Brenda Arthur received an unexpected visit on March 8 that, one week later, leaves her feeling more than a little uneasy.
At her door that day was an officer with the West Virginia State Police. He wanted to know about her involvement in a Freedom of Information request regarding a local mosque.
Arthur, who will turn 67 this summer, is leader of the West Virginia chapter of ACT For America, whose mission is to educate Americans about the advancement of Islamic principles in Western societies.
As a Jewish American, she was concerned about a major expansion of the Islamic Association of West Virginia in her hometown of South Charleston. This mosque has hosted an openly anti-Semitic preacher in the past, and so she went to city hall in late January to have a look at its construction permits and site plans, something that is within the right of every American citizen under the U.S. Freedom of Information Act and state open-records laws.
She had no idea that this perfectly legal activity, performed every day by citizen watchdogs across the U.S., would prompt a visit from the state police.
Arthur was not available to answer the door when Sgt. R.C. Workman came knocking, but Workman left his business card with a hand-written note on the back:
"Brenda: Please contact me at: 304-573-6190."
Workman's unit is part of the West Virginia Intelligence Exchange, a secretive outfit that works closely with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's "intelligence fusion center" in West Virginia.
All 50 states have at least one DHS fusion center, and the story of Brenda Arthur lends credence to the views of civil libertarians that these centers, whatever their stated purpose, have been weaponized against law-abiding American citizens.
Fusion centers were established a few years after the 9/11 attacks by the President George W. Bush administration and expanded under Barack Obama.
The West Virginia Fusion Center website says its mission is to "[e]mbrace proactive intelligence efforts. Those efforts are key to inhibiting criminal networks, whether those groups are terrorists, drug-related groups, organized crime, or other criminal enterprises."
Fusion centers work with "non-traditional sources," including corporate America, to build threat assessments on people.
But what is it about Brenda Arthur that could garner the attention of this specialized police unit? She seems like an unlikely candidate to be involved in terrorism or organized crime.
Arthur is a senior citizen with a pristine record of law-abiding citizenship. She is a professional insurance broker, a great-aunt to six children, one of whom she helps with financial support for a private education at a Montessori school.
But fusion centers know no boundaries, including the U.S. Constitution, says constitutional attorney and civil liberties advocate John Whitehead.
"The word mosque, it's key words like that. If you don't like mosques, they're gonna be after you, they're watching you, because everything is determined by algorithms," said Whitehead, founder of the Charlottesville, Va.-based Rutherford Institute.
Being an "activist" also draws the attention of the fusion centers, he said.
He has some strict advice for any law-abiding citizen who is approached by law enforcement asking questions about their personal, legal activity.
"If they come to your door, do not talk to them. If they call you on the phone, do not talk to them. We write a letter to DHS or the FBI. We say we represent the person targeted, but we typically never hear back."
"Once you're in their system," Whitehead added, "you cannot get out."
Arthur was typical in that she was caught off guard by the visit.
"So I called him at the number he gave me and asked 'what's this about?'"
Sgt. Workman did not beat around the bush.
"We came by your house and wanted to talk to you."
"Yes sir, what about?" Arthur asked.
"It's about that FOIA request you made about the building plans for the mosque," he told her.
She told him she files lots of FOIA requests with various state and local agencies.
"Yes, but those FOIAs are within the normal course of things," said the stern voice on the other end of the phone line.
Why is it that this particular request, for information on a mosque project, was considered abnormal? And who decides what is normal in a search of public-record documents?
She explained that she is an upstanding citizen activist and member ACT For America.
"I explained we are an organization with 750,000 members, we support the Constitution, American liberty, American values, and we fight terrorism and the concepts of Sharia law, which are antithetical to the U.S. Constitution."
In the course of the 10-minute phone conversation, Arthur did a lot of explaining.
She explained that she was perusing the website of the local mosque when she came across a photo that caught her attention. It was of a man standing in the middle of the mosque speaking to the congregation. That man was Nihad Awad, executive director of Council on American-Islamic Relations or CAIR.
"He's a terrorist supporter, he finances terror, and is part of a terrorist-tied organization," Arthur told the sergeant.
That prompted Sgt. Workman to hint at the real reason for his inquiry.
"Well, we have a good relationship with that mosque and when he came here they notified us he was coming," he told Arthur.
That sparked something in Arthur's memory.
When she and a friend had gone to city hall on Jan. 31 to inspect the documents, the city manager stood over their shoulders the entire time. He made a point of telling the two women, "We have a good relationship with the mosque."
Who's the snitch?
The West Virginia Fusion Center's website encourages Americans to report "suspicious activity" by filing a SAR or Suspicious Activity Report on a fellow resident.
A SAR is defined as "the sharing of information concerning activity, incident, or behavior that the reporting individual considers to be outside of normal parameters," the website states.
Inquiring about a mosque was not normal activity. Arthur had been flagged for suspicious activity, probably by a city official who has a good relationship with the mosque, or someone at the mosque itself.
In West Virginia, the fusion center operates under the supervision of the West Virginia Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety (DMAPS).
I called DMAPS recently and asked what could possibly be suspicious about a 66-year-old insurance broker with no criminal record going to city hall and inspecting public-record documents.
Lawrence Messina, director of communications for West Virginia DMAPS, said he would ask that question of his superiors and get back with me.
