At a campaign rally for Republican front-runner Donald Trump on Thursday night, an audience member asked Trump when America would “get rid” of the Muslim “training camps” popping up around the country.
“We have a problem in this country — it’s called Muslims,” the man said. “We know our current president is one.”
“We have training camps growing where they want to kill us,” he continued. “That’s my question. When can we get rid of them?”
Rather than address the shaky foundation on which the “Muslim training camps” theory has been built, Trump dodged the man’s question. Trump also did not correct the falsehood that Obama is a Muslim, nor did he address the questioner calling American Muslims “a problem.”
“We’re going to be looking at a lot of different things, and a lot of people are saying that and saying that bad things are happening out there,” Trump said, before taking another question. “We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”
The belief of the existence of Muslim “training camps” around the US has been examined by far-right outlets and advocacy groups such as World Net Daily, Truth and Action, and Judicial Watch. (Judicial Watch is also a key player in the unfolding Hillary Clinton email controversy, and has successfully sued for records from Clinton’s tenure at the State Department.)
“Fears of ‘Muslim training camps’ have simmered on the far right for years, especially since the rise of the Islamic State,” The Washington Post’s Jenna Johnson wrote in summarizing the Trump exchange.
World Net Daily, for example, has alleged the FBI has knowledge of 22 such “training camps” within the US. The supposed camps, those who believe in such a conspiracy claim, are run by an organisation known as Muslims of the Americas (MOA), which they accuse of being a front group for the Pakistani terrorist organisation Jamaat ul-Fuqra.
Before it was dissolved as an official organisation in 2013 for operating under false pretenses, MOA — believed to have been founded by Pakistani cleric Mubarak Ali Gilani while he was on a trip to the US in 1980 — denied having anything to do with ul-Fuqra or the alleged jihadi training camps.
In 2014, The Muslims of America, Inc. (an offshoot of the dissolved MOA) sued the authors of a book called, “Twilight in America: the Untold Story of Islamist Terrorist Training Camps in America,” which accused MOA of training American Muslims for terrorist activity.
(The court ruled that The Muslims of America [TMOA] had no standing to sue over the alleged damage to MOA’s reputation, however, because TMOA is not MOA’s legal successor.)
Many of the book’s allegations are based on the claims of former NYPD undercover informant Ali Aziz, who says he spent eight years posing as a member of MOA.
Much of his testimony was recorded by one of the book’s authors, Martin Mawyer, who is also the founder of the conservative Christian Action Network (CAN). Mawyer published much of Aziz’s testimony on CAN’s website, where he outlined the “Islamic government” known as “Islamberg” that Aziz told him had been formed in Hancock, New York.
“The Town of Islamberg is a bold attempt by an Islamic community, located about 3 hours northwest of New York City, to set up its own city-state, with its own laws, its own government and even its own military,” Mawyer writes.
“As servants of Sheikh Gilani, they [the residents of Islamberg] live for a purpose that few Americans could ever grasp. They engage in crimes that feed money back to their Pakistani leader (such as selling drugs and committing welfare fraud) and the elite are chosen to train as “Soldiers of Allah” for the day of Jihad against the United States.”
The conspiracy theory leaked into mainstream news in October 2013, when Fox News aired a video taken by the conservative Clarion Project that appeared to show women receiving paramilitary training at Islamberg.
In 2014, the Clarion Project claimed to have discovered an offshoot of Islamberg in Texas after being tipped off by Aziz.
No reports of Muslim training camps, or the existence of “Islamberg” and its various offshoots, have ever been verified. The Clarion Project links to what it claims to be an FBI report detailing the activities of MOA in Houston, but the authenticity of the report cannot be confirmed.
“It’s kind of perplexing to us,”Craig Dumont, deputy sheriff of Delaware County, New York, was quoted by World Net Daily as saying earlier this year.
“All this recent media attention in regard to potential terrorist training camps and things that are going on there. We don’t see it. We just don’t find any of that to be valid at this time. … There are no active threats that we are aware of at this time.”
Neither MOA nor Jamaat ul-Fuqra has ever been designated a Foreign Terrorist Organisation by the State Department, though ul-Fuqra was mentioned in a 1998 Global Patterns of Terrorism report as an “Islamic sect that seeks to purify Islam through violence.”
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