Late last year, Walid Shoebat, a self-styled “expert” on Islamic extremism, reportedly told public safety personnel attending a Las Vegas anti-terrorism conference that the way to solve the threat posed by terrorists was to “kill them…including the children.”
And on May 11, despite criticism of the Las Vegas speech, Shoebat, who continues to tout his credentials as an “ex-terrorist” in the Palestine Liberation Organization despite serious questions about his purported biography, was welcomed to a similar place. He delivered a keynote address to more public employees who attended the second annual South Dakota Homeland Security Conference held in Rapid City–a conference entirely funded by federal tax money. The topic was “Jihad in America.”
David Montgomery of the Rapid City Journal reported on the speech:
Walid Shoebat, who says he was a former terrorist in the Palestine Liberation Organization before converting to Christianity, said that Americans should focus on what he called the “culture of terrorism” among Muslims rather than “only the ones who carry out the explosive act.”
Shoebat said closet supporters of terrorism exist throughout the Muslim community in mosques, community groups and in the U.S. armed forces.
“You’ve been infiltrated at all levels,” Shoebat said. “Are all Muslims who interpret for the U.S. military terrorists? Of course not. But that doesn’t mean you play Russian roulette.”
Shoebat’s appearance was paid for by a federal grant from the Department of Homeland Security as part of the second annual South Dakota Homeland Security Conference. He also spoke at the first conference last year in Sioux Falls.
Shoebat was invited for a second time to the conference because the speech was highly popular among attendees, Jim Carpenter, the state’s director of homeland security, told Montgomery. “The critiques and evaluations that came back highly recommended that he come back again…We acted on those, and that’s why he came back.”
But even more alarmingly, Shoebat, described by religion writer Richard Bartholomew as “a pseudo-expert on terrorism…[who] teaches that Obama is a secret Muslim and that the Bible has prophesised a Muslim anti-Christ,” is only the tip of an anti-Muslim iceberg being funded by taxpayers. Author and journalist Chris Hedges recently reported that “much of this [anti-Muslim] indoctrination within the law enforcement community is funded under two grant programs for training—the State Homeland Security Program and Urban Areas Security Initiative—which made $1.67 billion available to states in 2010.”
Since September 11, the federal government has poured money into fighting terrorism. But some of this money has gone to pay for public employee attendance at seminars and trainings that feature crude propaganda about Islam. The speakers at these trainings, like Shoebat, also often push a far-right agenda when it comes to the Israel/Palestine conflict. For example, on his website, Shoebat claims that “the Arab refugees are being used as pawns’ to create a terror breeding ground, as a form of aggression against Israel.”
Shoebat and others like him preach bigoted tropes about Islam across the country at similar conferences paid for with taxpayer money. The trend has continued despite more public scrutiny in the form of investigations published by the Washington Post and a March 29 letter from top senators in the Senate’s Homeland Security committee. The letter, authored by Senators Joe Lieberman and Susan Collins, expressed concern about “state and local law enforcement agencies…being trained by individuals who not only do not understand the ideology of violent Islamist extremism but also cast aspersions on a wide swath of ordinary Americans merely because of their religious affiliation.”
The Senate letter came after the publication of a comprehensive report by the Political Research Associates that documented how “public servants are regularly presented with misleading, inflammatory, and dangerous information about the nature of the terror threat.”
“What we are documenting here is the institutionalization of these views in a critical part of our government—those who have the power to monitor, extract, arrest and interrogate people,” Thom Cincotta, the author of the report, told me in a recent interview published in AlterNet. “This isn’t the type of country we want to be. We want to embrace our diversity and build ties with the Muslim-American community.”
But despite the increase in public scrutiny, and demands from the Council on American-Islamic Relations to drop Shoebat from the South Dakota conference, the Shoebat show went on.
The scrutiny of Shoebat was met with a shrug from Carpenter, the state’s director of homeland security. He told the Rapid City Journal that he doesn’t think that “we should be complacent in any way…Sometimes it takes folks to wake us up a little bit.” But in reality, Shoebat and others like him let law enforcement go to sleep on the real work of counter-terrorism.