A large crowd gathered today outside the State Department to protest the designation of the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK) as a “foreign terror organization.” Police at the scene told ThinkProgress the groups organizing the demonstration said at least two thousand people were there, though the estimate seemed high.
The MEK’s profile has risen as stateside supporters — including former government officials — have launched a massive, coordinated, and multi-million dollar campaign to have them removed from the terror rolls. Critics argue that the group may still have designs on committing violent acts and that their public support in Iran is virtually non-existent.
Among Iranians, who dominated the crowd, many said they rallied for the MEK because they supported democracy in Iran and opposed the post-revolutionary Islamic regime.
But many apparent non-Iranians came out as well, most wearing flags, headbands, and even yellow vests with images of the group’s leaders — Maryam and Massoud Rajavi — on the chest. Of this group, few seemed to have many details about the MEK, and instead pledged vague notions of support for human rights and democracy, often even getting the name of the MEK wrong.
Watch a video of conference attendees here:
Some of the attendees had been bused and flown in at no personal cost, receiving transportation and in some cases lodging and meals.
One attendee who spoke with ThinkProgress, Melvin Santiago, 23, a homeless man living in shelters in Staten Island, New York, said he’d found out about the protest from a friend he’d come with. They made the trip along with about 100 other people in four rented coach buses.
“He saw [a flier] yesterday passing by the church,” said Santiago of his friend. “He usually goes there for the food pantry.”
On a day’s notice, Santiago said he hadn’t had a chance to learn too much about the MEK — he thought the group was called “Ashraff,” which is the name of the camp in Iraq where 3,400 members currently live.
Some of the other attendees knew little about the MEK’s history. The State Department designated the group in 1997 and made allegations of decades of terrorism, including against Americans when the U.S. had good relations with the Shah before the 1979 Islamic Revolution.
Two attendees from Arkansas, who’d come up with an Iranian friend who lives nearby, said that they suspected collusion — “hanky panky” — between the State Department and the Islamic Republic.
Others had an interest in Iran. One attendee said he lived in Iran and played professional basketball there. He said he supported human rights in Iran. He said the reverend at his church informed him about the rally, though he admitted that “to be honest, I don’t really understand what the MEK is.”