Today, in a comprehensive 80-page report that details a systemic failure to regulate content in nationwide counter-terrorism training, Political Research Associates (PRA), exposes the inaccurate and conspiratorial myths that may put the rights of millions of American Muslims at risk from the very public servants who have sworn to protect them. The nine-month investigation, aimed at increasing government oversight into both funding and content of private counter-terrorism programs, highlights three key firms whose speakers and materials promote a range of harmful teachings, and the possible repercussions if corrective actions are not immediately implemented.
The report appears as the House Homeland Security Committee prepares to conduct controversial hearings on the alleged threat of homegrown Islamic terrorism.
The Boston-based research group reports the appropriation of $1.67 billion in federal funds to states in 2010 for the purpose of counter-terrorism training, with critical gaps in oversight of the money. The practices of three groups illustrate the dangers in the lack of regulation: the International Counter-Terrorism Officers Association (ICTOA), the Center for Counterintelligence and Security Studies (CI Centre), and Security Solutions International (SSI), the latter two of which claim a collective exposure to upwards of 130,000 security professionals.
“America faces very real threats of violent terrorism, yet, trainers from the organizations in our study draw from a variety of anti-Islamic frames to teach public servants conspiracy theories about stealth infiltration of America that echo the shameful witch hunts of McCarthyism,” says Thom Cincotta, author of the report.
“In the process,” he adds, “they may put millions of Americans at risk both in terms of security and in terms of protecting their constitutional rights.”
In the investigation, PRA reveals a common set of conspiratorial myths propagated in varying degrees by speakers from all three organizations. These narratives equate Islam with terrorism and depict a covert effort by American Muslim “stealth jihadists” to infiltrate U.S. institutions for the purpose of bringing down American infrastructure and, eventually, implementing Shariah Law. Walid Phares, once slated for testimony at Rep. King’s hearings before complaints by rights groups derailed the effort, teaches “The Global Jihadist Threat Doctrine,” at the CI Centre. Phares claims “Jihadists within the West pose as civil rights advocates, interested solely in the ‘rights’ of their immigrant communities,” “radicals sweep into community institutions using petrodollar funding,” and “[a]lmost all mosques, educational centers, and socioeconomic institutions fall into their hands.” Walid Shoebat, a frequent guest speaker at ICTOA, self-proclaimed ex-terrorist, and reformed-Muslim (he is now Christian) goes so far as to say “Islam is of the Devil.”
Effects of anti-Muslim training are evidenced by stories like that of the Henderson, Nevada police department, whose officers surrounded and arrested a group of Muslim men for praying in a parking lot. When pressed as to why, an officer indicates his actions were “based on the studies, the classes that I have gone to, and based on the events that happened around the world.” Incidents of unwarranted searches, detentions, or interrogations of innocent Muslim Americans are neither isolated nor coincidental.
Brigitte Nacos, author of Terrorism and Counterterrorism adds, “When the virus of Islamophobia is spread in courses and conferences for police and intelligence officers, as the report reveals, this does not bode well for cooperation and a relationship of trust between law enforcement and American Muslim communities. Most disconcerting is the revelation that those events are sponsored or condoned by federal and local agencies and that participant fees are paid by taxpayers.”
Authors of the report emphasize that the actions of these firms may break down communication between law enforcement agents and Muslim communities, which have proven to be strong allies in the rare instances of domestic extremism. Further, they state, focusing our security personnel on Muslim Americans ignores threats from non-Islamist terror groups: from anti-government militias, to right-wing extremist groups, to white-supremacists. The solutions, they say, are to pass effective legislation for standards and oversight of the counterterrorism industry, and against racial profiling, and for law enforcement to be more effectively trained at working with Muslim communities.