On September 18, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR) suddenly cancelled its planned "Dismantling Hate Crimes Panel and Open Forum" at the 11th hour after facing a public backlash coordinated by the Middle East Forum and other counter-Islamist activists over the participation of the terror-tied Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).
The panel was to feature Michael Melcher, Supervisory Special Agent of the FBI; Jaylani Hussein, the Executive Director for CAIR's Minnesota (CAIR-MN) branch; and Blair Anderson, Chief of the St. Cloud Police Department (SCPD). Speakers were expected to focus on hate crimes: "what are they, how do we monitor them, report them, and how do we prevent them from happening?"
The first step in preventing hate crimes, however, should be recognizing who is responsible for fomenting the bigotry that fuels such violence. On this point, CAIR is more part of the problem than the solution – it has a long history of promoting speakers and organizations with histories of spreading extreme bigotries.
At a previous St. Cloud Public Library event in 2017, CAIR-MN's Jaylani Hussein pointedly refused to condemn Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. Not only were Hussein's remarks tolerated, but he has been invited back to present again. Other CAIR Minnesota officials include board member Abdul Basit, who has claimed that those who "plot" against Bernie Sanders do so because they are Jewish.
CAIR-MN also regularly promotes hardline clerics with radical and hate-filled histories. For example, CAIR-MN's website describes former CAIR board member Siraj Wahhaj as "one of the most admired Muslim leaders and speakers in America." He is also among the most infamous and radical – well known for his hardline positions embracing homophobia, misogyny, violent Jihad, barbaric forms of punishment, anti-Americanism and racism.
In the lead up to the event, counter-Islamist activist Chris Gaubatz contacted the Minneapolis FBI office to urge them to withdraw Melcher's participation. Kevin Smith, the FBI's spokesman in Minneapolis, claimed that the bureau was unaware of CAIR's participation when the panel was formed, and he claimed that it would be inappropriate to withdraw now.
As a result of CAIR's implication in a 2008 terrorism financing trial, the bureau has since had a policy in place forbidding its agents from associating with CAIR.
When Gaubatz asked if the FBI would cancel if the KKK were involved, Smith answered: "Of course, but that is like comparing apples to oranges." Thanks to grassroots activism from the Forum and local protest groups such as Minnesota's Freedom Speaks Coalition, the Minneapolis FBI may no longer be convinced that CAIR is so different from the KKK after all.
It seems probable that once local FBI officials became fully aware of the Justice Department's directive not to work with CAIR – because of multiple calls from concerned counter-Islamist activists – as well as CAIR's history of challenging FBI counter-terrorism investigations in Minnesota, a decision was made not to share a platform with the Islamist group. And without the FBI, and perhaps with their advice, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights likely did not want the event to proceed.
Although MDHR Commissioner Rebecca Lucero told local news that the decision to cancel was "related to a bunch of safety concerns that were raised by the police," the St. Cloud police denied receiving any threats concerning the event. Further questions directed to Police Chief Jeff Oxton by the Forum and others were left unanswered.
In fact, the St. Cloud police should also cut ties with CAIR. Certainly, other local law enforcement across the country have done so. In 2009, the Columbus Police Department in Ohio halted collaboration with CAIR; and, in 2019, the Arkansas House of Representatives passed a resolution discouraging law enforcement from engaging with the Islamist organization.
The Minnesota FBI's apparent decision to avoid legitimizing terror-tied CAIR as a reputable Muslim organization is welcome. While it is indeed FBI policy to blacklist CAIR, enforcement of this rule over the years has often been lax. A 2013 Department of Justice report noted multiple instances when federal agents met with CAIR officials.
But the Minnesota event's cancellation only took place after a variety of Muslim and non-Muslim activists contacted the FBI in the days leading up to the panel. Given that over the years, multiple FBI agents have testified to CAIR's relationship with the designated terror group Hamas, it should be the FBI informing a naïve public about this terror-tied Islamist group; not the other way around.
David M. Swindle is a fellow of Islamist Watch and the Southern California associate of the Counter-Islamist Grid. He also works as the Director of Research for The Israel Group. Follow him on Twitter @DaveSwindle.