Archive for Justin Elliot

Justin Elliot: Did the NYPD’s Spying on Muslims Violate the Law?

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 1, 2012 by loonwatch

Important questions and answers:

Did the NYPD’s Spying on Muslims Violate the Law?

by Justin Elliot (Pro Publica)

Last August, the Associated Press launched aseries detailing how the New York Police Department has extensively investigated Muslims in New York and other states, preparing reports on mosques and Muslim-owned businesses, apparently without any suspicion of crimes have been committed.

The propriety and legality of the NYPD’s activities is being disputed. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who claimed last year that the NYPD does not focus on religion and only follows threats or leads, is now arguing that, as he said last week, “Everything the NYPD has done is legal, it is appropriate, it is constitutional.” Others disagree. In fact, Bloomberg himself signed a law in 2004 that prohibits profiling by law enforcement personnel based on religion.

This week, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder told a congressional committee that the Justice Department is reviewing whether to investigate potential civil rights violations by the NYPD.

To get a better understanding of the rules governing the NYPD — and whether the department has followed them in its surveillance of Muslims — we spoke to Faiza Patel,co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program at the Brennan Center at NYU School of Law.

The NYPD did not respond to our request for comment about allegations it has violated the law.

ProPublica: So, Mayor Bloomberg and Police Commissioner Ray Kelly have said everything that the NYPD did was legal and constitutional. Others have disagreed. Newark Mayor Cory Booker, for example, said wholesale surveillance of a community without suspicion of a crime “clearly crosses a line.” What restrictions is the NYPD operating under?

Patel: They are operating under at least three sets of rules. The first and most basic set of rules is the consent decree from the Handschu case — the so-called Handschu guidelines. This was a 1970s-era political surveillance case that was settled through a consent decree. The NYPD had been conducting surveillance of a number of political groups in the 1960s and ’70s. The initial consent decree regulated the NYPD’s collection of intelligence about political activity. It first said the NYPD can only collect intelligence about political activities if it follows certain rules. For example, the NYPD had to get clearance from something called the Handschu authority, which was a three-member board that consisted of two high-level police officials and one civilian appointed by the mayor.

Then, post-9/11, the NYPD went to court and asked a judge to review the consent decree because they wanted greater freedom in their counterterrorism operations. What they wound up doing was adopting guidelines based on the FBI’s guidelines from 2003, issued by Attorney General John Ashcroft. These were different in several important ways. The first was that there was no pre-clearance at all … no requirement that the NYPD get approval from the Handschu authority before they undertook any intel gathering about political activity. The second was that the guidelines explicitly say the NYPD can attend any public event or gathering on the same basis as another member of the public. So, if I can go to a church, the NYPD can go to a church. But it goes on to say that the NYPD can’t retain the information it gathers from such public events unless it is connected to suspected criminal or terrorist activity.

ProPublica: So, if you look at, say, the NYPD’s guide to Newark’s Muslim community obtained and published by AP — which maps out mosques and Muslim-owned businesses without mentioning any suspected crimes — aren’t the police retaining exactly this kind of information?

Patel: There are a couple of documents that suggest they may have violated Handschu — for example, the [2006 NYPD report] on the Danish cartoon controversy, which is a collection of statements in mosques and other places that have been taken by undercover officers or confidential informants.

ProPublica: What other rules does the NYPD operate under?

Patel: The second set is that the NYPD has a profiling order in place, and New York City also has a racial profiling law. They are slightly different. The NYPD order [issued in 2002] does not include religion among the categories that they define as profiling. But the New York City law does. It prohibits police officers from relying on race, ethnicity, religion or national origin as a determinative factor in initiating law enforcement action. Normally, you have quite a difficult time in racial profiling cases showing they’ve used one of these factors as the determinative factor. In this case, if you look at the documents, it seems quite clear that the NYPD had its eyes quite firmly on the Muslim community, so it’s possible it is also in violation of this law.

The third set of rules is, of course, the U.S. and New York state constitutions. Within the [U.S.] Constitution, you’re looking at at least two broad categories of provisions — potential First Amendment claims for free speech, freedom of association and free exercise of religion. The other piece of it would be potential equal protection claims.

