Friday, August 5, 2011

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 administrations 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 Kurzman reminds 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) also recommended Mark Gabriel’s
Islam and Terrorism to new recruits as part of a two-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.

Friday, July 22, 2011

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 the U.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 University assistant 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 Ohio for 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:

On the Guandolo scandal: - Great article on Guandolo by Sheila Musaji on

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part I:

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part II:

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part III:

The Muslim Brotherhood in America Part IV:

“The Islamists Battle Plan” featuring both Coughlin and Guandolo:

[1] Guandolo, John. “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.”

[3] Musaji, Sheila. “John Guandolo, terrorism ‘expert.’”

[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). (see video at 1:29:40).

[5] Temple-Raston, Dina. “Terrorism Training Casts Pall Over Muslim Employee.”

[6] Ibid. Musaji.

Friday, July 8, 2011

FBI Using Next Generation of Big Brother to Cajole States into Targeting Immigrants?

Post-9/11 congressional mandates for better interagency information sharing have often been taken in a direction that undermines community safety and threatens personal privacy. According to new government records released to the public on July 6, 2011, the FBI is using its clout to cajole state and local law enforcement agencies into participating in the Secure Communities program (S-Comm) of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Under S-Comm, law enforcement agencies share sensitive data, collected for the purpose of stopping crime, with other agencies, such as the Department of Homeland Security. ICE, which is part of Homeland Security, then uses the data for civil immigration enforcement. Thus, S-Comm turns local police into immigration agents.

The bureau’s new Next Generation Identification (NGI) system—an effort to achieve greater interoperability among databases at the national level, expand the biometric data in those files, and increase the size of the databases—is the tool for such information sharing. The Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Day Labor Organizing Network have sued to shed light on NGI.

S-Comm has come under fire from law enforcement and immigrant advocates alike. Law enforcement officials complain that the program undermines community policing initiatives, frightening community members away from working with police. Of the approximately 400,000 deportations under the Obama administration, 100,000 have been attributed to S-Comm. Many of the individuals removed were identified through their histories in the Criminal Alien Program, a program which puts ICE agents in county jails and detention centers to identify persons subject to removal. However, public officials charge that S-Comm is also responsible for deporting individuals over minor infractions, not dangerous crimes.

When an individual is detained or arrested, local law enforcement usually sends fingerprints and other data to the FBI, to check for matches against its databases. Increasingly, law enforcement is collecting additional personal identifying traits, such as retina images and palm prints. Under S-Comm, the FBI sends this personal data to ICE, which checks to see whether it matches information in its databases and whether the individual is subject to deportation. Yet, the information in ICE databases is not always reliable or up to date.

Because local agencies rely heavily on the FBI for background checks, the FBI can force them to participate in S-Comm. Many local and state agencies have been trying to opt-out of S-Comm, but according to Jessica Karp, staff attorney at the National Day Laborer Organizing Network (NDLON), the FBI stands in their way:

The Criminal Justice Information Services (CJIS) Advisory Board, which oversees the FBI’s criminal databases, passed a motion in June 2009 recommending that the FBI convert S-Comm from a voluntary to a mandatory program. At that time—and as much as one year later—ICE was still representing S-Comm as voluntary to state and local officials. The FBI’s decision to support mandatory imposition of S-Comm was not driven by any statutory requirement but rather for what it called “record linking/maintenance purposes.” In fact, the FBI considered making S-Comm voluntary, showing that it viewed opting out as both a technological possibility and a lawful option.

S-Comm essentially does what Arizona’s SB1070 law—which requires police to check the immigration status of people they detain or arrest—hoped to do, but on a national level. The image of FBI databases linked to those of Homeland Security should anger and concern every civil libertarian. With immense intelligence-collection power comes the responsibility to use information only for the purposes for which it was intended.

Even as immigration from Mexico has slowed to close to zero, senior law enforcement officials are trying to make sure that a heavy-handed, anti-immigrant security apparatus is well-entrenched.

Friday, October 1, 2010

FBI Raids Reveal Repressive Apparatus Run Amok

A recent Inspector General’s report on the FBI’s investigations of certain domestic advocacy groups from 2002-2006 found that the agency considered routine civil-disobedience violations, such as trespassing or vandalism, potential terrorism. For example, the Bureau determined that spilling human blood on walls, an American flag, and pictures were “forceful acts” sufficient to trigger inclusion on terror watchlists. The FBI today threatens to label peace activists – and a wide swath of people with whom they associate – as “terrorists” because of First Amendment activities that include travel and public education. Apparently, the bad practices under the Bush administration have not been reformed.

As a think tank that grew out of opposition to the FBI’s coordinated assault on dissenters during the 1970s, Political Research Associates (PRA) has witnessed and studied the penchant of American intelligence systems to treat peoples’ movements as subversive. The FBI belongs to a post-9/11 domestic security apparatus that is unprecedented in size, and largely unaccountable to democratic control. A recent Washington Post article estimated its size at 845,000 public and private personnel. As protectors of civil liberties, Congress must embrace its oversight function and reign in homeland security agencies that continue to confuse ideology for crime.

