One day in March 2004, Soliman Hamd Al-Buthe, a former member of Saudi Arabia's national basketball team and a government official in the city of Riyadh, picked up his phone for an urgent call with two American lawyers in Washington, D.C. Most of the call concerned a growing confrontation between the U.S. government and the Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in Ashland, Ore., the U.S. branch of a global Saudi Arabian charity organization under investigation for possible links to terrorism. Al-Buthe had been an advisor to Al-Haramain from 1995 to 2002 and was a member of the Oregon foundation's board of directors. Just weeks prior to the call, the foundation -- a respected fixture in the Ashland community run for years by an Iranian-American Muslim named Pete Seda -- had been raided by U.S. law enforcement agents.
Because of their involvement with Al-Haramain, Al-Buthe and Seda were also entangled in a lawsuit filed against dozens of prominent Saudis by families of victims of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. During the call, Al-Buthe and his attorneys talked about the funds needed for his legal defense. "We had a problem of transferring money," he says, "so we were thinking of new ways" of getting funds to Washington.
The phone call proved fateful. Unknown to its three participants, the conversation, and at least one other between them in April 2004, was monitored by officials from the National Security Agency at the behest of senior Bush administration officials. The surveillance that day -- apparently conducted without a warrant and later exposed when the government accidentally released a highly classified document to Al-Haramain's attorneys -- would become a key piece in the sprawling debate over extrajudicial spying inside the United States after 9/11. The surveillance would also have profound consequences for Al-Buthe -- who is considered a terrorist supporter by the Bush administration -- and others connected with the Al-Haramain Foundation in Oregon.
Ever since a New York Times report uncovered warrantless domestic spying by the Bush administration, the issue of NSA surveillance and the 1978 law governing it has been intensely scrutinized and debated. Until now, however, little attention has been paid to dubious activities directly connected with the domestic spying. The Bush administration has used expanded national security powers to undermine the legal rights of people in the United States who are identified as al-Qaida supporters, but who are not charged with terrorist-related crimes. The U.S. Treasury Department and other agencies investigating domestic organizations and U.S. persons rely on the NSA to spy and collect evidence for them -- a fundamental shift from the past, when the NSA's vast eavesdropping powers were used only for foreign intelligence gathering. And in the name of protecting national security, the Bush administration has regularly withheld what it claims is key evidence against those accused -- insisting, essentially, that the public accept without question its private conclusions about the suspects' guilt.
The Al-Haramain story, based on a two-month Salon investigation that included a series of interviews in Riyadh, Washington, D.C., and Oregon, sheds light on the consequences of these Bush policies. Ultimately it is a story of real people in real communities caught up in the global maelstrom unleashed by Islamic militancy, the horror of the 9/11 attacks and America's powerful -- and at times crude and undemocratic -- counterattack against an elusive enemy.
Six months after the NSA surveillance of Al-Buthe's call, based in part on information gleaned from it, the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control branded Al-Buthe and another Saudi director of the Oregon foundation as "specially designated global terrorists." The foundation, its assets now frozen, was shut down, and Al-Buthe, Pete Seda and others were thrown into deep legal and financial jeopardy. Soon, some people in the Ashland community started looking at each other with worry and distrust -- were terrorist operatives living in their midst?
Bush officials maintain they know of direct links between the Oregon branch of Al-Haramain and Osama bin Laden's terrorist organization, but have handled the case in deep secrecy. In February of this year, in response to a lawsuit filed in 2007 by Al-Haramain's attorneys challenging the terrorist designation, the Treasury Department finally announced charges, alleging that the foundation had provided "financial, material, and other services and support to Al Qaeda." If the government had it right, a respected Islamic center that attracted an eclectic mix of hippies, rednecks, and African and Middle Eastern immigrants to the bucolic community of Ashland had been deeply connected to a web of terrorist groups reaching from Pakistan to North America.