ProPublica: Another AP story this week reported that federal grant money and equipment were used in the NYPD surveillance and investigation of the Muslim community. Does that muddy the legal questions about whether the police were following federal rules?

Patel: The federal program that was giving them money is the HIDTA program — High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area. It’s geared toward providing funds to combat drug trafficking. HIDTA itself does allow for counterterrorism spending to be an incidental purpose. It requires the HIDTA executive board to basically make sure that funds were being used for the purposes that they were supposed to be used for. So, I think there’s a real issue about accountability and oversight of the use of HIDTA funds here.

ProPublica: So, if the NYPD did potentially violate the Handschu guidelines and city law you mentioned, what are the penalties?

Patel: Well, the Handschu lawyers already went to court last year and told the judge that the documents that had been released by the AP suggested that there had been violations of the Handschu decree. They asked for discovery so they could check the files of the NYPD to see whether they had violated the prohibition on keeping dossiers. I believe that that discovery will likely be starting soon. So, there’s clearly a remedy through the Handschu mechanism. Because it’s a consent decree, it’s an ongoing thing. The judge has supervisory jurisdiction. There are also issues under the racial profiling law and under the First Amendment.

We’ve also turned to the question of oversight. The FBI, for all its faults, does have a fair amount of oversight — an inspector general internally and congressional oversight. We think a similar thing would be a great idea for the NYPD.

Neocon flak: Weiner may have converted to Islam

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2011 by loonwatch

Can these neo-Con Islamophobes stoop any lower? Obviously they can.

Neocon flak: Weiner may have converted to Islam

by Justin Elliot (Salon.com)

We thought everything that could be said about Anthony Weiner’s lewd photo scandal had been said. But Eliana Benador, a former influential neoconservative public relations operative, has proved us wrong.

Writing for the “Communities” section of the Washingtom Times’ website, Benador argues that the Twitter scandal shows that … the Jewish Weiner might have converted to Islam!

Benador, who is currently the U.S.-based “goodwill ambassador” for a group of Jewish settlers in the West Bank, advances an argument that is fairly difficult to follow, but it seems to go like this: Because a New York imam was quoted in the press seeming to take Weiner’s side in the matter, and because Muslims (supposedly) practice deception as part of their faith, it’s possible that Weiner is secretly a Muslim convert who is still presenting himself to the world as a Jew.

She writes:

The Imam of New York has stated: “I would tell her [Huma] to be a little bit patient. In our book, if you think your wife, or husband, is doing something unacceptable, you start by counseling her.”

Counseling? For whom, Huma or Anthony? The Imam’s statement seems to state that Huma is in need.

Regardless, those are words of compromise offered by a leading Muslim Imam trying to make us forget that the Koran actually advocates stoning wives for adultery while turning a blind eye toward the sexual mis-deeds of the husband.

It is also important, when looking at this situation, to remember that observant Muslims practice Taqiyya , an element of sharia that states there is a legal right and duty to distort the truth to promote the cause of Islam. …

Given the defense articulated by the Imam, which would be offered only for a Muslim man, we must believe this opportunity to remove this Muslim woman from a union with an non-believer would be quickly taken. Therefore we must consider that Mr. Weiner *may* have converted to Islam, because if he did not, we have to consider the unlikely, that being that Ms. Abedin has abandoned her Muslim faith, even while she still practices.

(It’s worth noting here that “The Imam of New York” is not an actual title, and she is pretty clearly taking this imam’s quote out of context.)

Benador also wonders in the column if Huma has “been groomed to access leading political movers and shakers to advance the cause of Islam in America, including a politically positioned marriage to Congressman Anthony Weiner?”

Benador is no random blogger. She was the president of the now-defunct Benador Associates, a public relations firm that was active in the run-up to the Iraq war getting media exposure for such influential hawks as Michael Rubin, Richard Perle, Laurie Myrloie, and former CIA director Jim Woolsey. An article in the Guardian described pictures of her at a party with Joseph Lieberman. And one of her clients famously (and falsely) claimed in a 2006 newspaper column that Iran had instituted a Nazi-style dress code for Jews.

