Women in large hats released white doves and yellow confetti filled the air outside the State Department on Friday, as supporters of an Iranian opposition group that the U.S. officially considers a terrorist organization rallied to get the group off the list designating them as such.
“Ode to Joy” played from massive speakers as former Rep. Patrick Kennedy introduced the leader of the Mujahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, a group that the State Department puts on a list that includes Al-Qaeda and Hamas. He didn’t hold back on the rhetorical flourishes.“A few blocks from here, there is a new monument in Washington, D.C. dedicated to one of America’s founding fathers, Dr. Martin Luther King,” Kennedy said. “Dr. King was labeled a lot of things during his fight for freedom. Many of his detractors and critics called him names. They called him names and they labeled him a communist.”
“MLK was labeled a communist, MEK is labeled a terrorist,” Kennedy said. He told ThinkProgress he was paid $25,000 to speak at the event.
Kennedy is far from the only former politician and government official who has supported the effort to get the MEK off the list. In case you forgot the others, organizers of the rally provided a packet listing some of the others: Howard Dean, Rudy Giuliani, Tom Ridge, Michael Mukasey and Ed Rendell.
Many of the politicians who have advocated to take the MEK off the terror list have been paid, and MEK-affiliated groups have spent millions in speaking fees, the Huffington Post’s Christina Wilkie reported.
If the MEK wasn’t listed as a terrorist organization by the State Department, nobody would care whether or not speakers at the event were being paid, Hamid Azimi, whose business card describes him as the communications director of the Iranian-American Community of Northern California, told TPM.
“Some of them are paid, some of them aren’t,” Azimi told TPM. But if the MEK wasn’t on the list, people wouldn’t even be asking, he said.
Politicians at the rally said they wouldn’t put their names on the line unless they agreed that MEK should be taken off the list.
“I’ve spent 34 years in the public life, and I wouldn’t risk my reputation — and I have a reputation for speaking my mind — I wouldn’t risk my reputation if they paid me a million dollars per year if I didn’t believe the cause was just,” Rendell said.
“It needs to be limited to people who are actual threats to our national security,” Kennedy told reporters. “You may not like MEK, you may not like the way they dress, you may not like the way they organize, you may not like the people, that’s irrelevant to the basic issue at hand which is are they a terrorist organization and if not they need to be delisted.”
Politicians weren’t the only ones paid to show up to the rally. Zaid Jilani of Think Progress interviewed a number of the attendees and found that many of their trips were funded by others, at least one was a homeless man and several attendees had no idea what the MEK even was.
The Obama administration has pushed back against the efforts of the former politicians who want to get the MEK off the terrorist group list.
“This is a group that has a lot of blood on its hands, including American blood,” a senior administration official told the Washington Post. “We don’t want to be in a position where we later determine that a de-listed group has returned to violence.”
More on the MEK’s history and an interview with a former spokesman for the group here.
[Ed. note: this story has been updated with information on how much Kennedy was paid.]