The Oregon foundation strongly denies the charges. Lynne Bernabei, Al-Haramain's lead attorney in Washington, contends that the terrorist designation was based on the government's "misinterpretation" of what it heard in the warrantless surveillance, and on information compiled from dubious public sources or selectively culled in the government's favor. "All they gave us was junk and smoke and mirrors," Bernabei says of the documentation the Treasury Department used to buttress its case. The Bush administration, meanwhile, has refused to make any of the classified evidence it claims to have about Al-Haramain, or even summaries of it, available to the accused and their attorneys. And until Bernabei and her colleagues filed the lawsuit in 2007, she says, the Treasury Department never informed the organization about any specific reasons for its terrorist designation, or the provisions of U.S. law or presidential executive orders it may have violated.
The government's secretive, "trust us" approach to the case was made explicit as far back as the February 2004 raid that precipitated the shutdown of the Al-Haramain Foundation. David Berger, a close friend of Pete Seda's who served as the foundation's lawyer for many years, was present for the raid, which was led by Special Agent David Carroll from the FBI's Medford field office. According to Berger, as they were leaving the compound that day he remarked to Carroll that he would be surprised if the government found anything incriminating in the material it had seized. "If you only knew what I knew," Carroll shot back.
Berger was perplexed -- not least because Seda and his attorneys had voluntarily approached the FBI long before, in the days after 9/11, offering to help the FBI with any information it wanted. Moreover, the day before the raid, Berger, as Seda's attorney, had met with the FBI and turned over what he says were "eight feet of file boxes" to comply with an FBI subpoena. One purpose of the next day's raid, he believes now, was to find out if the foundation had withheld any documents. (Calls to Carroll at the FBI's Medford field office were not returned; an FBI spokesperson in Portland, citing the "ongoing investigation" of Al-Haramain, declined to comment.)
Critics say the entire process for identifying "specially designated global terrorists" -- a program originally conceived in the 1970s to penalize foreign governments targeted by the United States -- has been abused by the Bush administration. "When you have a tool of nation-to-nation diplomacy and turn that into the power to blacklist individuals and groups, it raises very serious questions about First Amendment and due process rights," says David Cole, a professor of constitutional law at Georgetown University, who has been working with Bernabei and other lawyers on the Al-Haramain Foundation's case. To this day, Cole says, there has not been a single hearing wherein the Oregon foundation could have been presented with the evidence that led to the 2004 raid, the freezing of its assets, and its designation as a supporter of terrorism. For four years, the Treasury Department, by freezing the charity's assets, blocked it from using its own funds to pay for its legal defense.
"You can be designated without an evidentiary finding that you ever actively engaged in or supported terrorism," says Cole. "This is a guilt-by-association process."
Despite the U.S. government's alarming statements about Al-Haramain, neither Al-Buthe nor Seda have ever been charged with crimes of terrorism. Instead, in February 2005, almost a year after the Oregon raid and the warrantless surveillance, the U.S. government charged Al-Buthe and Seda with tax fraud in connection with a $180,000 donation they made in 1999 to an Islamic charity in Chechnya. U.S. officials further claimed the charity was a front for radical Islamists. Al-Haramain's lawyers deny these charges, too, and have produced affidavits from the governments of Saudi Arabia and Russia explaining that the organization that received the donations was a legitimate charity.
In Ashland, many people were baffled that an Islamic center they believed was a force for good in their community could have been a front for terrorism. "I don't think Pete would ever do anything promoting violence; he was a peace-loving man," says David Zaslow, an Ashland rabbi who has known Seda for more than 17 years and often shared the stage with him at ecumenical events involving Muslims, Christians and Jews. But the government raid still nags at him. "Maybe there was a hidden agenda we didn't know about," Zaslow told me.
Such twinges of doubt are magnified by the government's secrecy about the case. Barring an opportunity to examine all the alleged evidence, it ultimately remains impossible to determine whether the accused have any real ties to terrorism.
But from the publicly known information to date, claims of a link between Al-Haramain in Oregon and al-Qaida seem farfetched. For example, Bush officials in part relied on questionable information from a self-styled counterterrorism expert named Daveed Gartenstein-Ross to build its case against the charity. A former Ashland resident with a Jewish background who had converted to Islam, Gartenstein-Ross worked at Al-Haramain in Oregon from 1999 to 2000 and wrote a book based on his experience, "My Year Inside Radical Islam." He focused primarily on inflammatory language in the Korans distributed by the foundation and what he claimed was Seda’s generic support for Islamic jihad. But he has never produced any evidence of terrorist connections at Al-Haramain. Nevertheless, Gartenstein-Ross, who is now director of research at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a neoconservative think tank in Washington, is set to testify as a government witness at Seda's trial, scheduled to begin in October. (Citing the upcoming trial, Gartenstein-Ross declined to speak to Salon on the record.)