The bottom of the “Communities” section notes that “contributors are responsible for this content, which is not edited by The Washington Times.” But an editor did apparently delete one paragraph from Benador’s column, leaving this note: “(Correction: Paragraph removed for inaccuracies.  Apologies are issued and we regret the error.  The Communities).”

I’ve asked the Communities editor for comment on what that error was.

In any case, the fact that Weiner married a Muslim woman has long been the subject of rumblings in certain corners of the right-wing blogosphere.

(Hat tip: Benjy Sarlin)

Justin Elliott is a Salon reporter. Reach him by email at jelliott@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin More: Justin Elliott

Legislators introducing anti-Sharia bills don’t know anything about Sharia

Posted in Loon Politics, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , on April 7, 2011 by loonwatch
Loon Lawyer David Yerushalmi is behind the surge of anti-Sharia bills

It might be a good idea for us LoonWatchers to begin to contact these state senators and representatives and provide them with information about the Loons who are behind these proposed anti-Sharia bills. Sure, they may not care, but at the very least I think it could lead some of these officials to reconsider sponsoring these bills once they find out that 1) there is no threat posed by Sharia to our legal system, and 2) that the people pushing these bills are wacked out crazies who foam at the mouth at the mentioning of Islam and Muslims (i.e. they’re bigots).

Salon.com – The sharia panic factory by Justin Elliot

One of the more striking things about the current anti-sharia craze is how often state legislators who introduce anti-sharia bills can’t answer basic questions about Islamic law or why they see it as a threat.

In Alabama, for example, when the state senator who sponsored an anti-sharia bill was asked by a reporter to simply define sharia, he responded: “I don’t have my file in front of me.” In Florida, anti-sharia bill sponsors couldn’t name a single case where Islamic or international law had been used in a troubling way in U.S. courts. When, on Wednesday, I interviewed a Nebraska state senator behind a similar bill, I asked him about what cases were causes of concern to him. He responded: “I’m not in my office to look them up.”

How could all these legislators be so uninformed about their own bills? A big part of the reason is that most of them did not actually write the legislation in question. Rather, many of the anti-sharia bills being considered around the country are either based on or directly copied from model legislation created by an obscure far-right Arizona attorney and activist named David Yerushalmi.

The Nebraska case is instructive. State Sen. Mark Christensen introduced a bill(.pdf) in January to bar the use of any foreign law in Nebraska courts. When I spoke to Christensen on Wednesday, he acknowledged he did not have a deep understanding of the issue, referring me back to his office when I asked him what cases involving sharia or foreign law were troubling to him.

He summed up his reason for sponsoring the bill: “This is America. We use America’s law.” (For more on what sharia actually is, see here and here.)

It turns out Christensen introduced the bill after his office was approached by the head of the local chapter of the anti-Muslim group ACT! for America, Christensen aide Dan Wiles told me. ACT! for America is a Florida-based group led by Brigitte Gabriel. In a profile last month, the New York Times detailed Gabriel’s strategy of selectively quoting the Quran to paint most or all Muslims as violent extremists.

“They came and talked to several different senators, and Sen. Christensen decided to introduce the bill,” Wiles said, adding that he was presented with model legislation. “It pretty much was exactly what was drafted and introduced,” he said. “Everything substantive was the same.”

The model legislation in question originates with Yerushalmi, the Arizona lawyer who is associated with several organizations including the American Public Policy Alliance. The model anti-foreign law bill on the Public Policy Alliance’s website has been used in states including Florida, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Missouri and South Dakota. It is called “American Laws for American Courts.”

Who is Yerushalmi? His background leaves little doubt that these anti-”foreign law” bills are designed to target sharia.

He has written, for example, that “The Muslim peoples, those committed to Islam as we know it today, are our enemies.” A group he founded, the Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), has reportedly advocated for a law making it a felony “punishable by 20 years in prison to knowingly act in furtherance of, or to support the, adherence to Islam.” The Anti-Defamation League has also called out Yerushalmi for his “anti-black bigotry.” (Mother Jones also has a good profile of Yerushalmi here.)

