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Gadeir Abbas is an attorney for the Council on American-Islamic Relations’ headquarters in Washington D.C. He has spearheaded major lawsuits across the country involving constitutional issues of particular concern to the American Muslim community, including the successful landmark challenge to Oklahoma’s State Question 755, a voter-approved referendum that would have barred reference to Islamic religious traditions in Oklahoma’s courts. Gadeir has also litigated on behalf of American Muslims surveilled by warrantless GPS tracking devices, placed on the federal government’s terrorist watch lists, and prevented from building schools and mosques by discriminatory zoning laws. He has appeared in national and international media outlets, including the New York Times, Washington Post, MSNBC, and CNN. Gadeir is also a past president of the National Association of Muslim Lawyers as well as a former treasurer of the Capitol Area Muslim Bar Association. He studied philosophy at Loyola University Chicago and law at Case Western Reserve University. Prior to becoming an attorney, Gadeir taught English in Mississippi with Teach for America.
What were your thoughts when seeing what unfolded on January 6th at the capital?
I couldn’t help but feel baffled that the billions and billions of dollars spent on military and police, could not stop a few thousand people, upset at Joe Biden’s election to the presidency, from storming the capitol building during the senate’s ratification of the electoral college results. The contrast from the Black Lives Matter protests and uprisings that happened this summer all over the country, where you would regularly see the police outnumber the protestors. And here, the nation’s capital during a particularly vulnerable point, an absolutely critical transfer of power. Just calling it in and having a bunch of hooligans ransack the capitol building in front of everybody’s eyes.
How is this affecting the way people view the right to assemble?
It was a very traumatic episode for a lot of people, the symbol of our country, history, of our collective experience attacked. And I think that everybody felt the trauma of that. But in the wake of that trauma, I think that the reaction has been that we really can take a technological approach to dissuading these folks from assembling from organizing, and that’s why in the aftermath of lawlessness at the capitol building, you have silicon valley companies uniting to close Parler down. However, it was shown that most of the organizing was done in plain view on Facebook.
Do you think that mainstream America is taking notice now, even though it was causing trouble for minorities long before the insurgence?
The watchlist was a relatively small program and really exploded (no pun intended) in 2009 with the attempted underwear bomber, causing the rapid increase in names added. Here, the watchlist presents liberals the idea that we can make use of this counterterrorism tool against people that we are more afraid of. I think we are getting so far away from 9/11. Alhamdulillah, terrorism is rare and we are 20 years past 9/11, and I think this latest attempt to find a new target for the watchlist is an attempt by the security state to reentrench themselves. They want to give themselves a new mission to legitimize what has been, really, a failed enterprise for 20 years. Everytime there is an act of violence, the question is asked “was this person on a watchlist?” and every time the answer is “no”.
How do you think that domestic terrorism is going to be focused on by DHS going forward?
I think that this focus on domestic terrorism is going to yeild no results other than to justify these huge budgets that can’t even stop a couple thousand people from ransacking the capitol. The U.S. does not have the best intelligence system. Expensive? Technologically sophisticated? Yes. But, an intelligence system that cannot discern that people openly planning to ransack the capitol building might warrant some additional police presence at the building is not an intelligence system that is doing a good job.
Had the insurgents been a crowd of any other constituency, they would not have been treated in the same manner. These were citizens of the same nation allowed to have nooses set up and weaponry, where others were not even allowed to have a stick to hold up a poster. #DoubleStandardsMuch
You see a lot of folks taking advantage of the trauma to justify their own bad behavior. Senator Shumer argued that even if they were on a watchlist, that would not have stopped them from storming the capitol anyway.
Tens of billions of dollars spent on domestic law enforcement did not prevent a bunch of hooligans from breaking into the capitol building and shutting down an essential function of the government. The answer is not additional police power or dollars, it is a shortcoming that does not have to do with any of the resources allocated to the authorities.
The fear is that Jan 6th, instead of shaking us from this 9/11 induced slumber in security state hysteria, will just compel us to find a new mission for what has been for two decades a failed project. #EndWatchlists #EndPatriotActAbuses
One of the recommendations proposed was that there should be a single government wide watchlist of, what came to be known as, people that are known or suspected terrorists. For the first few years, it was very informal. #EndPatriotAct
Some of the names on the list were of world leaders and activists because they were considered to be part of terrorist organizations. #WatchlistFlaws
The watchlist went from 200,000 names to over 1.2 million names, which are shared with human rights abusing countries, and private interest organizations. Housing and financial benefits can be denied based on your erroneous placement on the watchlist. Imagine being a Uyghur Muslim Refugee knowing that China has access to your name on a watchlist. #WatchlistDanger Children’s names are on the watchlist, and security will pat down infants traveling with people they suspect of being terrorists. #ComeOn
What has been obfuscated is the fact that the most effective terrorism prevention methods have been the simplests: locks on cockpit doors. But people seem to feel better when minorities lose rights. #Occam’sRazor #BigotryFeelsBetter
The Underwear bomber’s father begged the federal government to put his child on the no-fly list and warned them that he was going to try to do something violent against the government, but he was ignored. But because the FBI has taken this bulk indiscriminate approach to policing, surveilling the Muslim community, installing a network of 15,000 informantsaccross the country, creating a watchlist of over a million people. It is hard for the FBI to act on good information they receive. #BigotryFeelsBetter #EndCommunityInfiltration #EndPatriotActBigotry
If law enforcement has reason to believe that someone is committing a crime, they should investigate it, if they find evidence of criminal wrongdoing, they should prosecute it. The idea that they can be omnipotent has been a fool’s errand, and more manpower and resources is not going to solve it. #DontPrepareForTheImpossible
We know that these militias are all over the world, now in the US. We need to use our advanced law enforcement to destroy the domestic terrorist networks we have allowed to fester in these past four years. #FixYourself
This multi-billion dollar bureaucracy needs to have a reason to warrant the funding.
People who are just talking conspiracies, can be left alone. The history of state violence of right wing groups, dozens being killed by the Clinton Administration, becomes part of right wing folklore about how the state needs to be countered. The answer to our difficulties is not to be more oppressive or targetted with surveillance. #EndSurveillance
In the end, while there will be some lip service paid and some mild reports issued about white nationalist violence, any increase in serveillance and police powers will, inevitably be turned against the Muslim Community. #EndCVE
I the FBI takes the same approach as they have with the Muslim community, isolating the mentally ill or marginalized people, that are vulnerable socially and emotionaly, and surrounds that person with planted agents and pumps them full of delusions of grandeur. They could have them do something illegal with an agent posing as a white nationalist and succeed in that and other types of entrapment plots. #EndCVE
By only focusing on symbolic and petty methods of speech control such as deplatforming and CVE programs, the federal government shows how it was able to allow the insurgency to occur and how it will allow the “polite bigotry” to continue unchecked. #EndCVE #JusticeForAll
Genocide against Muslims is escalating across the world. We’re responding on all fronts — from international courts to Congress, the United Nations — but we need your help to win.