President Obama's suggestion that he'd consider New York City police commissioner Raymond Kelly as a replacement for outgoing Homeland Security Department Secretary Janet Napolitano was sure to raise hackles on the left. The top NYPD official's last decade of policing New York's streets had coincided with the use of profiling on two fronts: the so-called stop-and-frisk program, which in overwhelming disproportion targeted young black and Latino men for questioning on the streets, and the many purported transgressions of the police department's Intelligence squad, which targeted Muslims, sometimes on basis solely of their religion, for scrutiny. In an op-ed for the New York Times today, Ta-Nehisi Coates took aim at both of foci of criticism: those programs are "why it is hard to comprehend the thinking that compelled the president, in a week like this, to flirt with the possibility of inviting the New York City Police Commissioner, Ray Kelly, the proprietor of the largest local racial profiling operation in the country, into his cabinet," Coates wrote.
Stop-and-frisk and the Intelligence Unit certainly deserve the lion's share of attention: both are far-reaching programs that cast a wary eye on huge numbers of New Yorkers, in the former case implicitly on the basis of race and in the latter explicitly because of religion. But there's an incident from the past few years that showed a deeper side of Kelly's brushes with the Isalmophobic fringes: his participation in and department's poor and repeatedly misleading involvement with the film "The Third Jihad." Kelly appeared in an exclusive interview for the film, which was shown widely during police trainings—both facts his department falsely denied and which he has never forthrightly dealt with.
"The Third Jihad" was produced by a shadowy non-profit called the Clarion Fund, which now calls itself the Clarion Project. Founded in the mid-2000s, Clarion's best known for producing films that portray Islam in a negative light and implicitly advocate for hawkish policies like going to war with Iran. (Clarion also runs a website.) Spearheaded by an Israeli-Canadian and closely linked with an Israeli-based Orthodox evangelist group called Aish Hatorah—which the journalist Jeffrey Goldberg described as "Jewish extremists"—Clarion's advisers include a who's who of America's most prominent Islamophobes, including Frank Gaffney and Daniel Pipes, as well as lesser-known anti-Muslim activists like Harold Rhode. (It's "Iranium" documentary was written and directed by an ideological Israeli settler in the West Bank.)
In 2009, Clarion released "The Third Jihad," the second of its three feature length documentaries, which purports to outline the threat to the U.S. by an insidious Muslim Brotherhood takeover plot. Enter the NYPD, and it's deception about the film. In a front page story, the New York Times reported last January:
In January 2011, when news broke that the department had used the film in training, a top police official denied it, then said it had been mistakenly screened “a couple of times” for a few officers.
A year later, police documents obtained under the state’s Freedom of Information Law reveal a different reality: “The Third Jihad,” which includes an interview with Commissioner Raymond W. Kelly, was shown, according to internal police reports, “on a continuous loop” for between three months and one year of training.
In the Times story, a top aide to Kelly, Paul Browne, denied that the commissioner had sat down with the filmmakers and instead said they "lifted the clip from an old interview." But a follow-up story the next day, the Times revealed that Kelly's aide had misled the paper about both his and commissioner's role in the film:
On Tuesday, the film’s producer, Raphael Shore, e-mailed The Times and provided a date and time for their 90-minute interview with the commissioner at Police Headquarters on March 19, 2007. Told of this e-mail, Mr. Browne revised his account. “He’s right,” Mr. Browne said Tuesday of the producer. “In fact, I recommended in February 2007 that Commissioner Kelly be interviewed.”
In an e-mail, Mr. Browne said that when he first saw the film in 2011, he assumed the commissioner’s interview was taken from old clips, even though the film referred to Mr. Kelly as an “interviewee.” He did not offer an explanation as to why he and the commissioner, on Tuesday, remembered so much of their decision.
The Police Department’s admission suggests a closer relationship between it and the provocative film, which has drawn angry condemnation from Muslim and civil rights groups, than officials had previously acknowledged.
Browne told the Times, on the second go 'round, that Kelly admonished the film. “Commissioner Kelly told me today that the video was objectionable,” Brown said, “and that he should not have agreed to the interview five years ago, when I recommended it." (Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who stood by Kelly on issues of stop-and-frisk and spying on Muslims, denounced the film and the NYPD's involvement with it, telling the Times that someone "exercised some terrible judgment" and that there would be an investigation.)
Kelly's admonition of the film through an aide‚ years after the fact, doesn't go down well. "Mr. Kelly should apologize for the film," the Times editoral board wrote last January, "and he should make clear that his department does not tolerate such noxious and dangerous stereotyping."
Just as there's something amiss in President Obama announcing through an aide a policy of escalation in Syria, there remains something miffing about Kelly pushing off dealing with the film and the NYPD's involvement on an aide, never addressing the matter himself. With Kelly's name prominently floated for the Homeland Security job, the public—as well as the administration and its critics—should add "The Third Jihad" episode to the questions about whether or not Kelly is fit for the gig.