So next time the sponsor of an anti-sharia bill can’t answer basic questions about Islamic law, it’s a good sign Yerushalmi’s role deserves more scrutiny.

Upset Over Nothing: Salon.com debunks latest Sharia scare

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , on April 5, 2011 by loonwatch
Anti-Sharia propaganda is a load of BS

Justin Elliot of Salon.com has been on point in his reporting over the last few months of the hysterics of the Islamophobes. He deserves massive credit for going to experts (i.e. people with actual credentials to discuss a certain topic) on Islam and Islamic law to find out the truth of these matters. Here, Elliot discusses a recent case in Florida where Islamic law was used in the ruling of a civil dispute between two groups of Muslims with Cyra Choudhury of Florida International University College of Law. The verdict: these types of cases happen all the time in American courts.

In addition, Muslim Americans are not the only ones who use their religious law to draw up contracts between themselves. In fact, Americans Christians and Jews have done this throughout American legal history without so much as a peep that their religious law was going to overcome the U.S. Constitution.

For all of the jingoism and pretentious patriotism that these loons display, they do not know much about how their own legal system operates. The freedom of contract allows Americans to resolve their disputes through any law they want to contract upon. If two Americans want to make a contract based upon Sharia or French law, then they have the right to do it and courts will hold them to that contract based upon the law they freely contracted upon.

However, criminal law is already established by each state – so there will never be the stoning to death of an adulterer or the amputation of a theif’s hand for theft. Why? Because criminal penalties cannot be arbitrated between individuals – they are matters of the state.

But don’t expect the Islamophobes to know any of this. They’re too caught up in either being afraid of a threat that does not exist or are intentionally ignoring these facts for the sake of drumming up hostility against Muslims.

Salon.com – Debunking the latest Sharia scare by Justin Elliot

The movement to ban the use of sharia in the United States continues to grow, even as its proponents struggle to find examples of Islamic law posing a threat to the American way of life.

Anti-sharia activists have now resorted to focusing on an obscure Florida civil lawsuit called Mansour vs. Islamic Education Center of Tampa. The case, which has been elevated to cause celebre status in the right-wing blogosphere involves a mundane financial disagreement between two factions of the Islamic organization.

But in a ruling in the case last month, Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen wrote a sentence that has been seized on by anti-sharia activists: “This case will proceed under Ecclesiastical Islamic Law.”

On the surface that may sound odd. And, indeed, the typical right-wing reaction has gone something like this: “A Florida judge ruled that a Muslim v. Muslim case can proceed under sharia law. I’m being unbelievably serious here! This kind of crap is why I drink, which would get me beheaded under sharia law. ” Ironically, Nielsen is a registered Republican and Jeb Bushappointee.

And as it turns out, the case is entirely routine, according to Cyra Akila Choudhury, a professor at the College of Law at Florida International University who has been following the case closely. Nevertheless, the uproar over the case is “already bolstering the political prospects of an [anti-sharia] bill being considered by the Florida legislature,” Politico reported.

I spoke with Choudhury to find out more about the case and why it’s not at all cause for alarm. The following transcript of our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

What is the dispute that led to this ruling?

The dispute is between two factions of an Islamic organization, the Islamic Education Center of Tampa, and centers on control of money that was given to them by the government through an eminent domain taking. It was about $2.2 million in this taking, so the controversy arose over who was going to control the proceeds from the settlement. As the lawsuit was moving along, the parties agreed to arbitrate, and the arbitrator would be a Muslim law scholar, an a’lim. That is somebody who is well-versed in Islamic law and would settle the dispute in terms of Islamic law principles.

Who are the two parties?

They’re different factions of this organization. In January, the side that emerged victorious from the arbitration filed a motion asking the court to essentially enforce the decision of the arbitrator. Arbitration is an alternative dispute resolution mechanism, in which parties decide not to go into court and not litigate. The rules that apply are chosen by both parties in the agreement. We do lots of arbitration in this country. We apply all kinds of laws, we have many religious mechanisms; for instance, the Jewish community has the beth din. That is basically an alternative court that applies Jewish law and performs litigation with regards to all kinds of civil disputes. It’s very common, and it has existed for many years.

