When Is a Terrorist Group Not a Terrorist Group?

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The People’s Mujahedin of Iran, aka MEK, has long been designated as a terrorist group by the State Department. However, it was removed from the EU’s terrorist list in 2009, and there’s considerable controversy over whether MEK should continue to receive that designation from the United States. Today the group claims to be nonviolent and to represent a “parliament-in-exile” opposed to the current Iranian regime.

Nonetheless, it does in fact remain an officially designated terrorist organization in the United States, and providing material support for a designated terrorist group is illegal. As Glenn Greenwald points out today:

In June, 2010, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its 6-3 ruling in the case of Holder v. Humanitarian Law. In that case, the Court upheld the Obama DOJ’s very broad interpretation of the statute that criminalizes the providing of “material support” to groups formally designated by the State Department as Terrorist organizations. The five-judge conservative bloc (along with Justice Stevens) held that pure political speech could be permissibly criminalized as “material support for Terrorism” consistent with the First Amendment if the “advocacy [is] performed in coordination with, or at the direction of, a foreign terrorist organization” (emphasis added). In other words, pure political advocacy in support of a designated Terrorist group could be prosecuted as a felony—punishable with 15 years in prison—if the advocacy is coordinated with that group.

You may think this was a bad ruling. But a ruling it is, and it’s the law of the land. And yet, a large cast of worthies, including Rudy Giuliani, Howard Dean, Michael Mukasey, Ed Rendell, Andy Card, Lee Hamilton, Tom Ridge, Bill Richardson, Wesley Clark, Michael Hayden, John Bolton, Louis Freeh, and Fran Townsend have actively lobbied for MEK and have apparently done it in coordination with MEK’s leadership.

So shouldn’t this be against the law? Glenn, in particular, calls out Townsend, former Homeland Security Advisor under George Bush, who was a vocal supporter of the Humanitarian Law ruling. She actively supports MEK, yet appears to be under no threat of prosecution from the Obama Justice Department. Glenn again:

An NBC News report from Richard Engel and Robert Windrem in February claimed that it was MEK which perpetrated the string of assassinations of Iranian nuclear scientists, and that the Terrorist group “is financed, trained and armed by Israel’s secret service” (MEK denied the report).

….Even the dissenters in Humanitarian Law argued that the First Amendment would allow “material support” prosecution “when the defendant knows or intends that those activities will assist the organization’s unlawful terrorist actions.” A reasonable argument could certainly be advanced that, in light of these recent reports about MEK’s Terrorism, one who takes money from the group and then advocates for its removal from the Terrorist list “knows or intends that those activities will assist the organization’s unlawful terrorist actions”: a prosecutable offense even under the dissent’s far more limited view of the statute.

Discuss! Is support for MEK allowed because (a) their patrons are VIPs, not random Muslim schmoes, (b) MEK’s allegedly lethal activities are aimed at Iran, which everyone thinks is wink-wink-nudge-nudge just fine, or (c) because there’s some legitimate legal issue that distinguishes what Townsend and Rendell are doing from other cases of material support that have been prosecuted in recent years? I’d be genuinely curious to hear the other side of this argument.

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REAL QUICK, REAL URGENT

Minority rule, corruption, disinformation, attacks on those who dare tell the truth: There is a direct line from what's happening in Russia and Ukraine to what's happening here at home. And that's what MoJo's Monika Bauerlein writes about in "Their Fight Is Our Fight" to unpack the information war we find ourselves in and share a few examples to show why the power of independent, reader-supported journalism is such a threat to authoritarians.

Corrupt leaders the world over can (and will) try to shut down the truth, but when the truth has millions of people on its side, you can't keep it down for good. And there's no more powerful or urgent argument for your support of Mother Jones' journalism right now than that. We need to raise about $450,000 to hit our online fundraising budget in these next few months, so please read more from Monika and pitch in if you can.

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