Christopher Holton is Senior Analyst and Director of State Outreach at the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a national security organization founded in 1988 by Frank Gaffney, the former Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Policy under President Ronald Reagan. Holton was interviewed in an October 17th Middle East Forum Webinar (video) by Benjamin Baird, deputy director of the Middle East Forum's Islamist Watch, about CSP's successes countering Islamist activities in the U.S.
Tasked with CSP's mission of "Peace through American strength," which emulates the guiding principle established under President Reagan's administration, Holton liaises with "law enforcement, elected and appointed officials, as well as individuals and community groups across America." He educates and alerts them about Islamist entities posing internal threats to America. Rather than using the term "Islamist" to distinguish those who use Islam as a political ideology from Islam, the religion — Holton uses the terms "they use to describe themselves," such as jihadist.
In his role managing "state outreach and education efforts," Holton employs the same methodology used in U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN) that trained "local security forces at the community level" battling insurgencies abroad. Holton educates state and local law enforcement about the threat to America "from Shariah and Jihad." A key example of local law enforcement thwarting a potential jihadist terror attack is described in the book, Lightning Out of Lebanon. Thus, in 1998, a report of suspicious activity was submitted by a "local sheriff's deputy" in Charlotte, NC, and sent up the chain of command. That report ultimately resulted in the FBI's exposure of a nascent "Hezbollah cell."
In 2004, at the direction of Gaffney and a colleague, CSP launched the Divest Terror Initiative in an effort to disrupt international terrorism. The organization worked with state legislatures to forbid "taxpayer-supported" state pension systems from investing in stocks of foreign companies that Holton said, "provide corporate life support to the ayatollahs." The initiative resulted in "two dozen states" divesting their state pension funds from foreign companies that do business with Iran. The revenue generated from Iran's "oil and gas reserves" is largely used to finance the notorious activities of the Islamic Republic, which the U.S. State Department has designated as "the world's most active state sponsor of terrorism." Holton said that despite CSP's efforts to expand the legislation to include Cuba and North Korea, the Obama administration omitted them from the State Department list.
CSP, in tandem with the Middle East Forum, introduced the American Laws for American Courts legislation in 2012, which keeps Shariah out of U.S. courtrooms. Holton said the purpose of the legislation is to "protect [those] fundamental constitutional rights" which Shariah violates. He said there were "dozens of cases" where Shariah was introduced in the U.S., in "state court systems in particular." In some of those cases, judges "ruled in a toxic manner" to uphold Shariah law. As outlined in a CSP publication, Shariah in American Courts, one area in U.S. courts where Islamic law is invoked is in family law where, according to Shariah, "the testimony of a woman is worth exactly half that of a man." Holton said Shariah "trampled [on]" the constitutional rights of "equal protection and due process."
Another CSP victory was the 2017 exposure of the duplicitous counter-law enforcement initiatives of the Islamist organization, the Council for American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). While CAIR was offering training for U.S. law enforcement in its dealings with the Muslim community, it published advisories to the Muslim community against cooperating with law enforcement. Among the steps to counter CAIR was CSP's creation of a "resolution for the state level," which exposed how dozens of "CAIR officers, members, and employees" had not only been "indicted or suspected," but were "convicted" on terrorism-related charges through the years. CSP also advised state and local law enforcement to "avoid conducting outreach" with CAIR.
CSP's resolution passed in Louisiana and Arkansas, but it fell short in South Carolina due to the misguided efforts of faith-based groups that advocated on behalf of CAIR. While there are representatives of Christian groups who oppose counter-Islamist efforts, Holton was perplexed that organizations thwarting the resolution's passage in South Carolina included secular liberal Jewish groups that defended CAIR. His surprise was based on the fact that the Islamist organization has "ties to Hamas, whose charter says that they want to replace Israel with an Islamic state." Holton said the current status of the model resolution is under consideration by a "prominent state," and he is hoping another resolution will pass later this year.
Since 2017, CSP has pursued the implementation of a Terrorist Registry. The impetus for the project emanated from Holton's reading of an Associated Press (AP) article stating that "hundreds" of people who had been convicted and jailed after 9/11 for "material support for terrorism" were scheduled for release. The AP journalist who penned the article interviewed "expert" Randall Todd (now Ismail) Royer. Royer, who had recently served a lengthy jail term, was a CAIR employee who went overseas to be trained in Pakistan by the jihadi terror group, Lashkar-e-Taiba, while also cultivating recruits for training. Convicted on terrorism-related charges, Royer was sentenced to thirteen years in prison. The AP journalist inquired if Royer felt there was any reason to be concerned, particularly since Holton said there is a "high recidivism rate amongst terrorist offenders." Summarizing Royer's response, Holton said, "The convicted terrorist said that there's nothing to be worried about from convicted terrorists."
CSP modeled the Terrorist Registry on the sex offender registry. Although Louisiana passed the first "terrorist offender registry in the United States," Holton said the Louisiana State Police has "dragged its feet" in effectively implementing the law. Given that other states have expressed an interest in the registry, Holton said its success "doesn't start from the top-down" but is based more on "a bottom-up approach." When the sex offender registry passed in 1991, one state after another adopted it until the federal government took notice and cooperated with them.
Individuals who are wary of reporting suspicious activity and fearful of litigious actions against them should take note that several states have adopted the See Something Say, Something Online Act of 2021, which affords immunity from civil liability. Holton is concerned that, given its unreliability enforcing immigration law, the U.S. has no "mechanism for designating domestic organizations" as terrorists. Although CAIR has been designated as such by some "Arab Islamic-allied countries," it has yet to be the case in the U.S.
For further information about CSP reports and initiatives, Holton can be emailed at email@example.com
Marilyn Stern is communications coordinator at the Middle East Forum.