When Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused former ally turned political rival Fethullah Gulen of masterminding a failed July 15 military coup from his Pennsylvania compound, the Islamic cleric's name blazed across American headlines. But months before being plucked from obscurity, local Anaheim educators had already taken on Gulen by teaming with a documentary filmmaker and a law firm hired by Erdogan to hammer away at charter schools linked to the religious leader. Along the way, the Anaheim Union High School District (AUHSD) mixed itself up with a book on Gulen authored by the Center for Security Policy, an anti-Muslim extremist group.
The district's first Gulen takedown surfaced on December 18, 2015 when superintendent Michael Matsuda and the board of trustees authored a Voice of OC op-ed calling for a statewide moratorium on charter schools, specifically taking a swipe at the Magnolia Science Academy, a Gulen-affiliated charter that had requested to open a new school in Anaheim. Coincidentally, the Center for Security Policy issued a press release that same day announcing the publication of its monograph, Gulen and the Gulenist Movement: Turkey's Islamic Supremacy Cult and its Contributions to the Civilization Jihad, by authors Clare Lopez and Christopher Holton.
The monograph didn't play a role in informing the district's op-ed or press release, but the pair would eventually cross paths, especially when Anaheim High School hosted a special preview screening of Killing Ed, a documentary critical of charter schools linked to the Gulen Movement. The Facebook page for the film had promoted the Center for Security Policy's work calling it a “primer” for the film, but the March 8 screening complete with a panel discussion happened anyway.
Documents obtained by the Weekly (although not through our numerous, stymied public records requests) suggest that the district came into possession of the Islamophobic think tank's work by way of the film crew. Director Mark S. Hall refused comment on the story, calling our previous reporting “inaccurate and one-sided” through his publicist.
Those concerns didn't bother Hall when he re-appeared on The Alex Jones Show with wildly Islamophobic co-host David Knight last month, though quietly without publicizing the appearance this time. The Donald Trump-supporting, conspiracy theory program hasn't been the only platform promoting the documentary to Islamophobic audiences. The Center for Security Policy's own Frank Gaffney Jr. and Lopez readily encourage people to watch the film and read their book, with Gaffney doing both in a June Breitbart interview.
After the March screening of Killing Ed, Patricia Karlak, AUHSD Public Information Officer (PIO) and film screening organizer, kept up the anti-Gulen messaging by encouraging fellow employees to check out the Center for Security Policy's work. “If you follow the link below you will see that Clare Lopez, formerly with the CIA, recently wrote a book about Gulen,” Karlak wrote in a May 5 email obtained by the Weekly. “The synopsis refers to his control of American schools.” The link pointed to a website promoting Lopez's appearance at the Westminster Institute. Karlak forwarded it along to attorney Dan Shinoff, whose San Diego firm is retained by AUHSD, and recipients of a district “cabinet” email. “The speech she is giving is before high level US security interests and policy makers,” Karlak added.
The Westminster Institute bills itself as a think tank established in 2009 that is ostensibly focused on extremist threats from radical ideologies, but in reality has been a welcomed stop for anti-Muslim conspiracy theorists like Dr. Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump adviser and Lopez, a former Ted Cruz adviser. The district didn't return the Weekly's request for comment, nor did the Center for Security Policy about its relationship to the film. Lopez did say of Hall during her Westminster Institute talk in May that, “we got in connection with each other,” and encouraged people to watch his documentary.
The Southern Poverty Law Center, who designates the Center for Security Policy as an anti-Muslim extremist group, is very critical of their work overall. “The claims of Gaffney, Lopez and Center for Security Policy, in general, are utter hogwash,” says Mark Potok, editor-in-chief for SPLC's Intelligence Report and extremism expert. “They're fear mongers who specialize in stirring up fear and suspicions towards the Muslim community.”
Lopez has been keen to the task. The SPLC noted her hate track record in a Women Against Islam list, including Lopez calling President Barack Obama a de facto Muslim, writing a report attacking Hillary Clinton's top aide Huma Abedin as an agent of the Muslim Brotherhood and asserting that the Muslim Brotherhood has “infiltrated and suborned the U.S. government to actively assist, whether knowingly or not, the mission of its grand jihad.” The accusations against the Gulen Movement follow the same pattern. “Fethullah Gulen's movement is just one more manifestation of what the Muslim Brotherhood has called civilization jihad,” the monograph reads, one that “constitutes a true Trojan Horse in our midst.”
Potok readily admits to not being a Gulen expert, but notes that Lopez's background in the CIA doesn't confer much authority to her conspiratorial work. “There's plenty of nutty former CIA agents running around, and there's plenty of intelligent ones, too,” Potok says. “It doesn't amount to a hill of beans and it certainly doesn't make her accusations hold more water.”
For as bizarre the district's anti-Gulen crusade has been, the inner workings of the Killing Ed screening itself are stranger still. It proved to be profitable for Hall, who stated in a previous interview with the Weekly that he collected a screening fee from an anonymous source. The Weekly obtained documents suggesting that Shinoff, whose firm handles record requests for the district, picked up the airfare tab for Sharon Higgins, a researcher featured in the film, and Hall.
Neither Shinoff nor Higgins, like many others in this story, responded to the Weekly's questions.