The FBI wasn’t just wrong in teaching its agents that average Muslims are likely to be terrorist sympathizers, Attorney General Eric Holder told Congress Tuesday. That bigoted Bureau training undermined the government’s efforts to stop the next terror attack.
The FBI briefings, given to Bureau counterterrorism agents at its academy in Quantico, were not only “flat-out wrong,” Holder told the Senate Judiciary Committee. They “really have a negative impact on our ability to communicate effectively” with American Muslims on counterterrorism, civil rights and other issues.
An array of elected and appointed government leaders have denounced the FBI training, since it was first revealed by Danger Room in September. Holder’s comments were the most strident — and highest-level — official condemnation yet. And it reinforces a key point that critics of the Islamophobic briefings have made all along: that tarring “mainstream” Muslims as “radical” and “violent” only helps the real terrorists evade their government pursuers.
That kind of training, Holder insisted, was “inconsistent with what we have been trying to do here at the Department. Those views do not reflect those views of the Justice Department [and] the FBI.”
Without using his name, Holder also rebuked FBI counterterrorism analyst William Gawthrop, who conducted the training at Quantico and in New York. Gawthrop, as Danger Room has extensively reported, likened Islam to the Death Star and said al-Qaida was “irrelevant” compared to the threat of Islam itself. Holder told the panel: “We have distanced ourselves from that person and those statements.”
The statements, maybe. But not the person.
Nearly two months after Danger Room began its FBI expose, Gawthrop is still employed at the Bureau. He’s been put on a leash, prevented from teaching at Quantico or delivering freelance lectures — though the FBI says it won’t comment on what he teaches to veterans in his side gig at the online American Military University.
And it’s not clear how deeply the FBI or the Justice Department will go in purging Gawthrop-like statements from its counterterrorism curriculum. There are reviews at both the FBI and Justice to do just that. But it’s unclear whether they go deeper than recommending against teaching certain offensive material. And both agencies have employed people who taught that Muslim “juries” threaten American values and even that Muslims are genocidal.
But Holder went further in his rebuke of the FBI training materials than did Bureau Director Robert Mueller. Last month, Mueller told a House panel that the instructions were “very unusual.” Holder, by contrast, said flatly that he hesitated to distinguish U.S. Muslims from non-Muslims. American Muslims are “American citizens who have the same desires as we have,” he said.
Holder’s argument echoes that of Texas Muslim leader Mohamed Elibiary, who received a September commendation from Mueller himself to recognize his partnership with the FBI on counterterrorism. The anti-Islam training “makes my job — and the FBI field offices’ jobs — much harder,” Elibiary told Danger Room recently.