This week on Fox News, anchors Bill O’Reilly and John Stossel discussed former Democratic presidential candidate Howard Dean’s advocacy for the Mujahedeen-e Khalq (MEK), an exiled Iranian opposition group designated as a “foreign terror organization” by the State Department. The leadership of the group is based in Paris, while more than 3,000 former fighters linger in Camp Ashraf — a base set up outside Baghdad in the 1980s when the group allied with Saddam Hussein against Iran — where they face violent harassment by the Iraqi authorities.
O’Reilly and Stossel went through some background about the group and Dean’s history of paid speeches advocating for their removal from the terror rolls and U.S. recognition of the group’s leader, Maryam Rajavi, as the president of Iran.
Their history is shoddy. For example, Stossel blames the group’s U.S. designation solely on acts committed in the 1970s, which he says were carried out by a “nasty fringe” and occurred “30, 40 years ago.” But the MEK only renounced violence in 2001 and fighters were separated from their tanks in Camp Ashraf only in 2003. The U.S. government actually directly accuses the MEK of carrying out terrorist acts as recently as the late 1990s.
But the really staggering ignorance on the part of Stossel is his misunderstanding of the statutes that criminalize material support for groups designated as terrorists. Stossel compares Dean’s paid speeches advocating for the MEK to speeches on behalf of medical industry groups and Stossel’s own paid speeches. O’Reilly, to his credit, pushes back:
O’REILLY: He’s lobbying, and he’s getting paid by this group, Dean, to…
STOSSEL: We don’t know that he’s lobbying for them. He’s made speeches for them, but so has Rudy Giuliani.
O’REILLY: Come on. Why would these guys do that unless they were getting paid?
STOSSEL: Because they say, “Oh, we have Howard Dean speaking here in Belgium. Come over and meet Howard Dean.”
O’REILLY: That’s right. And Dean wouldn’t do that unless they were greasing him.
STOSSEL: Right. They’re greasing him.
O’REILLY: Yes, so he’s getting money from these people.
STOSSEL: So? I make speeches for money.
STOSSEL: If he checked them out and he believes…
O’REILLY: You do the chamber of commerce in Toledo. Not the Muhajadeen.
STOSSEL: If I believed in their cause, as he says he does.
O’REILLY: Oh, yes, he believes in their cause. Socialized medicine people? That’s what he believes in.
STOSSEL: He’s also taken money to change the patent rules for pharmaceutical companies. I don’t blame him for doing that.
O’REILLY: Dean is a lobbyist now, that’s what he does. And he gets paid by MSNBC.
Watch the whole exchange:
Stossel’s defense closely mirrors that of Rudy Giuliani, Tom Ridge, and Fran Townsend (a paid CNN contributor), who argued after they were accused of material support for terrorism that they didn’t consider the MEK to be a terror group.
That Dean was paid by the group — or more accurately, American supporters of the group (if that’s indeed the case) — is less important than whether or not he made what is considered speech that was “coordinated” with the group. Having spoken to actual MEK rallies in Europe alongside Rajavi, that is a difficult defense for Dean and other paid or unpaid advocates to make. (This is not to say one shouldn’t be able to speak in favor of delisting the MEK, or that they do not deserve today to be delisted, but simply that until they are delisted, the laws on the matter are clear.)
But one does not simply get to choose which laws they follow and which designations they recognize. In a nation where the rule of law matters, it needs to be applied equally to all violators, irrespective of what they or others feel about it. That’s why the false comparison between the MEK and the Toledo Chamber of Commerce is so staggering.