On Dec. 1, Ryan Mauro, a national security analyst at the Clarion Project, told Fox Business that Donald Trump’s election prompted “Islamic compounds” across the country to accumulate weapons and prepare for raids. A local elected official in Anchorage who co-chaired Donald Trump's campaign in the state picked up Mauro’s comments and used them to cast suspicion on a local Muslim man who has lived in the area for eight years. By the end of the weekend, the man and his family were reportedly receiving threats.
The rapid-fire cycle points to how quickly baseless claims from fringe groups can percolate through mainstream media down to ground level.
Mauro’s Washington, D.C.-based group, which claims to be devoted “to exposing the dangers of Islamist extremism,” has been accused by the Southern Poverty Law Center of “peddling anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.” Clarion Project has bankrolled films like “Iranium” and “The Third Jihad,” while Mauro has frequently appeared on Fox to share false stories about Muslim enclaves in the U.S. enforcing Sharia law.
This year, Mauro and the Clarion Project have fixated on one Muslim group that law enforcement say poses no threat to the United States: Muslims of America.
Founded in the 1980s by a Pakistani Sufi cleric who encouraged his followers to establish religiously minded rural communities, the group is composed mostly of African-American Muslims. According to Mauro, those rural communes, which he referenced in his Dec. 1 Fox interview, are actually terrorist training grounds. He maintains that Muslims of America is a front for a terrorist group known as Jamaat Ul Fuqra, though it denies any link to that group.
Amy Demboski, a member of the Anchorage municipal assembly, happened to come across Mauro’s interview, and on Friday linked to a blog post about it on the Facebook page of her radio program, The Amy Demboski Show. Chastising Alaska media for failing to cover the issue, Demboski alleged that a man who lives in the state — but whom she did not name — was a member of Muslims of America and deserved scrutiny as a result.
“How is it a candidate pops up in the last Alaskan election, who is a member of this group, and we are the only ones who even mentioned it (or asked him about it) here in Alaska?” she wrote. “He seemed like a nice guy, but doesn't the group, associations, and past history deserve at least a little attention? We thought so.”
The man Demboski referred to was Gregory Jones, a former electrician who ran unsuccessfully this year as a Democrat for Alaska’s House of Representatives. Jones and his family, lifelong members of Muslims of America, relocated to Big Lake, Alaska, from the community of Islamville, South Carolina, eight years ago. In that time, he and his wife Maleika have become volunteers with the Anchorage police department and volunteered with local interfaith groups, according to AlaskaCommons.com, the site that broke the story. This year, Gregory Jones served as a delegate for Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) at the Democratic National Convention.
The Clarion Project’s Mauro drew attention to Jones’ selection as a delegate in a July blog post titled, “Sanders Delegate is Member of Fuqra Terror Cult.” Mauro alleged that his service was part of Muslims of America’s effort to present as “mainstream moderates.”
Yet law enforcement officials say that is what they are, and said that there is no reason to credit Demboski’s suggestion that members of the group could be accruing weapons on a remote Alaskan compound.
“We do not believe there is an Islamic militants compound stockpiling weapons,” the FBI’s Alaska spokesperson, Staci Feger-Pellessier, told TPM in an email.
The Alaska Dispatch News noted that the FBI does not consider the group a terror threat.
Other law enforcement and elected officials who have spent time with the group found no cause for concern. A captain in the New York State Police Bureau of Criminal Investigation said that he has seen no “nefarious” activity in the small village near Hancock, New York, where the group is headquartered, telling CBS News that he is frequently invited to meet with group leaders. After visiting their community in Islamville, South Carolina last year, Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-SC), praised residents as “law-abiding American citizens who are practicing their faith.”
Local residents have rallied behind Jones and his wife, praising the community service and interfaith community work they have done in Big Lake in interviews with the local press. A “Support Gregory Jones” Facebook group cropped up urging residents to “wear red, white and blue” to a Tuesday meeting of the Anchorage municipal assembly to show their solidarity.
At the meeting, the Joneses told city leaders that they have been harassed and confronted Demboski, demanding she apologize for the “negative propaganda” she pushed, according to the Alaska Dispatch News.
Demboski refused, saying the situation had been turned into a “circus on statements that are false” since she never directly accused Jones of being a terrorist.
The couple said that they now feared that anti-Islam extremists would try to locate their family, and were offered a tearful apology from municipal assembly chair Elvi Gray-Jackson for the “inconvenience and fear” that Demboski’s comments prompted, according to the newspaper.
Demboski and Jones did not respond to initial interview requests from TPM.
Watch Mauro's Fox Business interview below.
Correction: This post originally referred to Alaska's largest daily newspaper as the Alaska Daily News instead of the Alaska Dispatch News.