VCU Community Disputes Terrorism Accusations
By Rebecca León
VCU Capital News Service
RICHMOND, Va. – Many Virginia Commonwealth University students and faculty members are outraged after a special police intelligence unit drafted a report calling VCU a potential source for terrorism.
The Virginia Fusion Center, an intelligence clearinghouse of the Virginia State Police, recently drafted a “Terrorism Threat Assessment” that named several colleges and universities as breeding grounds for extremist groups and terrorists.
The 215-page report was leaked on the Internet – posted first on a Web site called Cryptome.org and then circulated by bloggers and civil liberties groups. They were shocked that the report accused colleges and student groups of supporting terrorism.
For example, according to the Fusion Center’s document, Muslim students at VCU may have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian-based organization that supports the terrorist group Hamas and may be linked to al-Qaida.
“There are indications the Virginia Commonwealth University chapter of the Muslim Student Association is a front organization for the MB and is possibly involved with terrorism financing and recruitment,” the report says.
Associate professor Imad Damaj, faculty adviser for VCU’s Muslim Student Association, was aghast at that characterization.
“If this is the quality of information and intelligence – what kind of work is that?” he said.
Damaj said the Muslim student group, known for its charitable work in Richmond, engages in no such activities alleged in the document. He said the report uses generalities and vague information to link minority groups to terrorism. He called the practice “very dangerous.”
Ashleigh Zinski, a junior at VCU, agrees with Damaj.
“It’s scary to know that these agencies are looking at college kids and thinking we’re somehow linked with terrorism,” she said. “The connections they drew make no sense. It’s all quite shocking.”
Members of the VCU community aren’t the only ones who are upset. The Virginia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has been critical of the report.
In an analysis of the report, Kent Willis, the group’s executive director, said it shows that fusion centers are “becoming a breeding ground for overzealous police intelligence activities.”
“Any law enforcement official following the blueprint laid out in the report can only conclude that every racial minority, every student, every demonstrator, and every tourist taking a photograph is a potential terrorist,” Willis said.
He urged the public to read the report and contact state legislators about the way the Virginia Fusion Center conducts itself.
Among other allegations, the report says:
* Anti-abortion extremists and the Nation of Islam have been reported at VCU. “A small number of [Richmond-area] college students also align themselves with anarchist or animal and/or environmental groups.”
* Anarchist extremists have been reported at the College of William and Mary and Virginia Military Institute, as well as in Richmond and surrounding counties.
* Two unnamed “historically black colleges” in Hampton Roads – as well as Regent University, an evangelical Christian school – have a connection with extremist groups.
* “University-based students groups are recognized as a radicalization node for almost every type of extremist group.”
* “Richmond’s history as the capital city of the Confederacy, combined with the city’s current demographic concentration of African-American residents, contributes to the continued presence of race-based extremist groups.”
After prompting by the ACLU, Gov. Tim Kaine launched an investigation into how the report was compiled. In a statement, the governor said:
“The Commonwealth is proud of its world-class institutions of higher learning. Virginia is especially proud to be home to a number of faith-based and historically black colleges and universities.
“The Virginia Fusion Center, which is responsible for integrating threat information from public and private sector agencies to prevent terrorists’ attacks, issued a report that could be read to suggest a connection between terror or extremist groups and these universities. This report is required by law and was illegally distributed to the public. However, I find the depictions in the report misleading and believe it improperly implicates these fine academic institutions.
“Based on our review of the facts thus far, we see no evidence to suggest that the universities referred to in the assessment pose any particular risk to public safety. Absent specific evidence suggesting such a risk, it is improper to single out these institutions for special mention even with the caveats contained in the report.”
Corinne Geller, public relations manager for Virginia State Police, said her agency’s investigation into the report is ongoing. The penalty for leaking such a document is a misdemeanor and carries a fine.
Cryptome Isn’t so Cryptic
The Virginia Fusion Center’s “Terrorism Threat Assessment” was first published on Cryptome.org, a Web site that posts leaked documents.
In an e-mail interview, John Young, who runs the site, said that it was Cryptome’s “main god-sent mission to publish information that governments of all stripes do not want published, along with material from some private corporations.”
Young said the Web site has come under much scrutiny, being subject to complaints by “scoundrels, demonic patriots, officials forever with nothing better to do than blame outsiders, vacuous self-appointed regulators of public discourse who think ‘we go too far,’ outraged miscreants who claim their families have been put at risk by their perfidy; even grimaced at by our own implicated family members.”
Young said that he has not been pressured by the Virginia State Police into revealing how he acquired the Virginia Fusion Center document. But he acknowledged having been contacted by the FBI, as well as foreign government agencies, several times.
For more information, visit:
Infowars: www.infowars.com/virginia-fusion-center-releases-homegrown-terrorism-document. Here, you can read the full report.
Virginia Fusion Center: www.vsp.state.va.us/FusionCenter
ACLU of Virginia: www.acluva.org
Rebecca León is a journalism student at Virginia Commonwealth University.
Tags: Terroris , Virginia , Fusion Center
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