CAIR’s Flip Flop and the True Cost of Free DHS Money
Nonprofits like money. They may not always like what comes with it.
Islamic schools and community centers around the country are once again eyeing a Department of Homeland Security (DHS) grant program for nonprofits. As I wrote last year, this is a well-publicized program offering security funds to nonprofits deemed “at high risk of terrorist attack.”
CAIR Cautioned Against the Program
In 2020, CAIR aptly argued that Muslim organizations should be wary of the DHS’s Nonprofit Security Grant Program (NSGP) and voiced concerns about language in the grant program’s manual and key changes fact sheet. CAIR argued:
The “security review” process can be harmful and may rely on unconstitutional databases.
This is effectively a “quid pro quo” intelligence gathering program.
In a published community alert, CAIR directly quotes the aforementioned fact sheet and responds to it:
“DHS Intelligence and Analysis (I&A) receives a list of potential NSGP awardee organizations, which it reviews against U.S. intelligence community (IC) reporting. Any potentially derogatory information, as well as any potentially mitigating information, that could assist in determining if a security risk exists is sent to FEMA and is used in making final award decisions (p. 17).” This new dimension to the application process raises concerns about the use and expansion of secret, spurious, and even unconstitutional government databases, such as the TSDB.
DHS FAQ Changes Everything?
In February 2021, the DHS published a “Frequently Asked Questions” document regarding the Nonprofit Security Grant Program. This FAQ contained a (non)clarification about the DHS “security review”—one of CAIR’s two major objections. This caused CAIR to do a sudden 180 degree turn and announce support for the grant program.
In a March 2021 press release, CAIR cites the DHS’s 2021 FAQ and portrays it as a dramatic clarification:
“[T]here is a security review performed by the DHS Office of Intelligence and Analysis on prospective recipient organizations. This security review takes place after the competitive scoring and selection process is complete. The information provided for the security review is limited to the organization’s name and physical address, as submitted by the nonprofit.”
This is hardly a clarification of anything and more of a smokescreen. DHS is simply repeating what information is required on the application. We already knew that. The claim that the information provided for the security review is limited to the name and physical address listed on the application is misleading.
Think about it: would the DHS want to give a grant to a nonprofit headed by someone wanted in three states for financial fraud? Before any government agency, nonprofit, or company gives someone a contract it is a commonsense best practice to check people out. This could be a google search to make sure a bad article was not written about an applicant, or it could be a check on a secret terrorist database, or it could be a check with the government of UAE to make sure the prospective grantee is not a known subversive.
What is the DHS doing? I have no idea, and neither does CAIR. It is frankly mystifying that CAIR was consoled by an FAQ so unresponsive to its concerns.
CAIR’s celebratory statement acknowledges this gap while simultaneously celebrating the non-clarification. Instead of remaining cautious, they encourage Muslim organizations to apply.
The Masjid Mukhabarat Service?
Another major concern CAIR National previously had, when it exhibited a healthy skepticism of DHS, was that a major priority of the grant program was sharing of “intelligence” with law enforcement. Intelligence gathering is still fundamental to the program.
In the 2020 guidance CAIR stated:
…the DHS grant programs have all prioritized “intelligence and information sharing” as well as cooperation with federal law enforcement as a targeted outcome of the grant program.
These changes most likely are intended to target civil society institutions such as sanctuary churches that explicitly oppose DHS policing priorities. In effect, the new DHS provisions produce a de facto quid pro quo that pits the security of vulnerable communities against cooperation with law enforcement.
CAIR, in its later about-face on the program, seems consoled by DHS’s statement that information sharing is not a requirement, but that the DHS wants to remove barriers to communication and be more inclusive. There was no actual change in the original language, that “intelligence” gathering is rather the point of the program.