PRA adds its voice to those of other progressive and civil liberties organizations, and all those who value democracy and dissent, in denouncing these raids. We believe that all Americans should stand in defense of the Constitution and all individuals who have been wrongly targeted for their principles objection to U.S. military interventions abroad.

Anti-War Activists Targeted by FBI

Days after the release of the IG’s report, the FBI raided the homes of twenty peace activists from Minneapolis to Chicago under the guise of fighting terrorism. The harsh manner in which the raids were conducted, the sweeping scope of the warrants, and the lack of any credible threat of terrorism all suggest that the FBI may once again be abusing its power to intimidate social change movements.

Beginning on Friday, September 24, the FBI executed search warrants against at least eight homes and offices in Chicago, upstate Michigan, the Twin Cities, and Ohio. In Minneapolis, a SWAT team knocked on activist Mick Kelly’s door at about 7 a.m. When Kelly’s partner asked to see the search warrant, the agents busted down the door, causing it to fly across the room and break a fish tank.

About twenty agents spent most of the day searching the Chicago home of activists Stephanie Weiner and Joseph Iosbaker. “We aren’t doing anything differently than we have in twenty years,” said Weiner, a teacher at Wilbur Wright College. The FBI carried thirty boxes of papers dating from the 1970s from Iosbaker’s attic to sift for evidence. In Jefferson Park, FBI agents removed boxes and electronic equipment from the apartment of community activist Hatem Abudayyeh, executive director of the Arab American Action Network.

The FBI also raided the homes of Jessica Sundin and Meredity Aby, who helped organize rallies at the 2008 Republican National Convention in St. Paul. The FBI and local law enforcement infiltrated advocacy groups prior to the RNC and charged several protestors with terrorism offenses, which were later dismissed outright. Sundin called the suggestion that they were connected with terrorism “pretty hilarious and ridiculous.” Mick Kelly’s lawyer, Ted Dooley, explained that the FBI agents were looking for “everything related to potential co-conspirators, including Kelly’s personal contacts in the United States and abroad. It’s kind of unconstitutional and hideous.”

The activists targeted are involved in numerous groups, including the Palestine Solidarity Group, Students for a Democratic Society, the Twin Cities Anti-War Committee, the Colombia Action Network, the Freedom Road Socialist Organization (FRSO), and the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera (a Colombian political prisoner).

At least a dozen activists were served subpoenas from a grand jury seeking records of payments to Abudayyeh’s organization and groups on the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations, including Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

No arrests have been made, suggesting that prosecutors lack probable cause for an indictment against anyone. An FBI spokesperson admitted to the Associated Press that the bureau knows of no “imminent threat to the community.” He said the FBI was seeking evidence related to “activities concerning material support for terrorism” as part of an ongoing Joint Terrorism Task Force investigation.

Several of the FBI’s targets belong to FRSO and occasionally contribute to a socialist newsletter that is critical of the U.S. wars of occupation in Iraq and Afghanistan. The subpoena issued to FRSO activist Thomas Burke requested “items related to trips to Colombia, Jordan, Syria, and the Palestinian territories.” Burke said he had toured Colombia eight years ago with members of an oil workers union. He told the press, “We barely have money to publish our magazine. We might write about [revolutionary groups] favorably, but as for giving them material aid, nothing.”

Labeling Free Speech as Subversive

These raids mark a disturbing pattern of criminalizing Americans’ international solidarity work. According to Thomas Cincotta, the Civil Liberties Project Director at PRA, “the FBI has played fast and loose with the definition of terrorism, abusing its power to intimidate and repress challengers of U.S. foreign policy.”

Political Research Associates maintains a library and archive that documents the U.S. government’s long history of red-baiting and demonizing the Left, from the Red Scare of the 1920s to McCarthyism to J. Edgar Hoover’s illegal COINTELPRO program during the 1960s and 1970s, which aimed to “neutralize” the Black Panther Party and other civil rights organizations. Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress were labeled terrorists during the anti-apartheid struggle in South Africa. In the 1980s, the FBI closely monitored U. S. activists who supported the resistance to dictatorship and U.S. intervention in Central America. When all the facts were revealed in 1988, Congress repeatedly criticized the FBI for interpreting “support for terrorism” to include peaceful political and humanitarian activities. According to the civil rights expert David Cole, the FBI admitted that its investigation of the Committee in Solidarity with the People of El Salvador, in particular, had been overbroad, improperly focused on activities permitted under the First Amendment, and a waste of resources.

Anti-terrorism laws have given the FBI wide latitude to repress political activists as well as American Muslims. The FBI felt that reforms instituted following the CISPES investigation tied its hands in domestic investigations. In response, Congress included a “support for terrorism” provision in the 1996 Antiterrorism Act that has paved the way for the FBI to slide back to the days of Hoover.

