On Nov. 13, 2015, Muslim militants slayed Nohemi Gonzalez, a 23-year-old American student, amid terrorist attacks across Paris that killed 130 people and injured 400. Soon after, the Islamic State took credit for the attacks, writing “the scent of death will not leave their nostrils as long as they partake in the crusader campaign, as long as they dare to curse our Prophet.”
Earlier this month, lawyers for Gonzalez’s family argued before the Supreme Court that social media companies “aided and abetted” the terrorists by providing them a forum overseas.
The Supreme Court should rule in favor of the Gonzalez family, while Congress closes loopholes that allow social media platforms to avoid responsibility for what they publish. But this is not just a problem overseas. Social media companies also allow masked radicals from my Muslim community in the United States free reign on their platforms, shielding extremists and terrorists overseas from criticism.
One of their lines of attack is to allege their targets are insulting Islam, the prophet Muhammad, and Muslims using a made-up word, “Islamophobia.” That tactic is heralded this week in the third observance of the “International Day to Combat Islamophobia” on March 15. The United Nations “officially” recognizes the day after years of lobbying by hardline Muslim countries in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which use “Islamophobia” to deflect discussions about Muslim radicalization.
In a new book, “Woke Army: The Red-Green Alliance Destroying America’s Freedom,” I uncover a domestic character assassination campaign that spans 20 years. It spawned after the 9/11 tragedy, harassing courageous Muslim reformers who challenge extremist interpretations of Islam, publishing apologetics for Muslim terrorists, attacking national security and law enforcement officials, and smearing anyone who challenges their worldview as an “Islamophobe.” By discrediting its foes, the network has forged an unholy alliance with the Democratic Party.
I discovered these character assassins have not been based far away overseas, but right here in the United States. They run the disinformation website Loonwatch.com. It was created by officials at the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, a Washington, D.C., nonprofit that enjoys tax-deductible status. It touts itself as the country’s largest “civil rights” organization for Muslims, while secretly publishing character assassinations against its perceived enemies.
The night of the attacks that killed Gonzalez, I was backstage for an HBO interview with comedian Bill Maher about my work as a Muslim feminist and reformer. I looked at my cell phone. Loonwatch’s anonymous Twitter account @LoonWatchers had just attacked me, mocking Maher and me for “intellectual cowardice.”
For years, Loonwatch’s handlers and related anonymous accounts had attacked me as a “native informant,” “Islamophobe,” and “Zionist media whore” with all sorts of sexually transmitted diseases, while blasting Israel as a “Satanic state.”
As I wept one day in the parking lot of a Dairy Queen in Herndon, Va., over such false personal attacks, my son, then 10, put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Mom, stop crying. They’re terrorists of the mind.” He was correct. Like political terrorists, these use America’s freedoms against us.
At the heart of the Supreme Court case are 26 words from Section 230(c)(1) of the 1996 Communications Decency Act that internet companies use to protect themselves from liability for the words published on their platforms. Section 230 states: “No provider or user of an interactive computer service shall be treated as the publisher or speaker of any information provided by another information content provider.”
Bad actors know Big Tech hides behind Section 230, and they use that shield to weaponize the internet. In 2018, I filed a defamation lawsuit against my “John Doe” attackers. I also sued the internet service providers that gave these character assassins a global stage. Twitter’s lawyers at Perkins Coie fought me, citing the “free speech” rights of the character assassins. Google and Facebook ignored my subpoenas.
But GoDaddy, which registers websites, and Disqus, which runs comment boards, didn’t. One amazing day, I got GoDaddy’s Loonwatch files and the internet protocol address, or unique identifying numbers, for the computers used by aliases on Loonwatch.
I learned that on April Fool’s Day 2009, as the Islamic State emerged overseas, at 20:33:38, “Zuhair Thomas” registered Loonwatch.com with GoDaddy. “Zuhair” created the account for the platform for anonymous character assassins with the names of fish — including “Emperor,” “Garibaldi,” “Danios,” and “Darter” — to hide their identities.
A CAIR official, Muhammad Tauseef Akbar, was “Garibaldi” and “Zuhair,” according to the internal GoDaddy documents detailed in my book. The documents also revealed another high-ranking CAIR official, Ahmed Rehab, paid the bills with his credit card and wrote under the moniker “Emperor.”
These keyboard warriors used Loonwatch to harass so-called “loons” who spoke out against Muslim extremists, like the killers of Nohemi Gonzalez. An emerging writer, Wajahat Ali, published articles on Loonwatch, surely knowing he was supporting a disinformation campaign. He is now a Daily Beast columnist and until recently a contributor to The New York Times op-ed section.
In April 2013, according to sources, Omid Safi, a professor of Islam now at Duke University, had “Emperor” post Safi’s column against me on Loonwatch. It targeted me and others as “Islamophobes,” as part of a wider global network that I called an “Honor Brigade” silencing debate on Islam. Ali and Safi didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Over the years, Loonwatch writers attacked Muslim reformers such as physician Zuhdi Jasser and writer Raheel Raza, as well as ex-Muslims — including Somali-American author Ayaan Hirsi Ali — and atheist influencers including Maher, scientist Richard Dawkins, and author Sam Harris. Indeed, Loonwatch has denounced conservatives in general, as well as the FBI, the US military, the state of Israel and, more recently, Hindus and the state of India.
Loonwatch published apologetics for Islamic extremism, and it was part of the lobby that laid the groundwork for President Obama to declare the Islamic State wasn’t “Islamic.” Late in 2021, a physician named Javad Hashmi bragged on Twitter that he was “Danios,” writing: “A decade ago I dedicated myself to this task, writing as Danios of LoonWatch, & today the task has been completed.”
A few minutes later, technology entrepreneur Shahed Amanullah replied: “I’ve been sitting on this well-kept secret for most of the last decade.”
In fact, it had been longer. Two years after Loonwatch’s founding, in 2011, the Obama administration named Amanullah a State Department senior advisor, ironically to “empower change-makers in online/offline spaces.” He joined the growing nexus between the federal government and the character assassins employing Big Tech.
In that government role, Amanullah doled out awards called Brass Crescent to the writers at Loonwatch, including “Danios.” Amanullah is now global vice president of customer service at Frost and Sullivan, a consulting firm in Mountain View, Calif., and managing director of Frost Capital, a private equity fund in Palo Alto, Calif. Amanullah didn’t respond to requests for comment.
Hashmi now works as “director of research and strategic communications” at the Muslim Public Affairs Council, another large organization that touts itself as protecting civil rights, producing YouTube videos that amount to religious propaganda. Recently he called me a “self-hating native informant, Islamophobe, right-wing shill, & grifter.” It was par for the course.
Like propagandists everywhere, the character assassins behind Loonwatch and other platforms demonizing Muslim reformers aided and abetted terrorists. And they did it with the help of Big Tech. This week, they play the victims, participating in forums, panels and programs on “countering Islamophobia” from Doha, Qatar, to Washington, D.C.
Writing this book meant 20 years of suffering at the hands of these keyboard warriors. At times, I was paralyzed by the sheer ugliness of their smears, but with the love of my parents I persevered. So when in summer 2020 we had a new battle to wage as parents against woke indoctrination, I was buttressed against repeated smears like “domestic terrorists,” “Disinformer,” “QAnonmom” and even “white supremacist.”
Of course, we must protect free speech. Free speech protections, however, don’t extend to libel. Overseas and domestically, internet companies must be held responsible for giving propagandists a megaphone—including when they are Muslim supremacists, like a cadre of “terrorists of the mind” who took the names of fish to wage a years-long war on America, protecting terrorists like the killers of young Nohemi Gonzalez.