In this Florida case, the judge’s ruling is getting all the attention. When he uses the line “this case will proceed under ecclesiastical Islamic law,” what is that actually about?

What the ruling put very simply was, “You agreed to these rules, and the court is bound to apply them.” It isn’t about who wins. The arbitrator has already decided who wins. The judge’s role in the conflict is to enforce or to set aside the arbitration result. It is very difficult to set aside an arbitration result. You have to show that there was some sort of impropriety in the procedure.

Did the judge decide that the arbitrated agreement should or shouldn’t be enforced?

It’s still out. He still has to hear evidence about the process. The decision says “the court will require further testimony to determine whether the Islamic resolution procedures have been followed in this matter.” So it’s clear from this that one side is resisting enforcement based on some challenge of improper procedure. The judge has to hear evidence on that. This is very similar to many other arbitration scenarios. You can pick for your arbitration any set of laws that both parties agree to — within reason. It’s really a contractual matter. You’re entering into a contract with the other side to arbitrate your disagreement, and you agree upon the rules, and the arbitrator applies those rules. So for instance sharia law in this case simply applies the ecclesiastical religious law of the two parties. This is a conflict around a religious institution. It’s not a dispute between say, a Muslim property owner and his Christian or Jewish neighbor — but even there, if they agreed to use sharia law, that would be enforced.

What do you make of the intense reaction to this decision around the country?

It has been peculiar. What the judge did was extremely noncontroversial, particularly when it comes to religious organizations. It happens all the time. It happens with regards to the Jewish mediation and arbitration, it happens with arbitration that has used foreign law. What’s disheartening about this is the level of misinformation and the level of ignorance about our own legal system that has been propagated by people who either have an agenda or simply do not understand what we do in the civil system. This really is fundamentally about our right to contract. If we unsettle arbitration rules on the grounds that we don’t like a law that somebody is agreeing to arbitrate under, we’re going to have a lot of problems when it comes to all kinds of other contractual arbitration clauses that call for foreign law. In a place like Florida, for example, with Latin America on its doorstep, there’s so much business done with Latin American countries.

There’s currently an anti-sharia bill in the Florida legislature. If a law like that passed, how would it effect a situation like this?

The way that the Florida measure is written, it would only prevent the application of foreign law if that foreign law did not guarantee the constitutional rights of the litigators. So essentially it creates a floor. It creates our state constitutional rights as a floor and says you cannot apply foreign law in any arbitration proceeding if that foreign law will work to deny the rights provided by the constitution of the state. Which is an incredible waste of time. Our laws are already the laws of the land.

If you ask the lawmakers, “Has there ever been a situation in which sharia has been applied in a way that is antithetical to our public policy?” The answer is always no. It’s a fundamental misapprehension of our legal system to believe this can actually happen. People are writing on the blogosphere “Judge Nielsen is pro-sharia law, what’s next? Stoning of women?! Chopping off heads?!” We have a criminal system of law in the United States. The state prosecutes criminals under state criminal law. It’s never going to apply Jordanian law in the United States. That would never happen. You have to be completely ignorant to make these claims, unless you’re making them opportunistically in order to fan the flames of bigotry.

Salon.com: Fox’s Favorite Muslim radical

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , on March 3, 2011 by loonwatch

Elliot’s main point echoes a lot of what we were saying in our article, Islam and the Media in the Age of Islamophobiapalooza.

Fox’s favorite Muslim radical

By Justin Elliot

On Thursday, the radical Muslim and veteran provocateur Anjem Choudary plans to hold a demonstration in front of the White House calling for an extreme form of sharia to reign in America.

Whether the protest actually goes forward — there’s a real chance it won’t, if Choudary’s past stunts are any guide — doesn’t really matter. Choudary, who is known for applauding terrorism and calling for stonings of gay people and the overthrow of democratic governments, has already logged several appearances on Fox and CNN, generated a bunch of articles in the right-wing press, and even prompted a member of Congress to demand that he be banned from the country. All that in the last month.

