THE KEVIN BACON OF AMERICAN JIHAD
By Adam Turner
During an 18-month period, eight of the 27 reported cases of homegrown terrorism saw U.S. terror suspects frequenting, blogging on, or directly linked to Revolution Muslim or a related group. The group's website was originally at RevolutionMuslim.com. When their service provider shut them down on November 5, 2010, they reconstituted at IslamPolicy.com. To date, the threats that have emanated from the Revolution Muslim websites have never been adequately legally addressed by the U.S.
Revolution Muslim's influence is most visible in three recent incidents where Islamic extremists threatened the free speech of artists, politicians, and even private citizens:
He also called for his supporters to "pay [Parker and Stone] a visit" and posted the addresses of Comedy Central's New York office, Parker and Stone's California production office, and a link to an article detailing Parker and Stone's home in Colorado.
In the following days, Chesser posted numerous additional comments and uploaded several videos and recordings, including one by Anwar al-Awlaki, an American-born Islamist cleric currently hiding in Yemen, which further justified the murder of Parker and Stone. Panicking, Comedy Central censored part two of the episode by bleeping out language, including its criticism of censorship, a speech against intimidation, and every use of the name "Muhammad."
Nevertheless, this rather obvious threat was not prosecuted by state or local law enforcement officials. New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly said authorities didn't think it "rises to a crime right now."
Months later, on July 21, 2010, Chesser was arrested on independent charges for trying to board a plane to Somalia to join al-Shabaab, a brutal terrorist organization with ties to al-Qa'ida. It was only months after that, on the eve of a plea agreement, that he was finally charged for making internet threats against Parker and Stone in violation of 18 U.S.C. 875(c). On October 20, 2010, Chesser pleaded guilty to a three-count criminal indictment.
Her idea caught on and pretty soon there was a Facebook page devoted to EDMD, a page which over a hundred thousand people joined. That is when Anwar al-Awlaki issued a fatwa calling for Norris to be murdered. This fatwa prompted Zachary Chesser to gather personal information on at least eleven Facebook friends of EDMD and to post it on Revolution Muslim's website in a comment thread that also contained videos and discussion justifying punishing anyone who insults Muhammad.
Chesser characterized the information he provided as "just a place to start." According to federal prosecutors, the lives of the private citizens and Facebook users Chesser identified as EDMD supporters "will remain at risk for many years to come." Frightened by the threats, Molly Norris recanted and disavowed EDMD, but it was too late. On September 15, 2010, the Seattle Weekly informed its readers:
In interviews immediately following her arrest, Choudhry told police she resolved to strike Timms after viewing over 100 hours of video sermons given by radical cleric Anwar al-Awlaki, which she had found posted on Revolution Muslim and other websites. She began listening to the sermons in November, 2009, and completed them just days before she carried out her attack.
After her attack, members of Revolution Muslim published praise of Ms. Choudhry as a "heroine" and expressed the hope "for her action to inspire Muslims to raise the knife of jihad against those who voted for the countless rapes, murders, pillages, and torture of Muslim civilians as a direct consequence of their vote." The organization also posted a list of 383 British lawmakers who voted for the Iraqi war, accompanied by instructions on how to track these lawmakers' movements, as well as a link for buying a kitchen knife.
The British government demanded the website be taken down, and, on November 5, 2010, Revolution Muslim's website closed. Shortly thereafter the website resurfaced as IslamPolicy.com.
To defend free speech rights from intimidation by the likes of Revolution Muslim, the Legal Project has proposed the Defend Expression from Islamists (DEFI) Act. This legislation would make it a federal crime to threaten or use force against individuals exercising free speech rights.
A federal statute is both necessary and proper. Islamic radicalism is a national concern. Frequently, when Islamists threaten Americans they do so over the internet and from another state or country. At the same time, existing state laws are inadequate. The heightened standard of proof deters local prosecutors from investing scarce resources, explicit grounds for a civil suit do not always exist, and damages can be difficult to quantify.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of DEFI — which is lacking in criminal statues like 18 U.S.C. 875(c) — is that it empowers victims of Islamist threats to sue for damages. This provision transforms them from passive victims into private attorneys general to defend their rights in a setting with a lower burden of proof and preset damages.
One law, by itself, won't entirely halt groups like Revolution Muslim from threatening free speech. But it is about time we did something tangible to punish them for their threats. When Comedy Central was intimidated into censoring itself on American television, the federal government did nothing. When Molly Norris was forced to go ghost, the federal government did not pick up the tab. And when the Revolution Muslim jihadists inspired a British Muslim to attempt to assassinate a member of the British Parliament, and then threatened the lives of other British legislators, the U.S. federal government's sole response was allegedly pressuring Google to shutter the site.
Revolution Muslim simply changed its website name and migrated to another server, without any legal consequences for the true threats it made. This kind of appeasement should end, now.
The Islamist Fifth Column -- America's Internal Enemies:
Disloyalty, Subversion, Sedition, & Treason
Islamism & Jihadism -- The Threat of Radical Islam
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Adam Turner serves as Staff Counsel to The Legal Project of the Middle East Forum. He is a former counsel to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee, where he focused on national security issues, including national security law. His area of expertise includes the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the international law of warfare, foreign sovereign immunity, and U.S. law on torture. As Senate Judiciary Committee Counsel, Mr. Turner helped pass legislation making it easier for victims to sue and collect damages from state sponsors of terrorism. Turner holds the J.D. (law degree) from George Mason University, the Master of Arts in Political Science from American University, and the Bachelor of Arts in Political Science from Pennsylvania State University.
The foregoing article by Adam Turner was originally published in Pajamas Media, January 26, 2011, and can be found on the Internet website maintained by the Middle East Forum, a foreign policy think tank which seeks to define and promote American interests in the Middle East, defining U.S. interests to include fighting radical Islam, working for Palestinian Arab acceptance of the State of Israel, improving the management of U.S. efforts to promote constitutional democracy in the Middle East, reducing America's energy dependence on the Middle East, more robustly asserting U.S. interests vis-ŕ-vis Saudi Arabia, and countering the Iranian threat. (URL: http://www.meforum.org/2826/revolution-muslim-american-jihad)
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