Gulen Paid for Congressional Members’ Travel to Turkey

The Trump administration successfully saw Betsy DeVos confirmed as Secretary of Education. Perhaps she will take on these charter school immediately?

Atlantic/2014: FBI raid last month on the headquarters of over 19 Gülen-operated Horizon Science Academies in Midwest. According to search warrants obtained by the Chicago Sun-Times, federal authorities were interested in gathering general financial documents and records of communication. The warrant specifically mentions something called the E-rate program—a federal program that, according to the Sun-Times, “pays for schools to expand telecommunications and Internet access.” A handful of the Gülen-affiliated contractors assisting the schools were receiving money from this federal fund. It’s difficult speculate what this could all mean, as all documents pertaining to the investigation, save the warrants themselves, have been sealed from the public. A must read of the full article here.  

Image result for fethullah gulen


Hillary Clinton has been the biggest recipient of Gulenist donations of any presidential candidate this cycle, federal election records show.

Besides his massive Clinton Foundation donation, Recep Ozkan, who is listed on various campaign finance disclosures as an executive at JIG Corp., Everglobe Partners, and Baharu Inc., gave $25,000 to the pro-Clinton Ready PAC in 2014. He contributed an additional $5,400 to her campaign this year.

As president of the Turkish Cultural Center, Ozkan hosted Clinton at Ramadan celebration dinners in 2006 and 2007 when she was in the Senate. More details here from the Daily Caller.

*** Image result for gulen charter schools

H1B visas abuse is a large part of the immigration abuse and Gulen has exploited the system.

Turkey’s authoritarian’s ruler is Recep Erdogan; he is at loggerheads with his former ally, Fethullah Gulen, the self-exiled leader of an Islamic cult that is devoted to undoing the reforms of modern Turkey’s George Washington, Kamal Ataturk. Gulen’s followers in the U.S. have created a series of charter schools which use public school moneys, via staff extortions, to support the cult’s activities. The Gulen schools, which have also used political contributions to shore up their position, are charters, and, as such, are sheltered by conservatives promoting charters generally. Erdogan has said that he wants Gulen extradited from Pennsylvania to Turkey because of his alleged ties to the failed coup in Turkey.

Why is this of any interest to immigration policy types?

In spite of the presence of tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of unemployed U.S.-trained teachers, Gulen’s schools continue to use local tax funds to secure H-1B visas for, and to provide wages for, teachers from Turkey, including in a few cases English teachers, as we have reported previously.

CIS: Why are the Gulen schools so interested in recruiting Turkish teachers (and often paying them more than U.S. teachers in the same schools)? To some extent it is a Tammany Hall sort of nepotism – let’s use public funds to help our landsmen – but there is another apparent motive. According to a long, detailed, and stinging report by LA Weekly, there is a highly organized, systematic shake-down of Turkish teachers to benefit Gulen cult organizations. The name of one of Gulen’s collectors in one of his school systems, the amounts raised, and their transportation, in cash, to cult meetings are all spelled out in detail. More details here.

Image result for gulen home in pa NBC, Gulen’s home in Saylorsburg, PA.

Deeper dive:

Scores of state lawmakers took trips subsidized by controversial Turkish opposition movement

Gulen groups are connected to U.S. charter school network overseen by legislators

In part from Public Integrity: Just why exactly would 151 state legislators from places like Idaho and Texas accept subsidized junkets from a Turkish opposition group now blamed by that country’s government for an attempted coup last summer?

It’s puzzling that state legislators who rarely get involved in foreign policy matters have been courted with international trips.

It’s especially surprising for the invitations to come from a powerful religious movement that until recently ran media outlets and a bank before falling out with the government in Turkey, a pivotal U.S. ally that serves as the gateway to the Middle East. Though followers of the movement deny having supported the failed coup, Turkey has asked the United States to extradite its leader, Fethullah Gulen, a reclusive Islamic cleric who lives in a compound not in Ankara or Istanbul but in the woods of Pennsylvania.

