In June, South Florida Muslim (SFMF) Federation Executive Director Nezar Hamze, along with SFMF communications director Wilfredo Ruiz, partnered with the U.S. Attorney's South Florida office to participate in the Group Violence Initiative, a government anti-violence program comprising law enforcement, clergy, community members, and former gang leaders.
SFMF director Nezar Hamze is also an armed public servant – a Deputy Sheriff of Broward County. Since the February 2018 shooting in Parkland at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Broward County Police Department has been embroiled in scandal. The Sheriff at the time, Scott Israel, has since been dismissed for his negligence of duty during the shooting. Earlier this month, Deputy Sheriff Scot Peterson was arrested following a 15-month investigation into his actions during the shooting as well.
While Florida officials have addressed the failure of Broward County Sheriff's department to prevent violence, they have kept quiet about one of its other Deputy Sheriffs' own radical ties.
Hamze's SFMF is an umbrella group for a number of Islamic organizations in Florida. Both SFMF and several of its member-bodies boast ties to extremist operatives. On June 2, for example, just a week before the Group Violence Initiative event, SFMF promoted an event featuring hardline Islamist speakers and hosted by one of its member-organizations. The Islamic Foundation of South Florida's "Grand Iftar" featured prominent Islamist activist Yusuf Abdallah as a keynote speaker. In February, Abdallah was the subject of international news coverage after it emerged that he was to share a stage with Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, despite Abdallah's well-documented history of violently-themed anti-Semitism. On his Facebook account, Abdallah posted a "very beautiful" story about a 'resistance hero' named Zharif al-Tawl, who took revenge against Jewish "gangs" by providing guns to "kill more than 20 jews" and "fire rockets at Tel Aviv."
This dangerous rhetoric is typical of the company that SFMF officials keep. Before leading SFMF, Hamze served as the "executive and operations director" of the Florida branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Under his watch, in July 2014, CAIR-Florida sponsored a pro-Hamas rally in Miami, at which participants chanted "We are Hamas! We are Jihad!" CAIR has repeatedly denied involvement, yet CAIR was listed on Facebook as a sponsor of the event and CAIR affiliates organized and attended the event.
In fact, Hamze's SFMF and CAIR-Florida continue to share officials. For example, Wilfredo Ruiz is an Executive Committee Member for Public Relations at SFMF, and also the communications director for CAIR Florida. Ruiz's history, like many others at CAIR and SFMF, is riddled with working with pro-Hamas and anti-Semitic groups. In an article Ruiz wrote for a Spanish Islamic website, he offers an anti-Semitic conspiracy that the Talmud, an ancient Jewish text, instructs Jews to "throw dead dogs and monkeys" at the graves of Jesus and Mohammad. In another instance, Ruiz 'liked' a Facebook post denying the Holocaust and claiming "Hitler was not to [sic] bad after all."
Currently, SFMF's Facebook is managed by Abdur Rahman al-Ghani, who offers similar extreme rhetoric. He has used his personal Facebook page to denounce Jews, calling them "demonic" and "the most evil on earth."
Nezar Hamze was recommended to the Deputy Sheriff position by disgraced former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel. This important community role has not stopped him from openly consorting with extremists. In August 2016, Hamze met with Mohamad al-Ali al-Halabi, who has shared Hezbollah content on Facebook, in which the Secretary General of Hezbollah refers to America as the "mother of terrorism." Al-Halabi's caption for the photo was "Nice words."
Hamze has used his position as Deputy Sheriff and his strong ties to CAIR to work with various extremist institutions in Florida. As part of Hamze's role as Deputy Sheriff of Broward County, and with the blessing of Scott Israel, Hamze has offered firearms training to various mosques.
On December 14, 2015, Hamze gave weapons training at Masjid Jamaat Al-Mumineen (MJAM), located in Margate, Florida, whose imam was arrested in 2011 on charges of funding the Taliban. He was eventually acquitted due to insufficient evidence, although his father was found guilty.
By the end of 2015, counter-terrorism expert Joe Kaufman reports, Hamze had given weapons training to at least 17 mosques, with many more trainings since. The Broward County Sheriff's office also offered conceal-carry training to a mosque in March of last year, citing the freedom of the second amendment and the "right to return fire."
While these weapons and self-defense trainings seem innocent in their intention to protect Muslim communities from violence, especially in the wake of the horrors in New Zealand, Hamze's myriad of connections to Islamists with histories of justifying violence or supporting violent causes are cause for great concern.
Despite his deputy's extremist links, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel has supported Hamze in his efforts, even appearing at one of Hamze's weapons training sessions.
Israel dismissed concerns over Hamze's connections to terrorism, citing the fact that CAIR is not listed as a terrorist organization by the FBI, although neatly ignoring the fact that the FBI has blacklisted CAIR since 2008, after it was named by prosecutors as an unindicted coconspirator in a federal terror finance case.
Florida governor Ron DeSantis suspended Scott Israel on January 11, 2019 for "neglect of duty and incompetence" during the 2018 Parkland shooting. Hamze, meanwhile, has retained his position as Deputy Sheriff.
If Broward County is serious about fixing its Sheriff's department, then punishing those law enforcement members who failed to prevent a single act of violent extremism is of course necessary. But it is even more important to address the fact that another in the department actively enables a culture of extremism.
It would seem rather counterproductive to punish Scott Israel's negligence in addressing violence, while Hamze's years-long armed outreach to Islamists is protected--and even encouraged--by the state, as evinced by the U.S. attorney's cooperation with SFMF and the Group Violence Initiative. But in Florida, terror-tied Islamism carries a badge and a gun.
Christina Armes is a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.