Choudary is a London-based preacher who has over the past decade become the face of radical Islam in the British press — especially in the tabloids, and even more especially the right-wing papers owned by Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp. — despite having no religious credentials and virtually no public support. In fact, according to those who have tracked his career in Britain, Choudary is wholly a press creation.

“He’s a media whore,” says Mehdi Hasan, a senior editor at the New Statesman who has covered Choudary. “There are real Islamist groups that can get crowds together but his is not one of them. He doesn’t have the numbers to make good on his claims. What he does have is a media that’s very happy to play the game with him.”

Now, Choudary, 43, is using the same formula — making deliberately offensive statements and trumpeting plans for provocative demonstrations — in the United States, where the media has proved all too willing to accommodate him. He can be understood as the Muslim analogue of Terry Jones, the obscure Florida preacher who created an international controversy last year with plans for a “Burn the Quran Day.” He is a radical with minuscule public support, but one who can, given enough free airtime, do real-world damage.

Last month on Fox Sean Hannity had a sparring match with the preacher that ended with Hannity calling him “one sick, miserable, evil SOB.” (It’s worth noting that Fox has the same parent company, News Corp., as some of the U.K. tabloids that obsessively cover Choudary.) Here’s a taste of the exchange:

Two weeks later, Choudary was back on the network, where an angry Gretchen Carlson told him that “I can tell you one thing, Americans don’t want sharia law.” Adam Serwer has argued that Choudary is, for Fox, a “cartoonish buffoon who can be counted on to confirm every stereotype about Islam and Muslims.”

But it’s not just Fox. Late last year Eliot Spitzer had Choudary on CNN and heroically derided him as a “violent and heinous terrorist.” In February, Spitzer hosted him again to argue that the revolution in Egypt was an “Islamist uprising.” Choudary has also been on programs with ABC’s Christiane Amanpour and CNN’s Fareed Zakaria.

So where did Choudary come from? Born and raised in Britain, his rise to prominence came as the right-hand man of Omar Bakri, a founder of the extremist group Al Muhajiroun. Like Choudary today, Bakri was a press-hungry provocateur, but he also played a role “in the radicalization of some young men,” according to the BBC. Bakri left the U.K. for Lebanon after the 7/7 bombings in 2005. The British government has since barred him from re-entering the country, and Bakri has been charged in Lebanon with forming a militant group to undermine the government there.

In Bakri’s absence, Choudary became the leader of Al Muhajiroun’s successor group, Islam4UK. Both were proscribed in 2010 under a British law that allows for groups to be banned if they “unlawfully glorify the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism.”

(Choudary has not always been so devout. The Daily Mail published an exposélast year revealing that, while he was student at Southampton University, he had been a hard-partier who gambled, drank, used drugs, looked at porn and had sex with Christian women. The paper had pictures to prove most of the charges.)

When I spoke to Choudary Tuesday, he refused to discuss how many followers he had, beyond claiming that he can attract 150 people to his lectures. “I’m not going to give you details of our administration,” he said. But according to Inayat Bunglawala, a Muslim commentator who is involved in combatting extremism in Britain, Choudary’s record for getting large numbers of people to turn out to events is thin. Bunglawala points to a 2009 demonstration at a parade in the town of Luton in which Choudary and his cohort held signs assailing British troops returning from Iraq as “butchers” and “terrorists.”

Choudary and some of his followers had advertised the event by leafletting for a week among the 20,000-strong Muslim population in the town, says Bunglawala, who has closely tracked Choudary’s career. But the turnout was vanishingly small. “Literally only 20 people showed up and yet they got the front pages of just about every right-wing tabloid the next day. Even the BBC gave them a lot of coverage on that.” Bunglawala observes: “It’s almost a symbiotic relationship between Choudary and the right-wing papers.”

Choudary also has a long history of publicizing demonstrations that never actually happen. In 2009, for example, he planned a “March for Sharia” in central London that drew widespread press attention. The promotional effort included Photoshopped images of what Buckingham Palace and Trafalgar Square would look like under Choudary’s vision of the caliphate, with minarets and the like. But at the last minute, he canceled the event, claiming threats from right-wing groups.

