Anti-Muslim crusaders make $ millions spreading fear

Posted on October 24, 2010

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Tennessean.com

First of Two Parts

Steven Emerson has 3,390,000 reasons to fear Muslims.

That’s how many dollars Emerson’s for-profit company — Washington-based SAE Productions — collected in 2008 for researching alleged ties between American Muslims and overseas terrorism. The payment came from the Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation, a nonprofit charity Emerson also founded, which solicits money by telling donors they’re in imminent danger from Muslims.

Emerson is a leading member of a multimillion-dollar industry of self-proclaimed experts who spread hate toward Muslims in books and movies, on websites and through speaking appearances.

Leaders of the so-called “anti-jihad” movement portray themselves as patriots, defending America against radical Islam. And they’ve found an eager audience in ultra-conservative Christians and mosque opponents in Middle Tennessee. One national consultant testified in an ongoing lawsuit aimed at stopping a new Murfreesboro mosque.

But beyond the rhetoric, Emerson’s organization’s tax-exempt status is facing questions at the same time he’s accusing Muslim groups of tax improprieties.

“Basically, you have a nonprofit acting as a front organization, and all that money going to a for-profit,” said Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, a nonprofit watchdog group. “It’s wrong. This is off the charts.”

But a spokesman for Emerson’s company said the actions were legal and designed to protect workers there from death threats.

“It’s all done for security reasons,” said Ray Locker, a spokesman for SAE Productions.

Emerson made his name in the mid-1990s with his documentary film Jihad in America, which aired on PBS. Produced after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the film uncovered terrorists raising money in the United States.

He followed up with the books Jihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the U.S. and American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us.

He claims that extremists control 80 percent of mosques in the United States. In August, he claimed to have uncovered 13 hours of audiotapes proving that Feisal Rauf, the imam behind the proposed mosque near ground zero, is a radical extremist.

“I don’t think he’ll survive the disclosure of these tapes,” he told talk show host Bill Bennett.

Rauf is still in place as a project leader, even though tape excerpts have been online for weeks.

Emerson formed a Middle Tennessee connection last summer, when his organization uncovered pictures on a Murfreesboro mosque board member’s MySpace page. His company said the pictures proved connections to Hamas, a Palestinian terrorist organization, but mosque leaders said they checked with the Department of Homeland Security and found the concerns were groundless.

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