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June 23, 2016

13th U.S. Resident Linked to Islamic Extremism in 2016

Akram Musleh of Indiana, arrested for attempting to travel to join ISIS

Akram Musleh

Akram Musleh, an 18-year-old resident of Brownsburg, Indiana, was arrested on June 21 for attempting to travel to join ISIS. Court documents indicate that Musleh had been engaging with terrorist propaganda since at least 2013, when Musleh was a 15-year-old high school student.

According to authorities, the FBI first came into contact with Musleh after it was discovered that he posted three videos of Anwar al-Awlaki to YouTube in August 2013. Awlaki, an American cleric and English-language propagandist for Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, was killed in a drone strike in 2011, but his speeches and quotes remain popular among extremist individuals and those radicalizing today. Indeed, the majority of U.S. residents linked to terror motivated by Islamic extremism since 2011 have allegedly downloaded material created by Awlaki or shared his speeches and statements on social media.

Upon finding the Awlaki speeches, court documents indicate that the FBI met with officials at Musleh’s high school, and coordinated with them to discourage Musleh from radicalizing.

Follow-up took place at Musleh’s school. It is unclear whether any measures could have been effective in Musleh’s case; he had allegedly obtained information on Awlaki from a family member, and so apparently had at least one close personal contact encouraging his radicalization. In any event, the measures unfortunately failed.

In April 2014, court documents indicate that Musleh asked minors at a park if they wanted to join ISIS. In 2015, Musleh allegedly made multiple attempts to travel to Turkey or Iraq, areas adjacent to ISIS-controlled territory that are often used initially as destinations for individuals attempting to join the group. In 2016, he allegedly researched attack targets and explosive materials, and then tried again to travel to join ISIS, this time in Libya, where the group has an active faction. He was arrested en route from Indiana to New York, where he allegedly intended to catch a plane from John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Musleh is not the only U.S. resident to radicalize while still in high school. In 2015, 4 minors in the U.S. were linked to activity motivated by Islamic extremist ideology. They are among a total of 25 U.S. residents aged 21 or younger linked to such activity that year. Seven U.S. teenagers were linked to activity motivated by Islamic extremism in 2014.

In recognition of this disturbing trend, ADL has released a series of resources for educators and school administrators that provide background information about extremism and mass violence among school-aged individuals and materials for creating resilience among their students. Among the materials provided is a background report on mass violence and extremism geared specifically to educators and produced in cooperation with START, the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Response to Terrorism, at the University of Maryland. This backgrounder provides information about precursors to violent activity and establishing appropriate support and referral networks. A second resource is a unique lesson plan focused on enabling students to recognize propaganda if and when they encounter it and to become more discriminating consumers of online materials. Parallel resources for parents are available as well.

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April 3, 2015

Arkansas’ and Indiana’s Fixes to “Religious Freedom” Laws are Illusory

Arkansas’ and Indiana’s passage of discriminatory “religious freedom” laws was met with national backlash from civil rights groups, the business community, and others.  Under intense public pressure, both state legislatures made “fixes” to these laws, which their respective Governors promptly signed.   But these revisions are illusory and do little to mitigate the harms of these laws.

Neither of the original Arkansas or Indiana measures mentioned sexual orientation or discrimination. Under the guise of religious freedom, however, both allowed businesses and employers to discriminate against the LGBT community, as well as against religious and ethnic minorities, by providing them with a virtually insurmountable religious-based legal defense.Arkansas-StateSeal.svg

Proponents of these laws erroneously claimed that they were modeled on the 1993 federal Religious Freedom Restoration (“RFRA”).  That RFRA, which the Anti-Defamation League supported, was much narrower and explicitly designed to protect individuals and faith-based institutions’ religious exercise from government infringement.   It was never meant to apply to for-profit entities or private disputes, or to enable entities to discriminate against individuals in the name of “religious freedom.”

Indiana’s fix to its law prohibits businesses from denying services to customers based on sexual orientation or gender identity.  And Arkansas’ revision now tracks the language of RFRA and states that it should be interpreted consistent with the federal law.  While these fixes may make good media sound bites, they are misleading.

The revised Indiana law does not provide statewide civil rights protections for the LGBT community or prevent its use to harm others.  Because the state does not have an inclusive anti-discrimination statute, and because the vast majority of Indiana cities and towns lack local civil rights protections for the LGBT community, businesses and employers remain free to discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.   Even with this fix, the Indiana law still provides a powerful religious-based defense to individuals and businesses in civil and criminal actions, and infringes on the rights of others.  For example, a police officer could refuse to protect a casino, liquor store, pharmacy, butcher shop, lending institution, or women’s health clinic.


The amended Arkansas law is perhaps more disingenuous.  Although it is now consistent with RFRA, the U.S. Supreme Court’s deeply disturbing Hobby Lobby decision expands RFRA’s protections to for-profit, closely held corporations (ranging from small businesses to nationwide companies like Hobby Lobby).  And a 1999 federal U.S. Court of Appeals decision applicable to Arkansas ruled that RFRA applies to private disputes.

So a family owned business, large or small, can invoke the new law’s powerful defense in virtually any civil action, including claims of discrimination or wrongful denial of service, employment or housing.  Keep in mind, 96.6% of Arkansas’ employers are small businesses.  Translation: the vast majority of Arkansas’ businesses can use the law to deny services, employment, and housing to the LGBT community and other minorities.  Making matters worse, Arkansas has no state-wide civil rights protections for the LGBT community, and it recently enacted another law barring local governments from providing such protections for their residents.

To truly remedy the harmful effects of their so-called “religious freedom” laws, Arkansas and Indiana must enact statewide anti-discrimination protections for the LGBT community, insert additional safeguards against use of the laws to harm others, and limit their application to individuals, religious institutions, and religiously-affiliated non-profits against government action that substantially burdens religion.

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April 2, 2015

AFA Radio Host Bryan Fischer Tweets Offensive Holocaust Analogy

Bryan Fischer, a radio host and blogger for the American Family Association (AFA), tweeted an offensive Holocaust analogy on April 1. Fischer likened the temporary closure of a restaurant in Indiana, whose owners said they would refuse to cater a gay wedding, to Kristallnacht, a violent pogrom carried out by Nazi storm troopers in Germany and Austria in 1938.  Kristallnacht led to the destruction of thousands of Jewish synagogues, homes and businesses as well as arrests and the deaths of Jews and opened the door to the persecution and destruction of European Jewry. Fischer also blamed the restaurant’s decision to close due to the public’s negative reaction on the “Gay Gestapo.”

Bryan Fischer

Bryan Fischer

In January 2015, the AFA dismissed Fischer as a spokesperson for the organization but he continues to host a radio show for the AFA and to write blogs on the AFA website that demonize the LGBT community.

Fischer often invokes the Holocaust to discuss contemporary American political issues, particularly with regard to the LGBT community. He has made a number of statements likening LGBT activists to Nazis and conservative Christians to Jews who were persecuted under Hitler’s regime. He also compared the Supreme Court to Nazis after it struck down the Defense of Marriage Act in 2013.

There is no comparison between current political issues and the actions of Hitler’s regime during the Holocaust. Such inappropriate analogies only serve to trivialize the Holocaust and are deeply offensive to Jews and other survivors, as well as those Americans who fought valiantly against the Nazis during World War II.

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