The decade after the 9/11 attacks has seen the creation of a profitable cottage industry of self-styled “experts” on Islam. As Sarah Posner recently noted in an article on Religion Dispatches, anti-Muslim fear-mongers, ranging from politicians to national security experts, have “cultivated awide-ranging conspiracy theory that totalitarian Islamic radicals are bent on infiltrating America, displacing the Constitution, and subverting Western-style democracy in the U.S. and around the globe.”
What hasn’t gotten a comprehensive look, at least until now, is how public tax dollars have been funding parts of this industry under the guise of counter-terrorism trainings for city and state law enforcement across the country, which after 9/11 has gotten heavily involved in fighting terrorism.
A recently released report by the Political Research Associates, a group that monitors the right in America, puts the spotlight on how “public servants are regularly presented with misleading, inflammatory, and dangerous information about the nature of the terror threat.” The report, titled, “Manufacturing the Muslim Menace: Private Firms, Public Servants, and the Threat to Rights and Security,” examines frames—like “Islam is a terrorist religion,” or “mainstream Muslim-Americans have terrorist ties”—and how they are propagated to law enforcement officers.
These trainings have caught the eye of Senator Joe Lieberman, the chairman of the Senate’s Homeland Security committee, and Senator Susan Collins, a ranking member. A March 29 letter to Attorney General Eric Holder and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano from the senators reads, in part: “We are concerned with recent reports that state and local law enforcement agencies are 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 letter asks the attorney general to provide a list of grant programs being used to fund counter-terrorism trainings and asks about “improved oversight” of these trainings—demands that mirror the recommendations made in the Political Research Associates’ publication.
AlterNet recently caught up with Thom Cincotta, the author of the report and a Political Research Associates’ staff member, to delve into more detail on this subset of the anti-Muslim cottage industry.
Alex Kane: How did this project come to be?
Thom Cincotta: At the Political Research Associates, we have been, for the past two years, looking at the growth of the domestic security apparatus, particularly how local police have been mobilized to fight terrorism—specifically in new forms of collaborative bodies like intelligence fusion centers and Joint Terrorism Task Forces. This mobilization represents a tremendous, unprecedented growth of our domestic intelligence apparatus, and with the new powers, capabilities and resources at the hands of that bureaucracy, there are risks for our civil liberties.
In examining that infrastructure, we have had an eye out for opportunities for the politicization of intelligence-type policing, and during the course of our investigation into fusion centers, we noticed some courses being offered at the local level. Specifically, in Massachusetts, we noticed that one company called Security Solutions International in May 2009 was offering a seminar on the “radical jihadist threat” that was hosted by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority. The description of that course included things like the “legal wing of jihad in America,” and that right away set off red flags that this course content might not simply be looking at detecting valid terrorism.