It turns out hosting a terrorist can have consequences, even when the event is a flop.
Last week, Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colo., referred for potential prosecution San Francisco State University President Lynn Mahoney, Profs. Rabab Abdulhadi and Tomomi Kinukawa, and the University generally, asking Attorney General Bill Barr and FBI Director Christopher Wray to investigate whether they provided material support to a foreign terrorist organization by hosting a Sept. 23 online lecture by unrepentant Palestinian terrorist Leila Khaled.
Her appearance was canceled in succession by Zoom and Facebook, then ran for twenty-three minutes on YouTube before that platform halted transmission.
Mahoney ignored demands to cancel the event and defended Khaled’s appearance in three letters to the campus community. Khaled, the first female airline hijacker, was to address the “open classrooms” of the session’s organizers, professors Rabab Abdulhadi, associate professor in ethnic studies/race resistance studies and Tomomi Kinukawa, a lecturer in women and gender studies.
This marks an escalation of Lamborn’s efforts to hold SFSU responsible for hosting Khaled, coming after letters he sent requesting federal action before the conference occurred to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin.
Lamborn’s case for “potential violations of 18 U.S. Code § 2339A, which makes it unlawful to provide material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization” rests on two key pieces of evidence. First Khaled “is an unrepentant terrorist and an admitted member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), a U.S. designated terrorist organization.” Second, the “underlying purpose of the event appeared to be the promotion of the PFLP’s terrorist agenda to a wider audience, particularly the students of SFSU, a public university.”
“That Mrs. Khaled is a terrorist and is a member of a terrorist group,” Lamborn wrote, “is beyond reasonable dispute.” Not only does she not deny it, but she “continues to speak openly about her actions,” including two airplane hijackings in 1969 and 1970. The PFLP acknowledged “on its own website as late as 2017” that she is a member of the command of its Jordanian wing. Therefore, Lamborn argues, “Her involvement with this event should … be considered part of her ongoing work for a terrorist group.”
“It is precisely because Mrs. Khaled continues to be a member of the PFLP that Zoom … declined to host the event,” Lamborn wrote. Indeed, Zoom’s public statement said the platform had “determined the meeting is in violation of Zoom’s Terms of Service.'”
SFSU’s own subsequent statement was similar, confirming as it did “implicitly” that it was “aware that [Khaled] was a member” of the PFLP. Given Abdulhadi’s record of praising Khaled because of (not in spite of) her lifelong devotion to terrorism, denying the role her membership in the PFLP played in inviting her to speak at SFSU would be futile.
Yet that’s just what the university tried, claiming in a statement that “‘Ms. Khaled is not speaking as a member, representative, spokesperson, or surrogate for the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine.'”
This claim in toothless, writes Lamborn, because “any common sense understanding of her goal would acknowledge that she was doing exactly that” – speaking as a member of the PFLP. Further proof is that before the event was cut off, “Mrs. Khaled was using her platform to justify and encourage the very terrorist acts that the PFLP has frequently engaged in.”
All of which spells trouble for those responsible. The “plain text of the law,” Lamborn contends, prohibits “‘material support or resources to a foreign terrorist organization.'” Material support or resources as defined in 18 U.S.C. § 2339A includes “‘[A]ny property, tangible or intangible, or service, including … expert advice and assistance … .”
“Expert advice and assistance,” in turn, means “‘(A)dvice or assistance derived from scientific, technical or other specialized knowledge.'” Therefore, the “plain language of this statute would suggest that SFUS’s conduct violated the ‘service’ provision,” according to Lamborn.
Lamborn’s case gets a final boost from Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project, a U.S. Supreme Court case that ruled the statute in question “was to be construed broadly,” since “‘foreign organizations that engage in terrorist activity are so tainted by their criminal conduct that any contribution to such an organization facilitates that conduct.'” Specifically, the court noted that “advocacy performed in coordination with, or at the direction of, a foreign terrorist organization,” would qualify as material support.