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Exclusive: Memos Reveal Anti-Muslim Group’s Early Efforts To Bring Islamophobia Into The Mainstream

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"Exclusive: Memos Reveal Anti-Muslim Group’s Early Efforts To Bring Islamophobia Into The Mainstream"

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Last month, Salon’s Justin Elliott published new clues about a mysterious anti-Muslim front organization called the Clarion Fund. Clarion produced “Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against the West,” a graphic film depicting Muslims as terrorists bent on world conquest, and during the 2008 presidential campaign, distributed 28 million copies of the DVD to households in swing states like Pennsylvania and Florida. Producers of the film have taken credit for the recent surge in Islamophobia, pointing to the anti-Muslim protests sweeping the nation earlier this summer and the protests against the planned Park51 Muslim community center in downtown Manhattan as evidence of the movie’s influence.

Elliott obtained a 990 tax form showing that someone named “Barry Seid” (note the spelling) financed Clarion’s distribution and media outreach in 2008 with a donation of $17 million. However, no public record exists for a millionaire named “Barry Seid,” but Salon pointed out that a Chicago-area manufacturing executive named “Barre Seid” has a long history of funding anti-Muslim groups and activists like FrontPageMag’s David Horowitz. Barre Seid denied any involvement with Clarion, despite the 990 form Elliott obtained. It’s likely that either Seid or a small set of wealthy donors underwrote Clarion effort. Reporter Pam Martens discovered that a firm called Donors Capital Trust gave $17 million to the Clarion Fund in 2008 in nine installments. Donors Capital Trust helps wealthy right-wing donors anonymously give to right-wing front groups. A copy of the Donors Capital Trust 990 with the donations to Clarion can be viewed here.

ThinkProgress has obtained new documents, left open to the public by the Clarion Fund’s webmaster, that offer an insight into the ideas behind the organization’s websites and films. An e-mail from Clarion Fund communications director Gregory Ross to the webmaster, outlines the campaign to promote Obsession during the 2008 presidential election (view a copy here). Ross explains how he would like to brand Clarion’s anti-Muslim campaign with “something pleasing to the eye, edgy, hip and fun!” To bring Obsession’s anti-Muslim themes into the mainstream, Ross wanted to make a symbol or slogan with wide appeal, like “google, banana republic or even coca-cola”:

I’d like something more compact, and not as busy as we have now (www.clarionfund.org), however something that stands out and is not boring. In fact, we can just do something with our name; symbols don’t have to be used. Think google, banana republic or even coca-cola and how they made something out of their name only. [...] Lastly, we will also need a logo done for “Yes We Must”. This phrase will be used as a rallying cry for all organizations that are combating radical Islam to ban together. It must be something pleasing to the eye, edgy, hip and fun! We will want everyone to put it on their websites. Think of it as something that you’d almost make into a button that you’d put on your t-shirt. This would be like the slogan Barak [sic] Obama is using for ‘Yes We Can’.

Another memo, a collection of notes written by the webmaster (view a copy here), offers a striking contrast with Clarion’s stated mission of addressing “a minority of vocal and often violent radicals.” It shows the calculations behind selecting scary images depicting Arabs and Muslims on the Obsession website:

The Roots of Violent Islamist Extremism and Efforts to Counter It – Picture of U.S. government hard at work or seeking diplomatic goals or commingling with Arabs or perhaps a picture of violent extremism (like 9/11). This is a long piece given to Congress about the history of arab terrorism and efforts to counter them. [...]

Fascism, Islamism and Anti-Semitism – Talks about Arab anti-semitism, Americans turning the other cheek, makes references to Hitler, holocaust denial, etc……… [...]

Where are the Liberal Muslims? – We need some picture to suggest (or ask the question) that a “moderate” Islam exists. Whether it is a nice looking calm Muslim shaking hands with someone else, or something else entirely… you get the idea. [...]

Understanding Radical Islam – We just need a picture of “radical islam” — whether it is arabs on the march, people with bombs attached to them, kids with machine guns, etc.

Like the movie, which obscures the history of Middle East conflicts and paints the entire Muslim world as dominated by radical terrorist groups, the pictures were selected to elicit a charged emotional response. Although the Obsession movie was presented as a factual documentary, the memo reveals that the creators of Obsession were not strictly addressing “radical Islam,” but were motivated by a desire to spread Islamophobia.

The webmaster memos also underscore how pivotal Clarion has been in bringing Islamophobia into the mainstream — like a consumer brand. Clarion director Frank Gaffney helped organize several of the protests outside of mosques last summer. Hate blogger Pam Geller, who instigated the right-wing hysteria over the Park51 community center, has been one of the most outspoken supporters of the film since it was launched in 2006 and called for her readers to watch it. Several of the groups organizing anti-mosque protests this year, like the Florida Security Council, have specifically cited the film as their inspiration. And one of the loudest voices of anti-Muslim bigotry, Glenn Beck, was quick to help publicize and support the movie.

Clarion’s selling of Islamophobia has been a success in many ways. In recent months, scores of anti-Muslim political candidates were elected to Congress, there has been a surge in the number of attacks on mosques, and prominent politicians like Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have adopted increasingly harsh anti-Muslim rhetoric. After groups supported by Clarion rallied against Park51 last summer, polls showed a majority of Americans opposed its construction.

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