What’s in a Tweet?: Islamophobe Emerson Brings Frivolous Lawsuit

By Donna Nevel

The Players in the Defamation Suit

Steven Emerson, an anti-Muslim ideologue, is currently suing Cyrus McGoldrick, an American Muslim community organizer and human rights activist, over a tweet that McGoldrick sent to two friends.

First, there is Cyrus McGoldrick, who is an effective and respected advocate, writer, and public spokesperson on behalf of the rights of Muslims and all those facing discriminatory treatment or being targeted (by the state or by individual Islamophobes). When he sent the tweet, McGoldrick was employed at the New York chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), a highly-regarded Muslim advocacy organization whose mission, as stated on its website, is “to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.”

Then there is Steven Emerson, a member of what the Center for American Progress has called “an Islamophobia network in America.” [1] Emerson has been notorious for opposing efforts to build mosques (Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Boston, and Park51 in lower Manhattan) and for putting forth false and distorted information. Respected journalists have widely discredited Emerson, describing him as a “self-styled anti-terrorism expert,” “poison,” and “disgraced.” [2] The Muslim Public Affairs Council has identified Emerson as one of “America’s Top 25 Pseudo Experts on Islam.” [3]

Without any evidence, Emerson claimed on network television in 1995 that “Muslim/Middle East extremists” (not Timothy McVeigh) were responsible for the Oklahoma City bombing-since, he claimed, “This was done with the attempt to inflict as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait.” [4] He has provided “misleading statistics” on various occasions, including Rep. Peter King’s (R-NY) March 2011 hearing on the alleged radicalization of Muslim American communities. [5] Most recently, Emerson claimed erroneously on C-SPAN, based on “‘certain classified information that he was ‘privy to,’” that a Saudi man was responsible for the Boston Marathon bombings. [6]

The Tweet

The defamation suit arose out of a November 2012 exchange of tweets between McGoldrick and his friend and colleague, Muslim activist and community leader Linda Sarsour. In her tweet, Sarsour quoted Emerson as making the slanderous remark-yet again-that CAIR was an “unindicted co-conspirator” in the nation’s largest terrorism financing trial. McGoldrick knew well, as did Emerson, that a federal appeals court had criticized the federal government labeling of CAIR and 244 other organizations as “unindicted co-conspirators” and that the government subsequently abandoned this “unconstitutional and improper” [7] claim. But, as McGoldrick’s lawyers argue, Emerson has repeatedly made the false charge in his ongoing campaign targeting Muslim organizations and individuals, including CAIR and McGoldrick, in an effort to “smear and damage them.” [8]

After getting Sarsour’s tweet, McGoldrick, responding to his friend, sent a tongue-in-cheek tweet back to her (and to one other person, Hussam Ayloush executive director of CAIR-Los Angeles, whom Sarsour had tweeted) that described Emerson as an “unindicted co-conspirator in the nation’s largest child pornography case.” The two people the tweet was sent to-and anyone who might have followed it-couldn’t have possibly missed McGoldrick’s joke: that is, using “unindicted conspirator” to mock Emerson’s repeated and fraudulent use of the words in relation to CAIR. But after someone sent the tweet to Emerson, he brought a defamation suit against McGoldrick.

The Legal and Political Response

McGoldrick’s legal team has responded to Emerson’s charges by bringing a motion to dismiss the complaint against him. In their response, McGoldrick’s lawyers make perfectly clear how McGoldrick intended the tweet. It was, they wrote, “a response to a sardonic tweet he received from two Muslim activist colleagues . . .[and] an obvious private in-joke that mocked a rabid critic of his and that in context could not be and was not taken literally.” They further argue that McGoldrick’s tweet was “not a statement of fact, but was an ironic statement of opinion criticizing the government’s treatment of Muslim organizations in a terrorism funding trial and was, therefore, protected speech.” They also assert that Emerson brought this libel case, as he has done before, “in a bad-faith attempt to silence those who dare to tell the truth about him and his anti-Islam crusade.” No “reasonable person,” McGoldrick’s lawyers maintain, “could have understood that joke as stating an actual fact about Emerson,” which is fundamental to a “viable libel claim.” Given that even a loyal supporter of Emerson publicly acknowledged that the tweet was a joke, and not an assertion of fact, the lawyers argue that the case should be dismissed.