The Center for Public Integrity documented the extent of the trips and found that some state lawmakers who attended them later introduced resolutions supporting Gulen’s controversial Hizmet movement. And some have even supported charter schools that are part of a network from Washington, D.C., to California of roughly 160 taxpayer-funded schools run by friends of the movement.

While some familiar with the lawmakers’ trips frame them as innocuous learning experiences, the trips are meant to transform American community leaders into Gulen sympathizers, according to Joshua Hendrick, a sociologist at Loyola University and a leading expert on the movement.

“It most certainly has the impact of cultivating influence,” Hendrick said. “It is a political effort but it is framed as a grassroots mobilization of dialogue.”

‘Sympathetic to the cause’

The long parade of state legislators who have accepted the heavily subsidized trips from the Gulen movement includes some influential figures. The man known as Illinois’ most powerful state politician, Democratic Speaker of the House Mike Madigan, traveled four times to Turkey on trips sponsored by nonprofit groups associated with Gulen’s Hizmet — or “service” — movement.

In 2011, at least a tenth of Idaho’s state legislators toured the land of the Ottomans on the movement’s dime.

At least four Texas lawmakers who have served on legislative education committees went on the sponsored trips. The Lone Star state is home to the most Gulen-linked charter schools.

California has about a dozen of the schools, as do Florida and Ohio. Arizona, Illinois and Missouri are among the states that have them, as well.

The Center for Public Integrity used lawmakers’ annual disclosures and news reports to identify 151 state legislators from 29 states who toured Turkey between 2006 and 2015 thanks to more than two dozen nonprofits associated with the Gulen movement.

Among those who went on the trips were lawmakers who had rarely traveled overseas. Many had little knowledge of Gulen or Turkish politics. Few of their states have trade connections to Turkey.

But state legislators represent the political farm team of leaders who may someday play in the big leagues of Congress or beyond. Thom Tillis, for one, was first elected to the North Carolina statehouse in 2006 and went on a trip to Turkey with a Gulen movement group in 2011. Fast forward: The Republican is now a U.S. senator serving on the powerful Armed Services Committee, which oversees members of the U.S. military stationed in Turkey.

State lawmakers also shape education policy and hold the purse strings on state budgets, which fund charter schools.

“It’s effective public relations,” said William Martin, a Rice University sociologist who went on two sponsored trips. “That can affect their schools, it can affect the things they would like to do.”

The schools have denied connections to Gulen, but experts and even some friends of the movement call the links obvious. The charter schools are often founded and run by individuals with long ties to the Gulen movement, and they frequently hire Turkish teachers, sponsor their visas and move them between schools.  Many were set up with the help of nonprofits tied to the movement.

Gulen supporters say the trips for lawmakers promoted intercultural dialogue, a key component of Gulen’s teaching. The former imam preaches a unique brand of Islamic mysticism paired with Turkish nationalism and respect for modern science.

“We wanted to act as a kind of a bridge”between Americans and Turks, said Atilla Kahveci, vice president of the California-based Pacifica Institute, a Gulen-movement group that has organized lawmaker trips. “We didn’t have any kind of, from our point of view, ulterior agenda, no matter how it seems from outside.”

But other experts think the trips have political motivations.

“It’s like any other lobbying or political operation,” said James Jeffrey, who served as ambassador to Turkey under President George W. Bush and is now a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a think tank. “They’re doing this to advance their cause.”

American sympathizers have stuck up for Gulen and his followers. Since 2011, state lawmakers in 23 states have introduced at least 54 resolutions honoring Turkey or Turkish Americans, some of which specifically praised Gulen or Gulen-movement organizations, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of data from Quorum, a legislative tracking service.

For example, the Illinois House of Representatives passed a resolution in 2011 recognizing Gulen for his “inspirational contributions to the promotion of global peace and understanding.” A Gulen-movement group sponsored at least 32 trips to Turkey for Illinois state lawmakers between 2008 and 2012, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

In Kansas, former state Rep. Tom Moxley, a Republican who went on a subsidized trip to Turkey in 2011, sponsored a resolution the following year that praised Turkey’s diversity and called for the creation of a Kansan-Turkish Friendship Network.

