On the eve of Ramadan, New York Attorney General Letitia James today warned a known anti-Muslim hate group to stop spying on Muslim communities.
Attorney General James sent a cease-and-desist letter to Steven Emerson and the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) directing them to immediately stop any unlawful and discriminatory surveillance they may be conducting on Muslim communities in New York.
The action follows reports that IPT paid informants and infiltrators for over a decade to spy on Muslim houses of worship, Muslim advocacy groups, and prominent Muslim leaders — blatant violations of their civil rights.
Attorney General James also issued a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), requesting an investigation into IPT’s possible violations of federal criminal and civil rights laws.
As a charity that operates in New York, IPT is required to follow state laws, and is subject to enforcement by the Office of the Attorney General (OAG). Furthermore, Attorney General James warned against any discriminatory action targeting communities.
“As we enter the holy month of Ramadan, it’s more important than ever that we show our support for our Muslim communities and stand up to Islamophobia and hate of any and every kind,” said Attorney General James. “Let me be clear: We will not bow to hate, we will not enable bias, and we will not empower Islamophobia. I urge DOJ to stand with us and use its considerable power to protect Muslim communities throughout New York and across the nation. Our constitution protects the rights of all communities to live without harassment or intimidation; we will remain vigilant in the protection of these rights.”
In December 2021, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) revealed that for more than a decade, IPT paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to spies in order to gain access to Muslim organizations and leaderships to record confidential conversations and documents. Most notably, IPT reportedly infiltrated the Ohio chapter of CAIR, through its then-leader, Romin Iqbal, who leaked confidential documents and recordings. In another undercover operation, IPT paid more than $100,000 to Tariq Nelson to spy on members of a mosque in Virginia and record privileged conversations without other participants’ knowledge.
The documents and recordings collected by IPT include a 2010 meeting of national Muslim leaders discussing the negative responses to the proposed Islamic center near Ground Zero in lower Manhattan, and a 2015 discussion of then-presidential candidate Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim rhetoric. Public statements from those involved in the operation suggest that IPT targeted the organizations and individuals in a concerted effort to infringe on the rights of Muslims, including their right to worship, peacefully assemble and organize politically, petition the government, and to vote.
In her letter to IPT, Attorney General James warns the organization that its actions could violate state and federal laws. New York Civil Rights Law prohibits discrimination or harassment against an individual exercising their civil rights on the basis of creed and prohibits the intimidation of an individual on the basis of their religion or religious practice. Attorney General James is immediately requiring IPT to:
- cease and desist any ongoing or contemplated unlawful espionage operations against Muslims and Muslim organizations within the state of New York;
- cease and desist from any further discriminatory activities against Muslims in New York; and
- fully comply with the requirements of the New York Civil Rights Law and all other applicable state and federal statutes.
In a coinciding letter to DOJ, Attorney General James urged the Biden Administration to launch an investigation into IPT for violations of federal criminal and civil rights law. Attorney General James maintains that although OAG stands ready to enforce New York state civil rights law, a DOJ investigation into IPT’s possible violations of federal law would send the message that the federal government will also use its powers to protect Muslims’ rights.