US

ACLU, Muslim Groups Want FBI To Dismantle ‘Dangerous’ Website

REUTERS/Alex Gallardo

Ron Brynaert Freelance Reporter

Last summer, the FBI prepped a website called “Don’t Be a Puppet,” aimed at preventing Muslim children from being recruited by violent extremists. Users were asked to help identify radicals, and a virtual pair of scissors would cut strings to help the puppet escape, if the right answers were chosen. After inviting educators and civil liberties groups for input on the project, however, the FBI delayed its launch due to concerns it discriminated against Muslims and could lead to bullying.

It finally launched in February, but U.S. Muslim groups are still displeased with the website, despite changes that were made to accommodate them, and have committed themselves to getting the FBI to scrap the entire project. On Tuesday, they sent a letter to FBI Director James Comey, asking for the game and website to “be dismantled.”

The effort includes the ACLU, the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC), and Muslim Advocates, who say the site “purports to prevent violent extremism, but in reality, exacerbates an environment of bigotry and bullying that innocent individuals — especially children in schools — are already facing.” According to the coalition, the website isn’t “a legitimate or credible law enforcement tool.”

“The undersigned organizations write to express deep disappointment regarding the ‘Don’t Be a Puppet’ program and request that the website be dismantled,” the letter states. “Despite attempts by some of our organizations to provide constructive and meaningful feedback, the website perpetuates profiling and negative stereotypes that Arabs, Sikhs, South Asians, Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim are prone to engage in extremist violence and encourages the policing of thoughts, ideas, and beliefs.”

A press release email sent to ADC supporters notes the repetition of the word “suspicious” at the website, which is directed toward schools: “Among problematic issues the letter highlights, the website encourages teachers and students to report people who may be travelling to ‘suspicious’ regions and speaking ‘suspicious’ languages, leaving the ‘reporter’ to use his or her own biases and stereotypes to judge what may be ‘suspicious.’ Thus, a teenager who talks to his or her classmates about returning from a family trip to a predominantly Arab or Muslim country could be deemed ‘suspicious’ and reported to the FBI.”

“The letter calling for the dismantling of the website comes after months of communication by multiple civil rights organizations offering constructive feedback on the website,” the press release continues. “The final product, however, perpetuates profiling and negative stereotypes that Arab, Muslim, Sikh, and South Asian Americans are prone to engage in extremist violence and encourages the policing of thoughts, ideas, and beliefs.”

The coalition informs the FBI that the website “cannot be described as a legitimate or credible law enforcement tool,” since it lets “teachers and community leaders (‘trusted adults”) determine whether views are extremist or radical and report them to police, inappropriately discouraging views protected by the First Amendment.”

The other signatories to the email are the Bill of Rights Defense Committee/Defending Dissent Foundation, Committee to Stop FBI Repression, DRUM – Desis Rising Up & Moving, Friends of Human Rights, Muslim Legal Fund of America, National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms, Restore The Fourth, Roots Action, Teaching Tolerance, a project of the Southern Poverty Law Center, The Sikh Coalition and X-Lab.

On March 26, Daily Caller reported, “In an email sent to supporters, a prominent US anti-discrimination Muslim group announced that it’s “requesting a meeting with FBI Director James Comey” and is “demanding” that it cancel an informant program reportedly set to “be formally introduced next week.”

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee demands that the FBI cancel the launch of its controversial ‘Shared Responsibility Committee’ program,” the email states. “Since learning about the program last fall, ADC has frequently expressed serious concerns about the initiative, which is part of the government’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program.”

After the FBI initially delayed the “Don’t Be A Puppet” website, former CIA officer Clare M. Lopez — who is now the vice president for research and analysis at the Center for Security Policy, and a foreign policy adviser for Republican presidential candidate Sen. [crscore]Ted Cruz[/crscore] complained that the FBI was the “real puppet” being led by a “Muslim Brotherhood puppeteer.” She alleged that the Council on American-Islamic Relations convinced the FBI to “scrub all references to Islamic terrorism (aka jihad) from the website.”