQ community in West Africa have escalated.

Disguised as concern over public health and safety, the Right’s discourse surrounding Ebola has become a shielded arena for the propagation of xenophobic attitudes and fears. Christian Right leaders use this rhetoric to suggest that White Americans, especially Christians, are being threatened by Black West Africans, Muslim terrorists, undocumented Mexican immigrants, and the LGBTQ community. Meanwhile, thousands of Black West Africans, many of Islamic faith, including LGBTQ people, have actually died from the physical effects of the Ebola virus.

In the U.S., the word “Ebola” has become shorthand for a migrant, racialized threat to the body, whose very mobile nature challenges imperialistic notions of distinct, self-contained, isomorphic spaces. Ebola is personified as a terrorist body that needs to be quarantined, surveilled, and banned. Its origins are constructed as “over there” (outside of the West), and its threat is felt “here.” Because it isn’t capable of self-selecting a group to be aligned with, nor a group to invade, the virus is easily linguistically detached and reattached to different populations whose bodies are associated with threatening White, Western, heterosexual citizenry.

It may be tempting to dismiss the Right’s alarmist rants over the Ebola virus as bizarre and atypical. However, the ways contagions have historically been connected to public discourses on race, religion, sexuality, and the nation suggests that the current debates on Ebola are deeply rooted and easily mobilized. Several journalists have documented  (see here, here, and here) the relationship between the over-hyped Ebola threat to Americans, and the rhetoric of hate employed by the Right which poses a real material threat to bodies constructed as “other.”

In linking the abstract threat of “otherness” with a material entity that can invade the bloodstream and alter the biological cells of the body, right-wing Ebola discourse insists upon being felt. Infected by the force of tangible fear, how will affected persons be incited into action and whose lives will they threaten?

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Right-Wing Group Places Islamophobic Ad in College Newspapers

Faces-of-Islamic-Apartheid

Ad by the David Horowitz Freedom Center

Across college campuses last week, students were faced with a full-page ad promoting “Islamic Apartheid Week”. Funded and placed by the David Horowitz Freedom Center, it appeared during the annual “Israeli Apartheid Week” organized by pro-Palestinian groups on many of the same campuses.

The ad draws several disparate stories together under the title “Faces of Islamic Apartheid.” It shows six photos, as if seen through a sniper rifle, overlaid with the Islamic crescent and star. The photos depict a range of Muslim individuals who have been killed or sentenced to death in recent years, and the ad blames Islam for their deaths. The captions include “Texas teenagers shot dead by their father . . . an Egyptian-born Muslim” and “Sentenced to death by stoning in Iran for the crime of adultery.” A website for “Islamic Apartheid Week” is promoted at the bottom.

According to its mission statement, the David Horowitz Freedom Center “combats the efforts of the radical left and its Islamist allies to destroy American values.” The organization has come under fire repeatedly for Islamophobic rhetoric, and it funds Islamophobic media outlets such as Jihad Watch. It launched its Islamic Apartheid Week event last year as a “national campaign to expose the brutal discrimination that occurs under Islamic Sharia law.” Advertised speakers included extremist anti-Muslim leaders Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. Geller, Spencer, and two other right-wing speakers were featured during the inaugural Islamic Apartheid Week at Temple University last April. According to the event’s website, seven other campuses have held similar events, though there has been no coverage of these events in the newspapers of those colleges.

The full-page ad appeared in the campus newspaper of at least seven colleges last week: Rutgers, Colorado State, George Washington, University of Texas at Austin, Tufts, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and the University of Pennsylvania. Student groups on five of these campuses held Israeli Apartheid Week events, designed around the idea that Israeli policies towards Palestinians are unequal and segregationist, during the same week. According to an email sent to donors and supporters last week, the Center originally planned to target 40 campuses. Ultimately, a Center employee noted that nine college newspapers turned down the ad, including five in the University of California system.

Editors of three publications in which the ad appeared issued apologies. Susannah Jacob of the Daily Texan called the ad “a convoluted incitement to violence that preys upon existing prejudice,” and Tufts Daily editor Martha Shanahan wrote that “[publishing the ad] was irresponsible, and it gave voice to a party whose voice does not belong at Tufts.”

The Horowitz Freedom Center’s Daniel Greenfield defended the ad, claiming that “the campus culture of political correctness drowned out [the victims’] voices and apologized for even allowing their stories to be told.” Greenfield’s piece, published in a variety of right-wing media outlets, claims the goal of the ad is to “[address] bigotry threatening minorities in the Muslim world” and calls Israeli Apartheid Week events “a festival of hatred.”

“Ex-Terrorist” Kamal Saleem Cons the Conservatives

One of the stock characters in American public life is the political/religious convert who becomes the expert on the evil he once was. Pick your era or locality of evil, and you’ll find ’em. And while there are certainly authentic converts from totalist or criminal societies who have truths to tell, for others it becomes a confidence game of ever newly found or escalating evil.

The latest such character to take to the stage of history is Kamal Saleem, who was a featured and wildly popular speaker at the just-concluded Value Voters Summit. And yet he has been repeatedly exposed as a fraud whose story of being an ex-terrorist doesn’t add up.

I was struck by how through his story of being a big time terrorist for hire for the likes of Arafat, Assad, and Sadaam Hussein, he sought to contrast this with the kindness and compassion of Christians, such as those who nursed him back to health after a car crash in the U.S. While we knew he had converted to evangelical Christianity, Saleem is a good story teller and so I couldn’t tell where his story was going. I was surprised when we got there and he roared, “Allah and Jehovah are not the same god!”

And the crowd of some 1200 Values Voters went wild.

While the demonization of Islam is nothing new, Saleem makes it part of a conversion narrative that, without quite saying so, gives permission to fellow evangelicals to justify religious war. He has known how deep and dark is the evil; he lived to tell about it; and he knows what must be done.

Echoing his predecessors in false testimony, such as Sen. Joseph McCarthy, he also told VVS12 attendees that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is conspiring with Muslim nations to “subjugate American people to be arrested and put to jail and their churches and synagogues shut down.” Read More

Reconsidering Hate

A Forum on the “Hate” Frame in Policy, Politics and Organizing

Demonstrators stand and listen to speakers during a rally to protest the death of Trayvon Martin in Miami. Lucas Jackson / Reuters

This article excerpted from a Political Research Associates discussion paper, available online.

In 1998, three White men in Jasper, Texas murdered James W. Byrd, Jr., an African-American man, dragging him for two miles along an asphalt road. Several months later, two men met 21-year-old Matthew Shepard, a White, gay student at the University of Wyoming, in a bar in Laramie, gave him a ride, pistol-whipped him and tied him to a fence. Shepard died from his injuries several days later.

These horrific incidents, labeled “hate crimes,” galvanized the nation. They intensified public support for laws that would add enhanced provisions to certain violations already subject to criminal penalties. These provisions include law enforcement reporting requirements, mandated training for law enforcement personnel, and civil legal remedies (permitting victims to sue for damages). Penalty enhancements could only be applied in cases where the crimes could be proved to be linked by bias and attempts to terrorize entire groups of people based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity or expression, or physical/mental disability.1

Read More

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