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Posted at 4:25 PM ET, 03/10/2011

The King hearings: Is CAIR a 'terrorist organization'?

By Glenn Kessler

Updated 7:20 p.m.
The House Homeland Security Hearings on Islamic radicalization, chaired by Rep. Peter King, have featured a number of assertions that have lacked context or may be confusing to viewers. So we are going to take a look at some of the claims and also provide links to the studies and documents that form the basis for claims by lawmakers and witnesses.

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"CAIR [The Council on American-Islamic Relations] was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the terrorist financing case involving the Holy Land Foundation. In the lead-up to this hearing, I found it shocking and sad that the mainstream media accepted CAIR's accusations as if it were a legitimate organization."
--Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.)

"Among the unindicted co-conspirators in the case was CAIR. CAIR is routinely, and I believe mistakenly, elevated in the press as the voice of mainstream American Muslims. And they have been granted access to the highest levels of government at times."
--Rep. Frank Wolf (R.-Virg.)

"My question is, sir, basically you're dealing with a terrorist organization, and I'm trying to get you to try to understand that they might be using you, sir, to implement their goals. "
--Rep. Chip Cravaack (R-Minn.) to Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca

These claims lack context. CAIR is an aggressive Muslim civil liberties organization, modeled on the Anti Defamation League, that has made it a target for criticism. It was indeed named as an "unindicted co-conspirator or joint venturer" in the Holy Land Foundation case--an Islamic charity that in 2008 was convicted of funding Islamic militant groups. But CAIR was not alone in that designation; nearly 250 other organizations and individuals were also named.

The federal government said the organizations were included on the list in order to produce evidence at the trial, but the district court and a federal appeals court later ruled that it had been a mistake to make the list public.

As the appeals court summed up last year, "The court held that the Government did not argue or establish any legitimate government interest that warranted publicly identifying [one of the organizations] and 245 other individuals and entities as unindicted co-conspirators or joint venturers, and that the Government had less injurious means than those employed, such as anonymously designating the unindicted co-conspirators as 'other persons,' asking the court to file the document under seal, or disclosing the information to the defendants pursuant to a protective order."

 However, federal Judge Jorge A. Solis denied CAIR's request that its name be publicly striken from the list. He said that the government "has produced ample evidence" to establish the association of CAIR and other organizations with entities such as the Holy Land Foundation, the Islamic Association for Palestine and with the Hamas militant group. Solis acknowledged CAIR's claim that evidence produced by the government "largely predates" the official designation of these groups as terror organizations but he said the "evidence is nonetheless sufficient to show the association of these entities with HLF, IAP, and Hamas."

The appeals court, in a ruling involving another Muslim organization on the list, criticized Solis for this statement, saying it "went beyond what was relevant to any hypothetical evidentiary issue and may have obfuscated the underlying Fifth Amendment issue."

Under pressure from Wolf and other lawmakers, the FBI has distanced itself from dealings with CAIR. But as Baca pointedly noted, CAIR itself has never been charged with criminal activity. "We don't play around with criminals in my world," he told Cravaack. "If CAIR is an organization that's a, quote, 'criminal organization,' prosecute them. Hold them accountable and bring them to trial."

The repeated references to CAIR being an "unindicted co-conspirator" is one of those true facts that ultimately gives a false impression.

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"According to the Congressional Research Service, there have been 43 home-grown jihadist terrorist plots and attacks since 9/11, including 22 plots or attacks since May, 2009."
--Rep. Wolf

"According to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), utilizing information provided by respected organizations such as the Congressional Research Service, the Heritage Foundation, and Southern Poverty Law Center, there have been 77 total terror plots by domestic, non-Muslim perpetrators since 9/11. In comparison, there have been 41 total plots by both domestic and international Muslim perpetrators during the same period."
--Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.)

Ellison's numbers are a bit off, or at least out of date: The report actually says 80 plots by non-Muslim perpetrators and 45 by U.S. and foreign-originated perpetrators. Wolf correctly quotes the CRS report.

The data are a little different, given when the reports were written. But they are interesting examples of how politicians can use similar data and reach different conclusions.

Wolf is emphasizing the increase in jihadist plots in recent years, while Ellison is trying to put the numbers in context, comparing the number of jihadist plots to non-jihadist terror plots.

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"But there are realities we can't ignore. For instance, the Pew poll, which said that 15 percent of Muslim American men between the age of 18 and 29 could support suicide bombings. This is the segment of the community Al Qaeda is attempting to recruit."
--Rep. King

"The RAND Corporation, a highly respected research organization, released a report last year that states the following, quote: 'Given a low rate of would-be violent extremists, about 100 amongst the estimated 3 million American Muslims, suggests that the American Muslim population remains hostile to jihadist ideology and its exhortations to violence.'"
--Rep. Ellison

Again, it is a matter of context. Ellison, citing this Rand report, is trying to show how few American Muslims actually become terrorists, while King, citing the Pew survey, wants to focus on the potential sympathy for terrorism.

King neglected to mention a salient point in the Pew survey: "Absolute levels of support for Islamic extremism among Muslim Americans are quite low, especially when compared with Muslims around the world" and that "very few Muslim Americans - just
one percent - say that suicide bombings against civilian targets are often justified to defend Islam." Higher percentages of acceptance for suicide bombing were found in Britain, France and Spain.

The Pew survey also found that "although many Muslims are relative newcomers to the U.S., they are highly assimilated into American society. With the exception of very recent immigrants, most report that a large proportion of their closest friends are non-Muslims.On balance, they believe that Muslims coming to the U.S. should try and adopt American customs, rather than trying to remain distinct from the larger society."

By Glenn Kessler  | March 10, 2011; 4:25 PM ET
Categories:  War on Terror, issue context  
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