CAIR had never alleged that there was a contractual “information sharing” requirement, not in 2020 or later, so DHS telling people this was a red herring. There was no realistic chance DHS would insert contract provisions for a live video camera feed into prayer halls, or that the police be included in any google docs, Whatsapp chats or email threads among board members. DHS does not need to do these things to get what they want from community leaders. They are a little more sophisticated than that. If you want this money, you play nice with law enforcement. How nice? Well, how much do you want the money? CAIR argued in 2020 that the effect is a “quid pro quo” (something for something), not that it was one codified in regulations or that grant contracts would explicitly include such a thing. Absolutely nothing has changed since then.
CAIR plainly changed its position on the nonprofit grant program based on no new information or assurances from DHS, which was just blowing bureaucratic smoke. CAIR went even further though, since now they are partnering with DHS to promote the program within the Muslim community. CAIR has scheduled a webinar (in partnership with FEMA, the grant-making agency in DHS) on February 9, 2022. CAIR did a similar program in 2021 after its abrupt change of heart.
A Form of Political Patronage
While I cannot comment on why CAIR decided to change its cautionary guidance and promote this grant program, the result of what they are doing is clear: CAIR is on team DHS. The creation of the garish multi-headed police agency has been controversial from the start and a frequent target of elected officials for abolition, because it's mostly a junk agency that does not do much of value. It is best known for casual cruelty, botching its mission, and wasting money.
But you feel like it’s money the government is giving away. Why not take it? Here is how:
Step 1: Always be Threatened
Government grant money is not a one-time thing. It’s a drug, and you will need to feed your habit. Once your nonprofit gets it, you will want more. How do you get your regular fix of DHS cash? DHS answers this question in the same FAQ lauded by CAIR. You need to feel threatened by a potential terrorist attack. It may be possible that nobody threatened you with a terrorist attack. Don’t worry about that right now.
Were there threats against the organization or people in it? Not terrorist threats, not even real threats as commonly understood. Vandalization, like a tagger who spray painted something could help you qualify, or people saying things on social media. Read the comments and screenshot them. Social media is a goldmine if you want to be paid for feeling unsafe.
· Did you read about bad things happening to Muslims in the news somewhere? Good. That’s money to you. Put it in your application.
· You need to spend some time with law enforcement. Be their friends, praise them profusely and have them at your community gatherings. They are used to getting grants based on assessments of how threatening everything is, because for them, society is always on the verge of crumbling, their funding depends on that. Your funding can depend on perpetually imminent societal collapse too! A good relationship with law enforcement will get the money spigot going.
Congratulations. Now your masjid is a federally funded bunker as you periodically attest to an alarming number of people in your community who want you dead. But there is more you need to do.
Step 2: Help DHS Help You
Once you have money you need to be an advocate, for more money. See, the world is becoming more dangerous—at least it needs to be if you want to get your grants. But there is only so much federal money to go around. So, you need to join in efforts to not only rehabilitate and legitimize a Frankenstein domestic security department, you also need to portray their efforts as vital to your not dying prematurely.
You will join with other religious organizations to request more money, since the threat is ecumenical. You will need to be extremely concerned about the rise in “extremism” and “antagonism,” which naturally means Congress should appropriate more funds to the Department of Homeland Security. Do this, and the money will flow.
But Muslim Nonprofits Need Money
I get it, while the applications will exaggerate threats and paint a dark picture of the world, and anti-terrorism government funding is a grift that is a fixed part of American life, nonprofits have legitimate security needs. They are probably more worried about people breaking in or vandalism than an actual terrorist attack. If the government is giving money for security cameras, to hire guards or consultants or whatever the organization needs, why not go to a government department with a program giving you money for things you want?
It’s fundamentally about what your mission is and who you serve. DHS will give you money not to serve the Muslim community, but to serve the national security state.
CAIR, the Muslim civil rights organization, previously cautioned the Muslim community about this program for good and valid reasons to which everyone should pay attention. They changed their position, but DHS changed nothing at all. It’s still the same program. CAIR’s 2020 cautions still apply. It’s still good advice.
Muslim nonprofits who are interested in DHS cash should raise money through other means.
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