Some of the unclassified material submitted by the Treasury Department to Al-Haramain's attorneys has even less credibility. In a recent filing, Treasury cited government arguments from Seda's 2007 detention hearing to make the case that he might be linked to terrorism -- but failed to mention that two federal judges had rejected those arguments and ordered Seda released. Treasury's material also cited the 2004 federal indictment of Sami Al-Hussayen, a Saudi computer programmer charged with aiding terrorists, but left out the fact that Al-Hussayen had been acquitted of the charges by a jury in Boise, Idaho. Other media articles cited by Treasury discuss allegations against Al-Haramain affiliates in Kenya, Bosnia and elsewhere, but make no connection between those affiliates and the Al-Haramain Foundation in Oregon.
"Nothing in the record shows they're terrorists," says Bernabei.
Both Al-Buthe and Seda have paid a price since being designated as terrorist supporters. Seda, who became a U.S. citizen after coming to Oregon as a child, spent three years living in self-imposed exile in the Middle East during the investigation of Al-Haramain. As he awaits his trial, he is living in Portland, and he must wear a GPS ankle bracelet when he travels. (He has been advised by his attorneys not to talk to the media.) His once-thriving Islamic center sits empty and abandoned, a tattered For Sale sign posted near the field where Seda's pet camel used to graze.
Al-Buthe, a Saudi national who traveled frequently to the United States in the late 1990s, today works as the general manager of the Riyadh Municipality Environmental Health Department. His lives comfortably, but his bank accounts are frozen, his reputation is tainted, and he is barred from traveling overseas. He has appealed his terrorist designation to the United Nations and remains puzzled and angry over the U.S. government's actions. By shutting down charities that "work for the benefit of poor people in need," he told me recently in Riyadh, the U.S. government "is helping to increase terrorism, not to decrease it."
Soliman Al-Buthe is a tall, engaging man with a long beard who wears traditional kaffiyehs and tears around Riyadh in a GM Tahoe SUV. Despite his current predicament, he seems to take genuine delight in Americans and their culture. The son of a Saudi diplomat, he apparently acquired his fondness for America while a member of the kingdom's basketball team in the 1980s. (He still plays, and pretty well, from what I observed one night at a Riyadh sports club.) He is a generous host. When I arrived in Riyadh one night in mid-March after a five-hour flight from London, Al-Buthe, accompanied by his Portland attorney, Tom Nelson, met me at the airport. He whisked us away in his SUV, all the while chattering on his cellphone or shouting jokes over his shoulder to us, en route to his family compound in central Riyadh, where he likes to entertain visitors in a spacious open-air tent.
There, over several nights, we drank endless cups of sweet mint tea, munched on fruit and cookies, and ate chicken, lamb and other local delicacies. We talked about his case, U.S. policy and the Middle East long into the night. Most of the time his television was blaring loudly, tuned to either NBA basketball -- usually the Lakers -- or to Chris Mathews' "Hardball" on MSNBC. On some nights, his two brothers came; on others, friends dropped by. (The steady stream of visitors was all male -- during my five days in Saudi Arabia, I didn't meet a single woman.) One evening Al-Buthe posed for a picture inside the tent, smiling broadly as he held two of his favorite American possessions: a recent book on the CIA by New York Times reporter Tim Weiner, and a bumper sticker reading "Impeach Bush."