Steven Emerson is part of a network of Islamophobes that is well-funded, connected to right-wing Israeli politics, and an integral part of the U.S. “war on terror.” [9] This frivolous and destructive lawsuit is yet another unsuccessful attempt by the Islamophobes to silence and intimidate those who oppose Islamophobia and stand for justice.



Representing McGoldrick are Alan Levine, civil rights and constitutional attorney; Beena Ahmad, of the National Lawyers Guild’s Muslim Defense Project; Steven Downs, of Project SALAM and the National Coalition to Protect Civil Freedoms; and Hassan Ahmad, of Ahmad, Naqvi & Rodriguez. The legal papers can be seen on the CAIR New York website (http://www.cair-ny.org/).

(Donna Nevel and Alan Levine, one of the lawyers in the case, are married and are founding members of Jews Against Islamophobia)

Wajahat Ali, Eli Clifton, Matt Duss, Lee Fang, Scott Keyes, & Faiz Shakir, Fear Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, August 2011, Center for American Progress, http://www.americanprogress.org/issues/religion/report/2011/08/26/10165/fear-inc/.

from the Memorandum of Law in Support of Defendant’s Motion for Judgment: See, e.g., Ali Gharib, Disgraced Terror Expert Says Boston Bombs Bear ‘Hallmark; of Muslim Radicals, The Daily Beast (Apr. 16, 2013); Robert Steinbeck, Steven Emerson, Backing King Hearings, Pushes Misleading Statistic on Muslim Terrorism, Hatewatch, Southern Poverty Law Center (Mar. 23, 2011); Eric Boelhert, Terrorists Under the Bed, Salon.com, (Mar. 5, 2002); John Mintz, The Man Who Gives Terrorism A Name, The Washington Post (Nov. 14, 2001); John Sugg, Steve Emerson’s Crusade, Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) (Jan. 1, 1999).)

MPAC, Not Qualified: Exposing America’s Top 25 Pseudo Experts on Islam, 2012, http://www.mpac.org/assets/docs/publications/MPAC-25-Pseudo-Experts-On-Islam.pdf.

Ali et al, Fear Inc.

Ali et al, Fear Inc.

Alex Seitz-Wald, “The Right’s New Boston Conspiracy Theory,” Salon, April 18, 2013, http://www.salon.com/2013/04/18/the_rights_new_boston_conspiracy_theory/ (accessed May 6, 2013). See also David Iaconangelo, “Boston Marathon Explosions: Story False, Police Have No Suspect,” Latin Times, April 15, 2013, http://www.latintimes.com/articles/2804/20130415/boston-marathon-explosion-saudi-national-story-false.htm; and Amy Davidson, “The Saudi Marathon Man,” New Yorker, April 17, 2013, http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/comment/2013/04/the-saudi-marathon-man.html (both accessed May 6, 2013). Also Caitlin Dewey, “Saudi Man Investigated after Boston Marathon Speaks Out,” Washington Post, May 24, 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/worldviews/wp/2013/05/24/saudi-man-investigated-after-boston-marathon-speaks-out/?print=1 (accessed June 3, 2013). Counterterrorism & Security Education and Research Foundation, “About CTSERF,” http://www.ctserf.org/about.html; Thomas Cincotta, Manufacturing the Muslim Menace: Private Firms, Public Servants, & the Threat to Rights and Security, Political Research Associates, 2011, 44, http://www.publiceye.org/liberty/training/Muslim_Menace_Complete.pdf; Robert I. Friedman, “One Man’s Jihad,” 657. Photocopied article from Muslim Public Affairs Council, Counterproductive Counterterrorism: How Anti-Islamic Rhetoric Is Impeding America’s Homeland Security, December 2004, 18-19, http://www.civilfreedoms.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/05/Counterproductive-Counterterrorism.pdf (all accessed December 13, 2011).

From the Answer to the Complaint.

From the Answer to the Complaint.

Elly Bulkin & Donna Nevel, “Follow the Money: From Islamophobia to Israel Right or Wrong,” October 2012, Alternet.

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