“I’m more sympathetic to the cause, the belief system of this group of Muslims, versus the ones that are in power in Turkey today,” he said. “We’re watching a dictator take over at a time when the American government can least afford to lose them as a friend.”

A movement centered in the Poconos

Fethullah Gulen, Turkey’s most wanted man, lives tucked in the green mountains of the Poconos, a Pennsylvania tourism spot better known for its honeymoon suites with heart-shaped tubs than as an incubator for international insurrection.

Gulen, now in his 70s, began preaching in Turkey by the early 1960s and quickly drew followers to his messages of devotion to Islam paired with success in the modern world.

He moved to the United States in 1999, ostensibly for medical treatment, though he left just before the secularist regime ruling at the time accused him of threatening to overthrow the government. Gulen later obtained a U.S. green card, on the grounds that he had special abilities in the field of education.

Gulen’s movement in Turkey continued to grow, aligning itself with the conservative AKP party that now rules the country.

His followers established dormitories and schools in Turkey and elsewhere, as well as a network of nonprofit groups and foundations, including those in the United States that sponsor lawmakers’ trips, such as the Pacifica Institute and the American Turkish Friendship Association.

The nonprofits frequently share open allegiance to Gulen’s Hizmet movement, staff or other ties, according to Hendrick, the Loyola sociologist who mapped the connections between the groups in his research. Hendrick calls their informal connections to each other and Gulen part of the movement’s “strategic ambiguity,” which makes it more difficult for outsiders to assess the movement’s size and power.

But tensions in Turkey flared in 2013, and the AKP blamed its former political allies for the attempted coup in July 2016.

Though Gulen and his followers have denied responsibility for the recent coup attempt, the Turkish government led by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has cracked down on the Gulen movement, arresting 40,000 people and firing more than 100,000 soldiers, teachers and civil servants. Erdogan has also moved to silence dissenters and has jailed more than 100 journalists.

Today, Turkish leaders call Gulen a terrorist.

Turkey has also hired Amsterdam and Partners LLP, an international law firm that specializes in “political advocacy and cross-border disputes,” to pursue investigations into U.S. schools connected to the movement. The Turkish embassy did not return requests for comment.

Gulen was not available for an interview, according to the Alliance for Shared Values, a Gulen-movement umbrella group based in New York that handles his media requests.

“We hope that Americans see that he is a peaceful man who has been wrongly accused by an autocratic Turkish president,” said Mustafa Akpinar, CEO of the Rumi Forum, a Gulen-movement nonprofit based in Washington, D.C. “We are confident in the rule of law in the United States and expect due process for Turkey’s misguided extradition request.”

All this has put the United States in a tricky position. U.S. officials have offered to help Turkey investigate the attempted coup, while simultaneously warning its ally to live up to “democratic principles” in dealing with suspects.

Though the U.S. has not formally said who was to blame for the coup, two U.S. ambassadors to the country, including current ambassador John Bass, have made the connection to Gulen. Bass in a television interview last August referenced “the apparent involvement of a large number” of Gulen’s followers in the attempted takeover.

Experts say even if this is true, it remains possible that Gulen himself and his American followers were not directly involved in the failed takeover.

In September, after Turkey asked the U.S. to extradite Gulen back to Turkey, the Obama administration promised to consider it but did not move quickly.

Experts are uncertain where the new administration stands. Former Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President Trump’s national security adviser, has called Gulen “shady” and his schools a “scam.”

State Department spokeswoman Pooja Jhunjhunwala said the agency had no update on the issue.

Meanwhile, the Turkey trips for state legislators have dried up amid the current political upheaval.

Fact-finding mission or junket?

Some lawmakers are bewildered that the groups that paid for their trips are now swept up in Turkey’s current political turmoil.

“I can’t imagine what they would have wanted out of the North Dakota state Legislature,” said former North Dakota state Rep. Ben Hanson, a Democrat who went on a trip sponsored by a Gulen group in 2013 with six other lawmakers from his state. North Dakota does not currently allow charter schools and has few ties to the Middle East.