Since 9/11, PRA has witnessed the selective prosecution of Muslims, South Asians, Arabs, and people of Middle Eastern descent using the “material support” and immigration laws. Under Attorney General Ashcroft’s direction, thousands of Muslim immigrants were rounded up and deported or interviewed, but no actual terrorists were uncovered. PRA’s 2010 Report, Platform for Prejudice explains how the Suspicious Activity Reporting Initiative encourages law enforcement and the public to profile on the basis of race and religion and treat dissenters as potential terrorists. Just as the Justice Department cast a wide net over communities of Muslims and people of Middle Eastern and Arab nationalities, the FBI seems to be imposing collective guilt over an entire network of peace activists.

PRA shares the concerns of the Charity and Security Network, which sees connections between the recent raids on activists and discriminatory scrutiny of Muslim charities. In both circumstances, the “material support” law has been used to tar Americans with the terrorist label even where no threat exists. The government has even tried to punish groups for interacting with people or groups that are not on the U.S. list of designated terrorist organizations. For example, leaders of the Holy Land Foundation were convicted of providing material support because they gave aid to local zakat committees that were not on the list, but that the government alleged were controlled by Hamas, which is on the list. (zakat committees distribute charity for the poor and aged, in accordance with one of the Five Pillars of Islam). The trial court did not require the jury to find that the defendants knew or even should have known that these committees had Hamas connections.

In the recent U.S. Supreme Court decision Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, the Court held that it is constitutional for Congress to prohibit a broad range of interactions with designated terrorist groups, including attempts at peace building and support for nonviolence. Offering advice, training, and service to a designated terrorist organization, the Court said, constitutes material support for terrorism under the 1996 law. It emphasized that the prohibition does not apply to pure political speech, naively asserting, “the statute is carefully drawn to cover only a narrow category of speech…in coordination with foreign groups that the speaker knows to be terrorist organizations.” However, the opinion provides no definition of “coordinated,” leaving room for overly broad interpretations.

Tell Congress to Stop Political Repression

PRA has observed that liberals and right-wing groups tend to tolerate state repression when it targets political opponents. Just as PRA criticized Homeland Security reports on Right Wing Extremism in 2009, we now call on all people of good conscience to defend the Constitution. The conservative blogosphere – the same one that warns of a creeping fascism in the United States – is trying to use the raids to smear Obama and unions. A blogger at the conservative Red State claims that trade unionists who will march on Washington on October 2nd to demand jobs are unpatriotic Leftists, linked to terrorism abroad. Another right wing pundit tries to slander Obama by pointing to his past “ties” with the Arab American Action Network. Says Cincotta, “These narrow-minded responses illustrate the destructive power of the terrorism label. They underscore the need for constant vigilance to defend the presumption of innocence and respect for the First Amendment no matter where you stand.”

So far, progressives and civil libertarians are responding with action. Groups such as the National Lawyers Guild pledged support for the protestors. Bruce Nestor, former president of the guild, calls the raids “a direct attack on people who are strong, dedicated advocates of freedom, of the right of people to be free from U.S. domination. It is an attack upon anybody who organizes against U.S. imperialism abroad.”

Chip Berlet, a senior analyst at PRA who helped litigate against illegal FBI surveillance in the 1960s, emphasized the need for Congressional oversight, no matter who is in the White House: “Since its beginning, the FBI has proved itself incapable of discerning the difference between free speech and dissent, and subversion and terrorism. By repeatedly conflating dissent with terrorism, the FBI defies the clear mandate of the Constitution, which it is sworn to uphold. They only thing that reigns in this marauding is Congress. And the only thing that will force Congress to act is a swift kick by people across the political spectrum.”

Although the tactics of intimidation are familiar, we cannot ignore them. People are already organizing loud, visible protests to challenge the legitimacy of the FBI’s raids. To show your support, you can:

  • Call the attorney general’s office at (202) 353-1555 to demand an end to intimidation of peace activists.
  • Call your congressional representative to demand that the FBI stop harassing activists and close the “material support” loopholes that give the FBI room to target peaceful domestic advocacy. Congress should hold hearings on the violations identified in the Inspector General’s recent report and uncover the full extent of the FBI’s misuse of counter-terror laws and watchlist practices.
  • Participate in local actions to protest these raids, including outside the Grand Jury convening in Chicago on October 12.



Anti-War Activists Targeted by FBI Speak Out,” CBS News (Sept. 26, 2010).

Chip Berlet and Matthew N. Lyons, “One Key to Litigating Against Government Prosecution of Dissidents: Understanding the Underlying Assumptions – Part II,” Police Misconduct and Civil Rights Reporter, Vol. 5, No. 14 (March-April 1988).

Charity and Security Network, “Searches, Grand Jury Investigation Target Anti-War Activists in Chicago, Minneapolis,” (Sept. 27, 2010).

James X. Dempsey and David Cole, Terrorism & The Constitution (First Amendment Foundation, 2002), pp. 25-33.

Frank Donner, “Terrorist as Scapegoat,” The Nation (May 20, 1978).

Editorial, “A Reminder for the F.B.I.,” New York Times (Sept. 27, 2010).

FBI raids homes of anti-war activists,” Chicago Breaking News (Sept. 24, 2010).

Mara H. Gottfried, “FBI raids six locations In Minneapolis as part of terrorism investigation,” Twin Cities (Sept. 24, 2010).