Tuesday night, the Anchorage Assembly delved into a packed agenda encompassing marijuana business license approvals, a measure aimed at reinstating the ability for rideshare organizations like Uber to operate in the municipality, celebrating local sports team victories, and more.
But much of the focus was on Eagle River Assembly member Amy Demboski after her decision, last week, to post an article to her radio talk show Facebook page, accusing a Big Lake resident of plotting to organize an Islamic compound and stockpile weapons in anticipation of FBI raids.
Gregory Jones, 50, lives in the Mat-Su Valley with his wife, Maleika. He gained some name recognition earlier this year when he ran for office challenging incumbent Rep. Mark Neuman (R-Big Lake) in District 8 and was a national delegate for the Alaska Democratic Party. Jones is also a believer in Islam and is part of a group called the Muslims of the Americas (TMOA). The group is widely known for work building interfaith coalitions with members of other religions, charity work and (more recently) providing information about how Muslims can protect themselves against Islamophobia, but another organization would like readers to gloss over that point.
The Clarion Project, dubbed an anti-Muslim group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, has developed an imaginative conspiracy theory linking TMOA to terrorist plots carried out by groups like Jamaat ul-Fuqra and Jaish-e-Mohammed — Pakistan-based jihadist groups that have been dormant for decades.
The string theory offered demands a lot of loose assumptions that depend on a timeline where these groups’ members have all transplanted to U.S. states and rebranded under the cozier TMOA name, despite the newer group not being recognized by the U.S. government as a terrorist organization, nor there being any documented criminal activity or linked persons of interest.
Nevertheless, Fox Business’s Varney & Co. afforded Clarion’s in-office national security analyst, Ryan Mauro, an appearance on the show, where he offered the bold claim that nine states were hosting “Islamic compounds” and “stockpiling weapons” as a result of President-elect Trump’s election.
This prompted Assembly member Demboski to post a link to that interview to her KVNT radio show’s Facebook page.
“How is it a candidate pops up in the last Alaskans elections, who is a member of this group, and we are the only ones who even mentioned it (or asked him about it) here in Alaska?” Demboski editorialized.
Although the blog post linked did not mention Jones by name, it was only a click away from another Clarion article that did.
“The Clarion Project has learned that a delegate for Bernie Sanders at the Democratic National Convention is a member of Muslims of the Americas, which is a rebranding of Jamaat ul-Fuqra, a cultish Islamist group that is led by an extremist cleric in Pakistan and has a history of terrorism and criminal activity,” Mauro wrote for Clarion. “The individual is also running for the Alaska State House.”
Demboski’s attached comments suggest she had a good idea who was being targeted.
“Where is this at and why haven’t we taken it out?” one commenter opined on her personal Facebook page. “Where is the camp located in Alaska?” said another.
Jones told me he felt worried about his safety and the safety of his family.
When the story broke, several groups announced their intention to attend Tuesday night’s Assembly meeting in support of and in solidarity with Jones, who also conveyed his intention to show up and speak. He said he wanted an apology from Demboski and to be held to account by her colleagues — which there is little redress for, outside of a recall petition initiated by voters.
Here is the video when the Joneses rose to speak, accompanied underneath by a transcript:
Assembly Chair Elvi Gray-Jackson postponed testimony on the public transit ordinance and extended the meeting an extra 15 minutes to accommodate the chambers filled with people who showed up to speak. (By municipal charter, meeting must conclude by 11 p.m. unless extended by a super majority of Assembly members. Demboski voted no.)
GREG JONES: We would just like to say that we’re here, along with many people who are supporting us in response to the negative propaganda that Amy Demboski has been spewing on her radio show and Facebook, which results in Islamophobia and hatred towards Muslim people and perhaps other minorities. And my wife would like to say something.
MALEIKA JONES: I just have a few words to say. I want to thank all of you for being here tonight. I’m very nervous and please bear with me. After reading the posts on the Facebook page that are now erased, I live in fear. Why do I live in fear? Because someone puts a statement claiming that we are part of an organization and the people that are also afraid, they now go and they take pictures of a home which they thought was my home and then they go on to say, “Is there a terrorist camp? Let’s go find this terrorist camp. Let’s go do away with it. Let’s go for a ride.” And now my children are nervous. And now my family is nervous. And now it’s a possibility that I have to relocate. And that’s not why I came to Alaska. And I need to know why this was done and I need assurance that you all are going to help me stay safe in Anchorage, Alaska. Thank you. And I have copies of all the statements that people made. I have copies of all the statements and screenshots that people made saying that they were going to come to my house. This is not right. It’s not.