He sent the following email at 2:09 p.m. on March 13:
"I have consulted with my colleagues here at the Office of the Secretary as well as with the W.Va. Intelligence Fusion Center and the W.Va. State Police [the latter is also part of this department]. We decline to comment on this matter."
Arthur has every reason to be concerned that an anti-Semite like Awad would be invited to speak in her community. He is a supporter of Hamas, which is on the U.S. State Department's list of designated foreign terrorist organizations, and he rejects the right of Israel to exist. (See Discover the Networks for documentation of Awad's long history of radical statements, activities and affiliations.)
Philip Haney, a retired Homeland Security officer, said fusion centers like the one that targeted Arthur operate with impunity and have flipped the focus of their analytics – from potential terrorists to American citizens who are concerned about Islamic terrorists.
"Everything is upside down and backwards; the people who are actually concerned, curious, or take the initiative to protect their communities from the Islamic threat, they are the ones who are now considered the threat, and the ones who were originally supposed to be the threat are now the victims," Haney said. "Brenda had her constitutional rights violated, and the worst part about it is her accuser remains faceless – nobody knows where this is coming from."
This twisting around of those targeted by the Homeland Security apparatus has not happened by accident, said Patrick Wood, an expert on the technocracy movement who authored the book "Technocracy Rising: The Trojan Horse of Global Transformation."
"The concept of placing a fusion center in a local community is to be a listening post that would be in touch with what was going on in the community, giving a view that was not heretofore accessible to the federal authorities," Wood told me.
The idea behind "fusion" is to merge two or more disparate databases and let them "talk to each other," Wood said.
"You start making inferences, and so maybe I make up a special field called troublemaker. They take innuendo, whatever is necessary, and it literally becomes a part of your record for life. You're a troublemaker for the rest of your life now."
It becomes a sinister data-gathering process based on snitches and surveillance. But it's a process the technocrats who sit behind computers have fallen in love with. Many of these tactics were stolen from former Soviet-bloc agencies that merged law enforcement with spy agencies. But with the advancement in technology, these tactics become less obvious to the average citizen. They fly under the radar, not in your face.
Until you get a knock on the door, like Arthur did.
"And when you multiply that by 50 states, who all have their own databases, who all have their own fusion centers, you now have a massive database and people who are employed to make inferences from this massive data collection, and once you're tagged you're tagged," Wood said.
Even more ominous is when an illegitimate third party gains access to the government's data-rich dossiers on law-abiding U.S. citizens.
"What happened during Janet Napolitano's reign as secretary of Homeland Security was the Muslim Brotherhood got tremendous input into DHS," Wood said. "So it seemed to me even then that, being these fusion centers were an intelligence network into all 50 states that they didn’t' have before, that they were probably able to input their own requirements, that being a Muslim requirement, that would watch any kind of intelligence relevant to Islam, critical of Islam."
In fact, it is widely known that a Muslim Brotherhood operative, Mohamed Elibiary, penetrated a fusion center in Texas a few years ago and used its data to expose patriotic citizens.
Elibiary served on Obama's Homeland Security Advisory Board and was later appointed to the White House working group on Countering Violent Extremism.
The CVE program, with test pilots in Minneapolis, Boston and Los Angeles, was designed as a “new approach” to fighting terrorism, focusing not on Islam as the major catalyst but broadening the parameters to “extremism in all its forms.” It turned the government's focus away from the Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Islamic groups and onto “right wing” extremists.
Through his positions on the Homeland Security panel and the CVE steering committee, Elibiary had access to intelligence information through the DHS fusion center in Texas.
He was suspected of leaking this information in 2011 to a news outlet in an effort to damage the presidential campaign of former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, whom he tried to paint as an “Islamophobe.”
"I would say all 50-plus fusion centers nationwide are infiltrated by the Brotherhood," Wood said. "They were involved with the policy at the beginning, from the top down, so they have their imprint on it and even if they may not have acted on it, they could rise up when the need arises. They told her they have a good relationship, how did they get that relationship? It's because of their strategic placements within the Department of Homeland Security."
Whitehead said something as innocent as downloading a certain stream of movies from Amazon could get the attention of your local fusion center. Amazon and Google are tied into the fusion networks.
"We hear about the FBI leaving little notes on people's doors. It's an investigative tactic, often used by terrorism liaison officers," Whitehead said. "These TLOs can be police, firefighters, corporate employees trained to report back to the fusion center or other government agency. They can tap into your travel, shopping habits; it's interconnected tactics to watch people. It connects into these threat assessments they're doing on certain people. They go from green to red in determining whether you could be a terrorist. They're watching everything you're doing online."
That explains why Brenda Arthur's own city and state, with the help of a federal fusion center and the Muslim community, are building a dossier on her.
She has been one of ACT For America's most successful chapter heads, building contacts at the State Capitol and educating lawmakers on the dark side of refugee resettlement.
They must discredit her activism.
"There is so much influence from the Muslim community and they are using it to build a case against her," Haney said. "A case of anti-Muslim bias, discrimination, racism, bigotry, they throw those terms around like a dodge ball. If they don't hit you with one they'll hit you with another, and they are doing this preemptively to insulate themselves and have something to fall back on if they ever have a problem with her."
Arthur said she was stunned when she learned about the fusion centers.
"I had an ominous sense of violation as I was talking to him but I did not know about the fusion centers and their mission," she said. "So it's even bigger than I first thought."