OKLAHOMA CITY – The leader of a Muslim advocacy group in Oklahoma attended a law enforcement seminar Friday at the state Capitol despite organizers' attempts to ban him.
Adam Soltani, director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, initially was told he could not register for Friday's seminar entitled, "Iran, Hezbollah and the Drug Cartels: Counterterrorism Considerations," which was open to law enforcement and some members of the public. The seminar, which qualifies for continuing education credit for Oklahoma law enforcement, included speakers that Soltani described as "anti-Muslim extremists."
The event was held in Oklahoma House of Representatives' chamber and sponsored by the House's Counterterrorism Caucus, an informal group formed by state Rep. John Bennett. The Sallisaw Republican is a Marine Corps combat veteran and fierce critic of Sharia law.
Solanti said he was told the seminar was full and he couldn't attend by a Washington, D.C.-based attorney working with the caucus, Michael Hoehn. Hoehn and other event organizers stood watch at the gallery entrances and questioned some of those who tried to go inside, but Soltani entered anyway and watched the seminar from the gallery.
"This would be laughable if it didn't pose a serious risk of prejudice to Oklahoma's Muslim community," said Ryan Kiesel, the head of the Oklahoma chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which has called for the state's Council on Law Enforcement Education and Training (CLEET) to withdraw accreditation for the course.
"And I think CLEET's reputation has been hijacked by conspiracy theorists and political opportunists, and if they want to restore their reputation, they need to withdraw accreditation for this continuing course," Kiesel added.
CLEET's executive director, Steve Emmons, says the agency doesn't review course materials for the more than 2,500 continuing education courses each year, and the council's approval for accreditation doesn't imply it condones the concepts or techniques taught.
Among the speakers Friday was Frank Gaffney, the founder and president of the Center for Security Policy, a conservative think-tank. He's also a top proponent of the claim there is a global conspiracy by Muslim leaders and institutions to overthrow the U.S. government and replace the Constitution with Islamic religious law, or Sharia law.
Gaffney and Bennett, the state legislator, both said they support the idea of trying to ban officials from the Council on American-Islamic Relations from attending the seminar in part because the organization was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development — a group charged with bankrolling programs the U.S. government says are controlled by the Islamic militant group Hamas.
Gaffney also claimed council leaders have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hezbollah, an Iran-backed Lebanese militia.
"It's bringing people who are part of the problem into the huddle, and you don't win football games that way or any other kind of games," Gaffney said. "This is a training program for law enforcement to understand and be able to encounter Hezbollah, and CAIR's executive director and others connected with this organization, supported Hezbollah."
Soltani disputed any ties between CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood or Hezbollah.
Sean Murphy can be reached at www.twitter.com/apseanmurphy