IPT: Few local law-enforcement officials in the United States have proven themselves more Islamist-friendly than Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, whose department has been dogged by allegations of malfeasance in office, and the Los Angeles Police Department’s top deputy handling counterterrorism issues, Michael Downing.
Downing has expressed a benign view of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian-based fundamentalist movement which seeks a global Islamic Caliphate as its ultimate objective. During a May 2011 town hall meeting, he acknowledged the group is operating in the United States, but his biggest concern was “not to demonize the Brotherhood here.”
Downing has expressed a much darker view of American critics of Islamism and shariah law, suggesting they pose a threat analogous to that of Islamic jihadists. In remarks to the “Festival of Interfaith Unity” meeting last year, Downing railed against Shariah, the Threat to America, apparently referring to this book produced by the Center for Security Policy.
“One of my greatest challenges this year is this idea of two sides of extremism: The side of fanaticism and those who want to do violence on innocent people,” Downing told attendees. “And the other side of the equation that want to instill fear in the hearts of the American people because they don’t tell the truth.”
Baca won adulation in 2010, when he testified before a congressional panel, exploding at a question about the wisdom of his close relationship with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), an organization with documented ties to a Hamas-support network.
“CAIR is not a terrorist-supporting organization,” he said. Anyone who says different is an “amateur intelligence officer.”
He has equally warm views toward the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a group which routinely minimizes the threat posed by Muslim extremists in the United States and criticizes FBI sting operations against would-be terrorists.
Baca and Downing won plaudits from Islamist groups like CAIR and MPAC in recent weeks, with Downing getting praise for surveillance “reforms” that may limit law enforcement’s ability to investigate suspected radical activity and Baca for making a deal with MPAC and like-minded groups on recruiting Muslim chaplains to work in county correctional facilities.
A retired federal law enforcement officer who consults with local police agencies expressed concern that the surveillance agreement between Downing and MPAC could have a “chilling effect” on monitoring radical activities. He noted that MPAC issued a statement claiming that “Any reporting of incidents by law enforcement on individuals or groups must be connected to criminal activity.”
Pointing to the case of Nidal Hasan, who massacred 13 people at Fort Hood Texas in 2009, the retired official noted that radicals often try to avoid criminal activity before attempting to carry out acts of jihad. Prior to the rampage, Hasan’s most troubling activities largely involved radical presentations to colleagues and postings on jihadist websites – activities protected by the First Amendment.
If the new rules agreed to by Downing have the effect of preventing investigations of such activities, “the results could be catastrophic,” the retired officer told the Investigative Project on Terrorism.
Patrick Dunleavy, formerly a senior official with the New York State Corrections Department, says he is troubled by unanswered questions about vetting of jail chaplains as well as Baca’s admission that he didn’t know what was going on in jails he is responsible for overseeing.
Baca’s department has been under investigation by the Justice Department and the FBI over inmate beatings and other misconduct by deputies. Adding to his troubles, the U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled that Baca can be held personally liable because he was told about the jail violence and took no action to prevent it.
Baca complained that his commanders kept him in the dark about the problems. “I wasn’t ignoring the jails. I just didn’t know,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “People can say, ‘What the hell kind of leader is that?’ The truth is I should’ve known.”
Baca’s administration of the jail “has been fraught with corruption and mismanagement of security,” Dunleavy observed. “In light of the Justice Department investigation of systemic abuses, can we really trust his administration to conduct proper vetting of religious workers or volunteers?”
The sheriff needs to explain who should be responsible for vetting organizations and individuals who want to come into Los Angeles County jails to work with Muslim inmates, Dunleavy said. He noted that Baca has vehemently defended CAIR even though the FBI cut off relations with the group, saying “until we can resolve whether there continues to be a connection between CAIR or its executives and HAMAS, the FBI does not view CAIR as an appropriate liaison partner.”
That decision was based on evidence including the presence of CAIR founders on an internal telephone list for a Hamas support network called the Palestine Committee, and CAIR’s inclusion on a meeting agenda involving the committee’s front organizations.
If Baca doesn’t accept the FBI’s word about CAIR, then “who will he accept? Would you accept the word of MPAC?” in deciding who is suitable to work with Muslim inmates, Dunleavy asked. Given the apparent disarray in Baca’s department, unsuitable applicants could be “rubber stamped,” he said. That’s something he saw happen with Warith Deen Umar, former New York State Corrections department chaplain.
Baca’s statements, including his rabid support for CAIR, raise questions about his ability to recognize radicals. He has included Iran on a list of Islamic countries that are not interested in supporting terrorism.
“The truth is that no Islamic country that I’ve been to” in the Middle East “is interested in supporting terrorism, including Iran,” Baca said at a February 2011 MPAC Capitol Hill forum. The State Department has long expressed a very different view, calling it the world’s “most active state sponsor of terrorism.”
At the MPAC forum, Baca stressed the need to work with Islamist groups as “our way of saying that Muslim Americans, at least in Southern California, are part of the protected fabric of America. ”
These organizations had joined in forming a local “Congress” of Muslims, Baca said, alluding to the Muslim American Homeland Security Congress (MAHSC). The group’s “core values” are “justice, moderation, education, peace and cooperation.”
And Islamists in Southern California have embraced Baca. He “is our champion, is our hero in defending our country and in defending us against McCarthyism in our era,” Marayati said at the same meeting.
Marayati’s MPAC colleague, Maher Hathout, gushed that when Baca defended CAIR, “he actually was defending democracy of America.”