GREG JONES: Okay, so we would like an apology from Ms. Demboski and we think it’s appropriate that the Assembly make some type of statement censuring her and disclaiming this type of rhetoric.
CHAIR ELVI GREY-JACKSON: Well, first, I’d like to state that we have a legal opinion and the Assembly — the chair or any Assembly member — does not have the power to censure. We don’t have that. But Ms. Demboski is in the queue. Ms. Demboski?
ASSEMBLY MEMBER DEMBOSKI: Thank you. Mr. Jones, I just want to thank you and your wife, Maleika, for both coming and speaking tonight and I want to say I appreciate your comments. And, unfortunately, there were statements made that I called you a terrorist or said that you lived on a compound. That simply didn’t happen.
MALEIKA JONES: I’m talking about the fear that I now live in because you said there was a possibility that we associated with an organization. I even fear now because someone posted a picture that thought it was my home. That’s what I’m talking about. Not your statement that you said we were terrorists.
DEMBOSKI: Madam chair, point of order. Madam chair, I want to be very clear. I shared a segment that was on Fox News. That’s true. I never — the only comments that I’ve ever made about Mr. Jones was he was a nice guy. I disagreed with him on policy but he was a nice guy. That’s what I’ve said. Using this forum for what is turning into a circus on statements that are false is inappropriate. I truly appreciate the Joneses coming and talking and expressing their opinion, but I really wish they would go back and listen to the audio clip. It’s there. I appreciated the conversation we had. He’s a nice guy. We had a great conversation for over an hour on the radio. And I appreciated that comment. So, where this is being drummed up, it simply did not happen.
GREG JONES: Okay, I would like to thank my people who have come in support of us in this issue.
GREY-JACKSON: Thank you very much. I’d like — before you go — please, thank you. As the chair of the Anchorage Assembly, I’d like to say I — I’m not apologizing for Amy Demboski, because that’s something that if she feels she needs to do, she needs to do it on her own — but, I apologize, as the chair of this Assembly, for your inconvenience and for the fear that you’re now living in. And it brings tears to my eyes. It really does. I’m so sorry. Thank you for being here.
Demboski declined to apologize, instead explaining the incident away by lamenting that “there were statements made that I called you a terrorist or said that you lived on a compound. That simply didn’t happen.”
The defense echoed comments made on her radio show after I published the initial story.
“I’ve never called this guy a terrorist. Never,” she told her listeners. “I’ve never said he lives on a compound. Did I say that? Did you hear me say that? I mean, it’s the most ridiculous thing.”
And with that, she allowed herself an opt out when Jones asked for an apology. She asserted that I accused her of calling Jones a terrorist. Or that anybody accused her of calling Jones a terrorist — evidence of which, if it exists, I am not privy to. It is certainly not in anything I have hammered out on my keyboard.
“This particular group, which, if I’m not mistaken, when they were named they were actually on the terrorism watchlist,” she continued (Jamaat ul-Fuqra, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and TMOA have never been on the FBI Watchlist). “This group, who has a history with law enforcement on a federal level has changed their name and now they’re being highlighted on Fox News articles talking about potential compounds, and they have Alaska in bright yellow on the map. I was curious, is this actually accurate? Can we validate that a compound actually exists or can we dispell it? That’s what I’ve been curious about.”
If all that stands between baseless claims and legitimacy is “bright yellow” ink marks on an infographic, I may regret to mention that I have a lot of yellow highlighters and a phone that doubles as a picture machine.
It seems fairly clear, by all accounts, that the allegations linking the Jones family to jihadist groups, compounds, and weapons trafficking have been clearly debunked. No one needs to keep their hand raised for the public’s safety. Nothing substantiated indicates anything other than them being just a family trying to live in Alaska while doing nothing wrong.
The conspiracy theories lodged against TMOA and the Jones family — and, frankly, me — rely on so many degrees of separation, I fear Kevin Bacon may be the biggest threat to national security.
Ms. Demboski claims she only wished to start a conversation. If I may ask, just what conversation are you wishing to start?
And, given that the facts say your lofty presumptions, broadcast to your followers haphazardly, are baseless and you’ve put a family in fear of their safety, why not just say “My bad,” apologize, and move on? He wasn’t even a candidate when you decided to hit publish. What is the end game here?