None of this has stopped the tabloids from regularly calling Choudary to weigh in on pretty much anything in the news. There is, for example, this typical lead from a recent Daily Star piece: “Hate preacher Anjem Choudary last night urged a Muslim uprising against the royal wedding … He said it would be against Islam for Muslims to celebrate the nuptials.”

Choudary does his part by making himself extremely easy to reach; his mobile phone number is posted all over his website and he responded to my e-mail seeking an interview in just a few hours. He even once agreed to have a bull session over milkshakes with Vice Magazine, which noted his favorite flavor is chocolate.

Now, in advance of the planned “Shariah4America” demonstration in Washington, Choudary is following a familiar script. His group has postedimages online of the White House with minarets and the Statue of Liberty wearing a veil. It’s not hyperbole to say that everything he does is for media consumption. When I asked him about a 2003 episode in which Al Muhajiroun unveiled posters hailing the Sept. 11 hijackers as the “Magnificent 19,” Choudary was candid: “It was a media ploy in order to attract the attention of the media and the general public about why such things take place.”

Whether or not the demonstration actually happens Thursday, the Choudary phenomenon is at least as much about the laziness — and, arguably, irresponsbility — of the media as it is about Islam. Says terrorism analyst Daveed Gartenstein-Ross: “One lesson from our experience with would-be Quran burner Terry Jones is that when fringe or relatively fringe figures … are given a great amount of media exposure, it generally increases their power rather than diminishing it. Unfortunately, the media either has not absorbed that lesson, or else does not want to.”

Justin Elliott is a Salon reporter. Reach him by email at jelliott@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin More: Justin Elliott

 

Justin Elliot: 10 Most Terrifying Would-be Congressman

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , on October 27, 2010 by loonwatch

Justin Elliot, one of our favorite anti-Loons at Salon.com has compiled a list of the 10 most terrifying would-be Congressman. Quite a number of them are extreme anti-Muslims such as Renee Elmers and Allen West who featured in a piece titled, Allen West: A Possible Sarah Palin Running-mate? andIlario Pantano:

The 10 most terrifying would-be congressmen

Ilario Pantano (North Carolina, 7th District)

An ex-Marine and former New Yorker who calls himself a “born-again Christian and a born-again Southerner,” Pantano is taking on incumbent Democrat Rep. Mike McIntyre. The GOP candidate became a hero on the right after a 2004 incident in Iraq in which he killed two unarmed prisoners — firing up to 60 rounds at them from close range, then placing a sign with a Marine slogan next to their bodies. Murder charges were later dropped. Notably, he has made fighting the “ground zero mosque” a centerpiece of his campaign, an

 

Justin Elliot: From accused murderer to member of Congress?

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Politics with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on September 27, 2010 by loonwatch

From accused murderer to member of Congress?

BY JUSTIN ELLIOTT

In a race that has largely been flying under the national radar, a former Marine who killed two unarmed Iraqi prisoners in 2004 and who has made the threat of Islam and the “ground zero mosque” centerpieces of his campaign has a real shot at being elected to Congress.

Republican Ilario Pantano, 39, is taking on incumbent Mike McIntyre, a seven-term conservative Democrat, in North Carolina’s 7th District, which takes in the state’s southeast corner. If Pantano wins, he would surely be one of the most compelling — and right-wing — members of Congress. He told Salon in an interview Friday, for example, that he welcomes the endorsement of the far-right blogger and anti-Islam activist Pamela Geller.

Though there haven’t been recent polls on the race, two local political analysts told Salon that Pantano has a real shot, and the National Republican Congressional Committee recently started buying ads in the race after naming Pantano one of its top-tier “Young Guns.” While McIntyre has represented it since 1997, the 7th District actually voted for John McCain by 5 points in 2008.

Pantano’s biography has made him an irresistible subject for newspaper and magazine profiles even before this campaign (see, for example, this New York magazine cover story) and would almost certainly make him a darling of the neoconservative wing of the GOP if he is elected.

