UPDATE: Steve Emerson, who is criticized in the post below, sent in a lengthy statement last night in response to a request for comment submitted by the writer earlier in the week. It can be found in the comments at the end of the story.
The day before U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) convened the first round of his controversial hearings on the radicalization of American Muslims, the nonprofit Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) released what certainly seemed to be a sobering statistic. “More than 80 percent of all convictions tied to international terrorist groups and homegrown terrorism since 9/11 involved defendants driven by a radical Islamist agenda,” IPT said in the opening lines of the March 9 statement on its website. “Though Muslims represent about 1 percent of the American population, they constitute defendants in 186 of the 228 cases DOJ lists.”
These claims, while not exactly going viral, nevertheless were quickly picked up by the political right. Anti-Muslim firebrand Pamela Geller, executive director of Stop Islamization of America (which is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as an anti-Muslim hate group), went on Eric Bolling’s FOX Business program “Follow the Money” on the evening of King’s hearings. “As we witnessed in the recent study released by [IPT Executive Director] Steve Emerson,” she said, “where we saw that over 80% of the attacks since 9/11 were Islamic in nature, so there is a problem.”
But it really isn’t so.
IPT’s statistics, clearly intended to justify King’s decision to focus only on the threat of homegrown Muslim terrorists to the exclusion of all other domestic terror threats, mischaracterized the source material it analyzed from the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) — and then drew a meaningless conclusion from its own flawed analysis. While Emerson didn’t flatly misstate most of the facts, IPT’s characterization of those facts — especially its second sentence, comparing the percentage of American Muslims with the percentage of Muslim defendants in terror cases listed by the DOJ — was essentially a propaganda ploy meant to hype the domestic Muslim threat.
Here’s the reality.
The list that IPT was working from was drawn up by DOJ to satisfy a specific congressional request, according to spokesman Dean Boyd. It was a roster only of cases that were linked to international (not domestic) “terrorist organizations” that involved an American (as suspect or victim) or American interest, anywhere in the world, that the DOJ was somehow involved in. If the DOJ wasn’t involved, it didn’t get counted. If the terrorism wasn’t linked to an international organization, then it didn’t get counted. And that rules out virtually all terror coming from the domestic American radical right — Klansmen, neo-Nazis, antigovernment “Patriots” and others — in recent history. The SPLC has documented close to 75 such plots since the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing, but virtually none of them would get on to the list that the IPT chose to focus on. Indeed, it seems obvious that most cases linked to international organizations would by definition be jihadist.
What’s more, many of the cases listed by the DOJ didn’t involve terrorist attacks at all, but rather were focused cases like people suspected of raising money for terrorist groups or who allegedly obstructed an investigation into those groups.
That still isn’t all. In fact, the DOJ listed 403 cases, not the 228 figure that Emerson’s group mentions. In the remaining 175 cases, the IPT could not determine a suspect’s motivation, so the IPT simply excluded them from its analysis. Thus, while the IPT claimed that “more than 80%” of the cases DOJ listed involved Muslim defendants, the truth is it really doesn’t know how many did. Likewise, elsewhere in its release, the IPT claimed that “about 13 percent” of “the terror cases” involve “homegrown Islamic extremists.” But the raw number of such cases in the DOJ list is 30 — 30 out 403, which is 7.4%, not the exaggerated claim of 13%.
The most egregious ploy, and the one that smacks most obviously of big-lie propagandizing, is the way that IPT links, in its second sentence, the percentage of Muslims in the United States to the percentage of convictions of people “driven by a radical Islamist agenda” in the DOJ-listed cases. Again, many of the cases on the DOJ list did not involve American defendants at all. The illogical lining up of the two figures — 1% of Americans are Muslims and 80% of convictions in the DOJ cases were of Muslim radicals — is, in other words, complete nonsense. The numbers are married up simply to defame Muslims as radical jihadists.
Emerson does finally get around, in paragraph 10, to admitting the obvious: “The [DOJ] list emphasizes international terror, so groups like the Hutaree militia and eco-terrorists are not included.” And in paragraph 22, IPT concedes: “The DOJ list does not demonstrate that vast segments of the Muslim community constitute a threat to carry out terrorist attacks or support groups which do. Assuming a Muslim American population of about 5 million people, the DOJ cases amount to .00004 percent of the community.” But even that calculation includes all 186 suspects, foreign and domestic, supposedly motivated by Islam. To be fair, IPT should have compared only the 30 cases it says were linked to “homegrown terror” – thus implicating an even-more infinitesimal fraction of the U.S. Muslim community – .000006%, to be exact. Otherwise, what was the point in comparing that 80% figure with the 1% of Americans are Muslims figure? Simply to defame Muslims, perhaps?
Hatewatch requested comment on these claims in an E-mail to Emerson on Tuesday, but as of this afternoon he had not replied.
Emerson and Congressman Peter King have been close allies – until the planned March 10 hearings set off a tiff between the two, according to Politico’s Ben Smith. Apparently, Smith wrote on Jan. 19, Emerson was upset that King intended to take testimony from actual Muslims. Then, Emerson was further aggrieved when King told Politico that Emerson himself wouldn’t be invited to testify.
“I have dutifully worked with your staff in trying to help you prepare for these meetings but obviously you don’t need my input,” a peeved Emerson wrote to King, according to Politico, adding that he had planned to share with King, among other documents, an “amazing study” debunking Muslim groups' claims to have assisted law enforcement. Apparently, King and Emerson sufficiently patched up their row so that Emerson released his “amazing study” just in time for the hearings.
Writing in the New York Daily News on March 10, under the headline “Muslim American groups, not Rep. Pete King, are the ones fomenting hysteria with hearings on tap,” Emerson wrote: “The figures confirm that there is a disproportionate problem of Islamic militancy and terrorism among the American Muslim population.”
Of course, the data show nothing of the sort. But Emerson clearly hopes that merely saying it will make it true.