Who is Steven Emerson?
Steven Emerson is the founder and executive director of the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT), a hate group that curates and proliferates anti-Muslim propaganda and prejudiced content.
Emerson claims to investigate the activities and finances of radical terrorist groups, but in reality has rendered all of Islam culpable for violence and terrorism. Emerson’s false assertions include the idea of Muslim civil rights organizations in the United States “infiltrating” Congress and the media.
A 2011 report published by the Center for American Progress identified Steven Emerson as one of the top five “misinformation experts” in the Islamophobia network that has generated “false facts and materials used by political leaders, grassroots groups, and the media.” The Bridge Initiative at Georgetown University asserted that Emerson has “a history of promoting falsified information and conspiracy theories about Islam and Muslims.”
In 2021, it was revealed Steven Emerson and the Investigative Project on Terrorism led a spying effort involving multiple individuals as “moles” in Muslim community activities. The Washington Post published an exclusive report on the spying efforts in 2022.
From the 1990s to more recent times, Emerson has pursued campaigns that cast Islam and Muslims in a negative light.
Since the 1990s, Emerson has advanced false claims that Islam is inherently anti-Semitic. In a 1995 article for Jewish Monthly, Emerson stated, “The extent of animosity towards Jews and Christianity within contemporary Islam is regrettably something we either fail to fully grasp or consciously choose to disregard. Confronting it would force us to acknowledge that a global religion boasting over 1.4 billion followers somehow condones genocide—planned genocide—as an element of its religious doctrine.”
In 1994, Emerson produced a PBS documentary titled Terrorists Among Us: Jihad in America that purported that “American and Muslim groups, were exploiting constitutionally protected civil liberties to train and organize and to plot acts of terror.” Investigative reporter Robert Friedman asserted in The Nation that Emerson’s film created “mass hysteria against American Arabs.”
In the aftermath of the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing (the deadliest domestic terrorist attack in American history), Emerson asserted on two CBS News segments within six hours of the bombing that: “Oklahoma City, I can tell you, is probably considered one of the largest centers of Islamic radical activity outside the Middle East…” and “[The bombing] was done with the intent to inflict as many casualties as possible. That is a Middle Eastern trait.” White supremacists Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols were later identified as perpetrators of the attack.
In the survey data capturing the hostile anti-Muslim sentiment fueled by television coverage of the Oklahoma City attack, Muslim participants pointed to Emerson as the self-proclaimed “terrorism expert” responsible for the most reckless declarations and accusations of Muslim involvement.
Emerson has repeatedly alleged false and misleading associations between American Muslim organizations and terrorist activities. Emerson has repeatedly labeled American Muslim organizations as a ‘front’ for the Muslim Brotherhood.
In a 2007 article for the National Review, Emerson alleged that George W. Bush “coddles American apologists for radical Islam.” This comment came after Bush participated in a ceremony to rededicate the Islamic Center of Washington D.C. Furthermore, Emerson took aim at former President Barack Obama by stating in a 2009 MSNBC interview that Obama’s outreach to Muslims would “cater to [extremists] in terms of reversing some of the anti-terrorism policies.”
In December 2021, CAIR discovered evidence indicating that the organization had been infiltrated by someone working for the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT). An investigation, conducted by an independent expert, found that Romin Iqbal, former Executive Director of CAIR-Ohio, had been secretly recording the local office’s meetings with the national organization and sharing those and emails with Emerson’s IPT.
The evidence CAIR reviewed to identify the individuals included a statement from an IPT whistleblower, a statement from a Virginia Muslim who once worked as a paid spy for IPT, a tax form showing that Emerson’s for-profit corporation paid that individual over $30,000 for one of his years of spying, an excerpt from a dossier that the hate group compiled on former Rep. Keith Ellison, and an excerpt of an IPT transcript of a private meeting that national Muslim leaders held to discuss the Park51 controversy in 2010.
Emerson’s IPT had spent years trying to infiltrate and spy upon prominent mosques and Muslim American organizations using ‘moles’ among their staff, volunteers, or partners.
Other Muslim organizations and leaders surveilled or spied on by IPT include former Congressman Keith Ellison, the Park51 community center, the Muslim Alliance of North America, the Islamic Society of North America, Muslim American Society, the Muslim Legal Fund of America, Muslim Advocates, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Islamic Networks Group, and Zaytuna College, among others.
The evidence also indicated that Emerson’s hate group was communicating with and providing assistance to Israeli intelligence with the office of then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Leaked emails also show Emerson’s abusive treatment towards his staff.
Sample emails of Emerson’s spying efforts can be seen here.
New York Attorney General Letitia James sent a cease-and-desist letter to Steven Emerson and the Investigative Project on Terrorism (IPT) for “any ongoing or contemplated unlawful espionage operations against Muslims and Muslim organizations within the State of New York.” In addition, Attorney General James called on the Biden administration and the Department of Justice “to launch an investigation into IPT for violations of federal criminal and civil rights law.”
Emerson’s influence extends to other individuals engaged in anti-Muslim activities.
In 2007, he was a featured speaker at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s “Islamofascism Awareness Week” – a campaign that propagated a conspiracy alleging Muslim alignment with America’s adversaries. This campaign fostered an atmosphere of “intolerance, fear, and bigotry in a climate of prejudice towards Muslims that is already at an unprecedented level.”
Emerson is listed as an executive producer to Steve Bannon’s anti-Muslim screenplay “Destroying the Great Satan: The Rise of Islamic Facism [sic] in America,” which alleges a conspiracy that ‘the media, the Jewish community and government agencies’ were appeasing Muslims to establish an Islamic republic in the United States.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Congressman Christopher Smith stated that Emerson’s Terrorists Among Us: Jihad in America “played a real role” in the passage of the PATRIOT Act of 2001 after it was distributed to Congressmembers shortly after the 9/11 attacks.
Steven Emerson previously served on Middle East Media Research Institute’s board of directors. MEMRI is a sensationalist and Islamophobic media monitor that has earned a reputation for distributing selective, distorted, and inaccurate translations of Middle Eastern media.