Ryan Mauro does not like being labeled an anti-Muslim extremist.
As Muslim and civil liberties groups this week expressed outrage over news that Mauro would be delivering a keynote address Thursday on "the threat of Islamic extremism" at a trade show for hundreds of tactical law enforcement officers in upstate New York, Mauro was indignant.
In addition to defending himself to Vice News, Buzzfeed and other news outlets, Mauro, a national security analyst at the Clarion Project, told The Huffington Post in an email that "if anyone comes away from my presentations feeling anti-Muslim, they aren't listening."
"Significant portions of each presentation are about the danger of anti-Muslim sentiment and the wonderful work of Muslims in America and abroad," he wrote. "I've provided information to authorities about violent extremist threats to Muslims. As disappointing as it is to be falsely labeled by critics as anti-Muslim, the hate messages I get from anti-Muslim individuals is greater in number. Someone even emailed me the other day accusing myself and Clarion Project of being secret Muslims."
But as Mauro made such public overtures to American Muslims this week, he also repeatedly tweeted and retweeted a link to an article claiming that the Council on American-Islamic Relations -- the large Muslim civil liberties organization most loudly condemning his presence at the police conference -- has ties to terrorism.
The accusation against CAIR, which Mauro has previously made himself, is part of an old and repeatedly debunked conspiracy theory used by anti-Muslim groups. Mauro's continued embrace of the terror accusation highlights his role in a multimillion-dollar network of hate groups, think tanks, politicians and talking heads who regularly spread fear and misinformation about Islam.
It also deepens concerns over how Mauro instructs law enforcement about policing Muslim communities.
The Myth Of CAIR's Terror Connections
"#CAIR slanders police, @RyanMauro & @nytoa brave officers" reads a tweet from an account called Counter Jihad, which Mauro retweeted earlier this week.
The tweet links to an article on CounterJihad.com, an initiative of a think tank called the Center For Security Policy, which this year was named a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. (When Counter Jihad launched earlier this year, it called itself CAIR's "worst nightmare.")
The Counter Jihad article, which defends Mauro's credentials as a national security expert, calls CAIR the "the Hamas-linked mouthpiece that is a named terror organization in the [United Arab Emirates]."
"If we were connected to a terror group we would be in jail," Corey Saylor, the director of CAIR's efforts to monitor and combat Islamophobia, told HuffPost in an email Thursday. "Our track record of defending Constitutional principles is very public. We are proud of our work to make democracy work for everyone."
A 2007 New York Times article described how a "small band of critics have made a determined but unsuccessful effort to link [CAIR] to Hamas and Hezbollah," both of which have been designated as terrorist organizations by the State Department.
The Times articlegoes on to explain that "more than one [government official] described the standards used by critics to link CAIR to terrorism as akin to McCarthyism, essentially guilt by association."
And Michael Rolince, a former FBI official who directed counterterrorism in the Washington field office from 2002 to 2005, told the paper that “of all the groups, there is probably more suspicion about CAIR, but when you ask people for cold hard facts, you get blank stares.”
It is odd that Mauro would side with the UAE, which is a known human rights abuser currently suppressing basic democratic ideals, against CAIR."
While it is true that CAIR is listed as a terror organization by the United Arab Emirates, the designation is deeply dubious. Multiple peaceful Muslim advocacy groups in Western countries were on the list, to the bewilderment of many prominent government officials.
The State Department has publicly said it does not consider CAIR a terror organization.
"It is odd that Mauro would side with the UAE, which is a known human rights abuser currently suppressing basic democratic ideals, against CAIR," Saylor said.
Concerns Over Mauro's Speech To Police Officers
We don't know what Mauro told some of the 800 police officers from various departments attending the New York Tactical Officers Association conference during his two scheduled presentations. That's because the conference, which also featured a vendors show of weapons and military-grade equipment, was closed to the press and the general public.
"I'm sorry but I never release presentations from events, but there was a significant amount of time spent on anti-Muslim threats, how ISIS actually says its strategy is to cause an anti-Muslim backlash, and the important contributions of Muslims to combating Islamist extremism," Mauro wrote in an email to HuffPost.
But in previous speeches and public appearances, Mauro, according to the Southern Poverty Law Center, "has promoted the false narrative of ‘no-go zones’ for non-Muslims in Europe" and once "told Fox News host Megyn Kelly that there are growing Muslim enclaves in the U.S. where gangs of Islamic extremists are ‘patrolling’ neighborhoods and enforcing the tenants (sic) of Shariah law."
Mauro has participated in events sponsored by ACT! for America, a group that frequently warns of a Muslim conspiracy to replace the U.S. laws with religious Sharia law. ACT! For America has been labeled a hate group by the SPLC.
The SPLC has also called Mauro as an "anti-Muslim extremist." Mauro disagrees with the designation, telling Vice News that the it "equates those that criticize Islamism — the radical politicized interpretation of Islam opposed by most Muslims — with bigotry toward Muslims."
New Yorkers across the state are right to question the legitimacy and value of a police training expo that places a Clarion representative in such a prominent position.”
Advocates have raised concerns over Mauro's affiliation with the Clarion Project -- which bills itself as a nonprofit “dedicated to exposing the dangers of Islamist extremism. ”
But the group, which has received millions of dollars in funding from the conservative-libertarian Donors Capital Fund, is known for distributing a series of vile anti-Muslim films, and is listed by the Center for American Progress as part of the "Islamophobia Network."
“A training session that nearly 800 law enforcement officers have access to is an important matter, and spotlighting a representative of the Clarion Project is harmful to promoting common sense law enforcement,” Yusuf Abdul-Qadir, director of the New York Civil Liberties Union’s central New York chapter, said in a statement this week.
“The Clarion Project is responsible for producing the widely discredited training movie ‘The Third Jihad,’ a tremendous source of misinformation that fostered discriminatory attitudes toward New York City’s Muslim population," Abdul-Qadir continued. "New Yorkers across the state are right to question the legitimacy and value of a police training expo that places a Clarion representative in such a prominent position.”
"The Third Jihad" -- which cartoonishly depicts Muslims as terrorists bent on taking over the United States -- gained notoriety in 2011 when it was revealed that the New York City Police Department had been showing the film to nearly 1,500 training police officers.
The police commissioner at the time, Ray Kelly, was interviewed in "The Third Jihad," and later apologized for his involvement in the film, calling it "wacky" and "objectionable." Kelly's apology came just months before revelations that his department had been spying on innocent Muslim communities.
In a letter last week, Nihad Awad, executive director of CAIR, urged current NYPD Commissioner William Bratton to warn any officers attending Mauro's speech Thursday to be familiar with his past statements.
“We urge you to ensure that NYPD personnel are warned of the conspiracy theories promoted by the featured speaker, that no taxpayer dollars go to pay for attendance and that any officer who attends in his or her private capacity does not receive continuing education credit,” Awad wrote.
CAIR says Bratton has yet to respond to the letter.
An NYPD spokesman told HuffPost that some NYPD officers were attending the conference, but not in their "official capacity" as New York City police officers. The untold number of NYPD officers, the spokesman said, were not paid to attend.
Larry Beresnoy, the executive director of the New York Tactical Officers Association, a nonprofit organization, wouldn't tell Syracuse.com which police departments had officers at the conference. He also defended inviting Mauro to speak at the event.
Beresnoy said that "if there was concrete proof that Mr. Mauro is an Islamophobe or that he knowingly is grossly slanting his research to implicate the Muslim community when no such implication exists, we would cancel his presentation without hesitation."
CORRECTION: This article previously named CAIR's executive director as Nihad Awal; he is Nihad Awad.