“It seemed like their group was trying to educate people and trying to bridge relations, and that seemed like a positive thing in and of itself,” he added.

The Center for Public Integrity attempted to contact the legislators it identified as having gone on the trips. Of the 34 lawmakers willing to comment, most spoke of their trips positively. Many said their trips were packed with educational information and meetings with Turkish businessmen or officials and were not pleasure tours. While some, like Moxley in Kansas, defended Gulen’s followers, others said they didn’t know what to make of recent events in Turkey.

“That’s above my pay grade,” said Roger Katz, a Republican in the Maine Senate who traveled to Turkey.

Some said they had no idea the sponsors of the trips were even part of the Gulen movement. To be sure, many of the trips occurred before the movement became an enemy of the Turkish state.

“The people I was associated with were devout Muslims and, I thought, the nicest people,” said Harry Kennedy, a former Democratic state senator in Missouri who went to Turkey in 2008. “But we really didn’t talk much about international politics.”

Lawmakers who have gone on the trips also have praised the experience as a way to dispel myths about Muslims in a post-9/11 world. But not every trip participant walked away with the same conclusions. New Mexico state Sen. George Munoz said he left his trip early.

“I thought it was interesting to see another culture and government, but there were some things that were deeply wrong,” the Democrat said. “There’s a reason our country chose Christianity.”

Gulen-movement groups are not the only ones paying for foreign travel by state lawmakers who have no power over foreign affairs. The government of Taiwan has sponsored trips for state lawmakers, and various Jewish nonprofits have taken state legislators to Israel.

But the Gulen movement’s efforts are extensive. For years, Gulen’s followers have been making friends in the United States by offering receptions, awards dinners and the subsidized trips — and not just for state lawmakers.

A 2015 USA Today investigation found the Gulen movement organized 200 trips for members of Congress and their staff.

One Gulen movement member estimated that more than 7,000 Gulen-movement-sponsored trips for North Americans occurred between 2003 and 2010, at an estimated cost of $17.5 million. The trips included mayors, university professors, journalists and other community leaders from across the United States.

The Center for Public Integrity’s review of lawmakers’ disclosures show that the Gulen-movement groups shelled out between $1,000 and $7,047 per trip.

Some lawmakers’ spouses also came along for the subsidized journeys, which often included visits to major Turkish historical sites such as the Hagia Sophia, a cruise on the Bosphorus Strait, shopping, as well as tours of Gulen-linked institutions such as Zaman, a daily newspaper, or private schools run by the movement.

Though some lawmakers paid for the cost of their flights to the country, expenses such as hotels, meals and tours were frequently covered by Gulen-movement nonprofits, which run on generous donations from Gulen’s followers, experts said. In addition, local Turkish followers of Gulen often donated funds specifically for the trips and then hosted the travelers in their homes for dinners or joined them for tours.

While federal lawmakers’ trips are governed by strict rules and must be disclosed, state regulations and their interpretations vary. Many states that regulate lawmaker gifts and travel include exceptions for educational trips, and none ban subsidized travel for legislators outright, according to Ethan Wilson, an ethics expert at the National Conference of State Legislatures.

For example, Colorado bans gifts for lawmakers above $50, but the state’s ethics commission ruled that the Turkey trips fall under the definition of “fact-finding missions,” which are allowed.

And though some Kansas legislators reported their trips in financial disclosures, at least two did not. They told the Center for Public Integrity that the state ethics commission told them it wasn’t required, though the director of the commission said hotel stays worth more than $500 should be disclosed.

North Dakota does not have any rules barring such trips, nor does it even require them to be disclosed.

Still, lawmakers should scrutinize perks offered to them carefully, said Mike Palmer, an ethics consultant who has worked on ethics codes for municipalities and government agencies. Certain groups like federal contracting officers have strict bans on gifts for good reason, he said.

“There’s a balance there between receiving education and being lobbied,” Palmer said. “What one would ask is: ‘Why are they providing this? Why is this person taking me to lunch? What’s in it for them?’” Must read the full summary here from Public Integrity. (List of lawmakers that were paid to travel is included.)



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