Pantano, who describes himself as a “born-again Christian and a born-again Southerner,” grew up in Manhattan, where he went to a fancy private high school on scholarship and then on to the Marines during the first Gulf War. When he got back, he went to NYU and worked as a trader at Goldman Sachs for a few years before becoming a consultant. He was in the city on Sept. 11, and that’s when he decided to rejoin the Marines. He was sent to Iraq.

It was there that, in a disputed April 2004 incident south of Baghdad, Pantano killed two unarmed Iraqi prisoners, Hamaady Kareem and Tahah Ahmead Hanjil. The incident occurred after the two men had been arrested as suspected insurgents and Pantano directed them to search their own car. According to Pantano’s version of events, the men moved toward him in a threatening way and he opened fire in self-defense, shooting up to 60 rounds and killing both of them. He then put a sign next to the bodies with a Marine slogan: “No better friend, no worse enemy.” Pantano told New York magazine: “I believed that by firing the number of rounds that I did, I was sending a message” to other potential insurgents.

In 2005, Pantano was formally accused of premeditated murder, partly on the strength of testimony of other Marines present during the incident who believed it was not justified. But after a series of hearings, the military brass agreed with Pantano’s version of events and he was cleared of the murder charges.

By that time, Pantano’s ordeal had became a cause célèbre among conservative media like the Washington Times, which reported on the ins and outs of the trial. His cause was championed by talk radio host Michael Savage and others who felt the U.S. military had no business prosecuting one of its own over the killings of Iraqis. Capitalizing on that publicity, Pantano wrote with a co-author a book on his experiences, “Warlord: No Better Friend, No Worse Enemy.” On the ensuing book tour, he charmed many of his interviewers, including Jon Stewart.

Pantano took some criticism last week for editing a reference to the killings out of news clips he was using in a campaign ad. But one of the remarkable things about the campaign in North Carolina this year is that the murder charges are not only not an issue, but have barely even been talked about.

David McLennan, a political scientist at North Carolina’s Peace College, told Salon that the issue could backfire for McIntyre, the Democratic incumbent, particularly in a district with a large ex-military population.

“There are some people in the district who consider Pantano to be a hero. For McIntyre to raise that issue is just way too delicate,” McLennan says.

Some of the only criticism of Pantano’s past has ironically come from the man he beat in the GOP primary, fellow Iraq war vet Will Breazeale. He told the Daily Beast after his primary loss that he considers Pantano “dangerous,” adding: “I’ve taken prisoners in Iraq and there’s no excuse for what he did.”

Asked by Salon if he is surprised that his critics have largely ignored the Iraq incident, Pantano was defiant. “If they want to question my war effort — if they think that’s prudent, they can go ahead … I’ve served my country proudly in two wars.”

His campaign has focused to an unusual extent on opposing the Park51 Islamic community center project in New York, which he refers to as a “Martyr Marker” that’s really about “territorial conquest.”

“If they think that the threat of inflaming the Muslim street is enough for Americans to back down, they’re deluding themselves,” he said. “We have our own street to worry about being inflamed.”

Or as he wrote in a Daily Caller Op-Ed over the summer that connected the mosque organizers to the threat from Iran and the Gaza flotilla:

If Mosques go up like mushrooms everywhere there is a bombing or a shooting we will create a perverse incentive, not a deterrent. This mosque at Ground Zero will serve as a big Trojan trophy; and we are welcoming it?

This kind of rhetoric has attracted the enthusiastic support of Pamela Geller, the blogger who leads a group called Stop the Islamization of America and who played a key role in creating the “ground zero mosque” controversy. Most candidates might tread carefully when dealing with a Geller (among the conspiracies she subscribes to is a theory that Malcolm X is President Obama’s real father).

But not Pantano.

Geller’s endorsement is proudly reprinted on his website. “I very much appreciate Pamela Geller’s endorsement,” Pantano told Salon, calling her a “patriot.”

He said he had no qualms about speaking at an anti-mosque rally on Sept. 11 near ground zero earlier this month with Geller and other controversial figures like Geert Wilders, a Dutch parliamentarian who advocates restricting civil liberties for Muslims.

Says Pantano of the mosque issue and his campaign: “I see this as a war for the heart of our country.”

Here he is speaking at ground zero, introduced by Geller: