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by Bill Berkowitz
Friday, Apr. 25, 2003 at 11:53 PM
When Roy Innis joined the Libertarian Party in 1998, he told Party officials, "You have the kind of principles this country needs more of." More recently Innis alerted DOJ representatives about the potential for an "alliance" between Middle Eastern terrorists and domestic black Islamists.
Painting homeland terrorism black: Right-wingers claim African American converts to Islam are a clear and present danger
By Bill Berkowitz, WorkingForChange, 04.25.03
The late-March grenade attack in Iraq by an African American Muslim, Sgt. Asan Akbar, which killed two and wounded several others, set off a maelstrom of right-wing criticism of black Muslims in the US. In a recent column, Michelle Malkin sees the sin of political correctness lurking behind the attack: "Sgt. Akbar is not the only MSWA - Muslim soldier with attitude - suspected of infiltrating our military, endangering our troops and undermining national security." She concludes that "Not one more American, soldier or civilian, must be sacrificed at the altar of multiculturalism, diversity, open borders, and tolerance of the murderous 'attitude' of Jihad."
Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy, wonders when and where Sgt. Akbar was radicalized: Was it through the "Wahhabi-backed Muslim Student's Association, which has a chapter" at the University of California, Davis, where Akbar "reportedly went to school from 1988-1997." Maybe it was "at the mosque he attended in the South Central section of Los Angeles, the Masjid Bilal Islamic Center [which]….received funds from the Islamic Development Bank (ISDB), a Saudi-controlled fund headquartered in Jeddah that claims to have capitalized billion worth of projects around the world."
Gaffney believes that Sgt. Akbar's "murderous ideas about America, its armed forces and the Muslim world" may have come from "a chaplain in the U.S. military." According to Gaffney, "As of June 2002, nine of the armed forces' fourteen Muslim chaplains received their religious training from another Saudi-supported entity, the Graduate School of Islamic and Social Sciences (GSISS) in Leesburg, Virginia." In March 2002, Operation Greenquest "raided the offices of GSISS, along with twenty-three other Muslim organizations.
"Agents also raided the homes of Dr. Iqbal Unus, the Dean of Students at GSISS, and Dr. Taha Al-Alwani, the school's President. According to search warrants issued at the time, these groups were raided for 'potential money laundering and tax evasion activities and their ties to terrorist groups such as...al Qaeda as well as individual terrorists...(including) Osama bin Laden.'"
Malkin and Gaffney have jumped into the middle of a debate that has been picking up momentum in right-wing circles since 9/11. Watergate felon Charles Colson, conservative columnist Cal Thomas and pro-Israel activist Daniel Pipes have been arguing that African Americans who become Muslims - especially for what they call "non-spiritual" reasons - may be a clear and present danger to the safety and security of the US.
Shortly after John Allen Muhammad, one of the two suspects in the Washington, D.C.-area sniper attacks, was arrested, Daniel Pipes wrote in a New York Post column that his arrest "fits into a well-established tradition of American blacks who convert to Islam turning against their country." Pipes, director of the pro-Israel Middle East Forum and a longtime critic of Muslims and Islam, claims that while "some of the roughly 700,000 African-American converts to Islam are moderate and patriotic citizens," many "turn anti-American when they adhere to either of two specific forms of Islam: either the Nation of Islam…or militant Islam (mostly imported from the Middle East and South Asia)."
Roy Innis joins the chorus
Roy Innis, the National Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality), has joined the chorus. In interviews with several right-wing publications and conversations with Justice Department officials, Innis warned that African American prisoners and college students were open vessels for terrorist recruitment.
Innis, of course, has a very different background than the other critics. He was a well-respected figure during the struggle for civil rights in the 1960s. Over the past three decades, however, he has taken CORE from the frontlines of the civil rights movement to a front seat alongside leaders of America's religious and secular Right. And, despite occasional appearances on television's talking head circuit, the organization has essentially been in a state of rigor mortis for decades.
The threat of African American-initiated terrorism, however, may help prompt CORE's revival. Since 9/11, CORE has dabbled in several war on terrorism related activities: It joined City, State and Federal agencies, operating out of Pier 94 in Manhattan, "to provide direct assistance to those individuals most affected by this disaster," according to its website, and it announced plans "to file a multi-billion dollar class-action suit against known terrorist Osama Bin Laden….seek[ing] to have Bin Laden declared liable for the deaths of thousands of innocent people and responsible for the disruption of the lives of millions more."
Late last year, NewsMax.com, a right-wing online news magazine, reported Innis had requested a meeting with the Bush Administration's Homeland Security czar Tom Ridge, Attorney General John Ashcroft and National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice in order to discuss the "'clear and present danger' posed to U.S. race relations by the rising tide of 'non-spiritual' Muslim conversions."
Innis told NewsMax that "Even before the Beltway sniper attacks I anticipated a real problem for our country and for black Americans in particular. And that is the large number of non-spiritually based conversions to Islam - both inside and outside of jail. It's not going to take long for al-Qaeda to begin capitalizing on this, if they haven't already," Innis said.
Osama bin Laden's ability to sneak people "into the country with visas and attack the country… won't be so easy to do anymore," Innis said. But," he added, "the guys coming out of jail, the recent converts, the angry guys floating around the country who are looking for a framework to express their hostility - they don't need visas."
Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakahn "needs to clean his own house and examine his own house to make sure that he doesn't have sociopaths and psychopaths and haters of other sorts and al-Qaeda adherents floating into his organization," Innis said. He suggested that Farrakhan "weed out his non-spiritually based followers" and take care that "his rhetoric doesn't give aid and comfort and nurture" to al-Qaeda sympathizers.
The Washington Times reported that while Innis didn't get his meeting with top Justice Dept. officials, he did "discuss the recruitment of black American Muslims by terrorist organizations" with some DOJ officials. Innis told Dept. representatives that he was concerned about the potential for a growing "alliance" between Middle East-based terrorists and domestic black Islamists.
"There has been a fear because of racial and religious reasons," Innis said. "But [many federal officials] have been in denial but this has become a very real danger. And there are signs all over the place. If we want to ignore this danger then we are not doing a good job to keep this country safe," said Innis, who added that the meeting with the DOJ was "informal" and he hoped to meet with Attorney General John Ashcroft at a later date.
Innis is focusing on Muslim recruitment of black prisoners and black college students. "We can go to the Bureau of Prisons, for example, and ask for a review of the various ministers," Innis said. "This is too important an issue for these kinds of things to not be under review." According to the Washington Times, Innis' hoped to establish a new project that would investigate groups like the National Islamic Prison Foundation, "which coordinates a campaign to convert inmates to Islam. Foundation officials claim an average of 135,000 such conversions per year."
The Charles Colson factor
Charles Colson expressed similar concerns about jailhouse conversions to Islam in a late-June 2002, Wall Street Journal column. Colson, who was special counsel to President Richard Nixon and served seven months in prison in 1974 after pleading guilty to obstruction of justice for Watergate-related crimes, now runs the Prison Fellowship Ministries. Colson pointed out that he has witnessed a "growing Muslim presence" in prisons, and these "alienated, disenfranchised people are prime targets for radical Islamists who preach a religion of violence, of overcoming oppression by jihad."
According to Colson, al-Qaeda training manuals "specifically identify America's prisoners as candidates for conversion because they may be 'disenchanted with their country's policies.'" Colson claimed that "terrorism experts fear these angry young recruits will become the next wave of terrorists. As U.S. citizens, they will combine a desire for 'payback' with an ability to blend easily into American culture."
Cal Thomas cited Colson in his column, claiming that several hundred African American imams have been trained in Saudi Arabia to convert "large numbers of African-American inmates not only to their religion, but to their political objectives, including virulent anti-Americanism." Both Colson and Innis singled out confessed al-Qaeda shoe bomber Richard Reid, who converted to Islam in a British prison, and dirty-bomb suspect Jose Padilla as examples of jailhouse converts to Islam who turned to terrorism. Innis' appeal to the Justice Department also comes on the heels of the arrests of sniper suspect John Allen Muhammad, a member of Louis Farrakhan's Nation of Islam, and the arrests of several black Muslims in Portland, Ore.
Ministering to prisoners
Colson's Prison Fellowship Ministries' InnerChange Freedom Initiative (IFI) receives government funding to operate projects aimed at reducing recidivism rates in four states, Minnesota, Kansas, Iowa and Texas. According to the IFI website, the initiative "is a revolutionary, Christ-centered, Bible-based prison program supporting prison inmates through their spiritual and moral transformation beginning while incarcerated and continuing after release."
One way to prevent conversions to radical Islam claims Colson would be for prison officials to "deny radical imams access to inmates." Daniel Pipes' late October 2001 New York Post column takes direct aim at the Nation of Islam: "To what extent does the rhetoric and example set by prominent figures such as Louis Farrakhan and Siraj Wahhaj influence followers like the alleged sniper to engage in violence? If it does, given that this is wartime, do steps need to be taken to curtail their rhetoric?" Not wanting to paint Muslim converts with too brad a brush, Pipes concedes that "some of the roughly 700,000 African-American converts to Islam are moderate and patriotic citizens."
Innis' political metamorphosis has resulted in membership on the boards of several conservative organizations including the Hudson Institute, a right-wing think tank, the Landmark Legal Foundation, one of former President Bill Clinton's most persistent critics, and the National Rifle Association. In 1998, the Libertarian Party News reported that Innis had joined the Libertarian Party, telling Party officials "You have the kind of principles this country needs more of." Innis testified in support of the Supreme Court confirmation of Judge Robert Bork, spoke in favor of Bernhard Goetz, AKA the 'subway vigilante,' endorsed the far-right Alan Keyes for president, and in August 2000, he was a featured speaker at the Christian Coalition's Faith and Freedom Celebration.
In the NewsMax interview, Innis expressed his concern that violent actions by African American terrorists could set race relations back in this country after decades of progress. He said more beltway sniper-type incidents could destroy "all the years of civil rights improvement in America. All the revolutionary gains of Dr. Martin Luther King, of CORE and the NAACP and the others could be washed away overnight if the phenomenon continues unchecked."
In early February, NewsMax.com credited Innis with having Imam Warith Deen Umar "banned from the New York State's ten correctional facilities" (he was also fired as a part-time religious counselor for the federal prison system).
Innis' anti-terrorism project could have a financial component as well: CORE could be positioning itself to receive Bush's faith-based funding to establish a government-funded program similar to Colson's, but focused specifically on African American inmates. This might be a vital infusion of cash for the aging civil rights organization.
For more please see the Bill Berkowitz archive.
Bill Berkowitz is a longtime observer of the conservative movement. His WorkingForChange column Conservative Watch documents the strategies, players, institutions, victories and defeats of the American Right.
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