It was hard to imagine Al-Buthe as a terrorist. In conversation, he frequently denounces al-Qaida and expresses sorrow over the 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington. His accusers might see that as duplicitous, but if he was known to work for al-Qaida it is unlikely that he'd also be working as a civic leader for the Saudi government, which is a top target of the terrorist organization. (As a city environmental official, Al-Buthe oversees regulatory enforcement over all restaurants and food-processing plants in Riyadh, a city of 3 million.) One of his close friends, an American-educated Saudi entrepreneur named Tawfig N. Almouteb, runs the Digi Group, a computer-services company that works with the U.S. Embassy in Saudi Arabia and large U.S. defense contractors such as Booz Allen Hamilton. ("Soliman is a very good man," Almouteb assured me one day while escorting me, at Al-Buthe's request, through Riyadh's old city.) If Al-Buthe is indeed a terrorist supporter, why has the U.S. government apparently shown zero interest in his associations with the U.S.-connected Saudi elite? It's also curious that the American Embassy in Riyadh invited Al-Buthe, despite his apparently being a threat to national security, to an embassy function last fall. (His invitation was rescinded after it was reported in the Portland Oregonian.)
One thing is clear about Al-Buthe: He was part of one of the largest overseas missionary movements in modern times. Since the 1980s, Saudi Arabia has invested billions of dollars around the world to popularize Wahhabism, the strict form of Sunni Islam practiced in Saudi Arabia and endorsed by its monarchy. Much of this money -- estimated at over $75 billion in total -- has gone to charities such as Al-Haramain, which built hundreds of mosques, schools, health clinics and orphanages in war-torn places like Somalia and Bosnia, as well as in developed countries such as the United States and Britain.
Until the 1990s, the U.S. government quietly supported the Saudi government-backed missionary efforts. The kingdom was, of course, a key ally and supplier of oil in a region crucial to U.S. national security. For decades, the spread of Wahhabism was viewed by U.S. officials as a way to counter the spread of communism in the Middle East and, after 1979, the influence of radical Shiite Iran. In 1995, Al-Haramain officials approached Al-Buthe, who was well-acquainted with the West, about starting an English public relations arm that would help the charity make contacts in America. Al-Buthe readily agreed and, working as a volunteer, built Al-Haramain's first English-language Web site and began sending Korans and other material to interested Muslims in the United States and elsewhere.
By the late 1990s, a visiting American told Al-Buthe a compelling story about Pete Seda and the Islamic center in Oregon. After growing up in Iran, Seda had moved in the 1970s to Ashland, a beautiful town at the foot of the Cascade and Siskiyou Mountains where hippies and New Agers had long gravitated. After graduating from college in Ashland, Seda, an arborist, built a successful tree-care business. During the 1980s, he converted to Sunni Islam and eventually founded an Islamic center, called the Quran Foundation, where local Muslims could worship and interested outsiders could learn about the religion. By the 1990s, his foundation was sending hundreds of Korans a year to prisoners around the United States. When Al-Buthe heard about this, he says, "I thought it was a big opportunity for Al-Haramain to establish something in the U.S." In 1998, he traveled to Ashland and spent $187,000 in Al-Haramain funds to help Seda purchase a large plot of land and a two-story house in Ashland.
For the next few years, with the influx of funds from Saudi Arabia, the renamed Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation became a flourishing center that drew dozens of visitors from the surrounding region. Seda frequently participated in interfaith events promoting cultural awareness and religious tolerance in southern Oregon. He and his fellow Muslims had a float every year in Ashland's Fourth of July parade and staffed a booth at nearby Medford's annual Multicultural Fair. He spoke frequently at local synagogues and churches, stressing tolerance and his abhorrence of terrorism. "Every word I ever heard Pete say was about cooperation and coexistence," says Jim Bauermeister, the president of the Medford-based Multicultural Association of Southern Oregon, which sponsors the fair.
Like most Americans, Seda was deeply affected by the events of Sept. 11, 2001, according to those close to him. Four days after the attacks, Seda offered to meet with the FBI to discuss any questions it may have had about Al-Haramain and its local operations. At Seda's request his attorney, David Berger, sat in on the conversation. Two FBI agents from Medford, including David Carroll, the agent who led the raid in 2004, showed up. "Pete did most of the talking," Berger told me in early April when I met him in Ashland. "He sincerely wanted to help however he could." But his offer was never taken seriously by the government.
Instead, he soon realized he was under surveillance. One day in 2002 Seda brought Berger to his compound and showed him a video camera that had apparently been planted near the front gate by federal agents. "They could see everyone coming and going," says Berger. In 2003, Seda began complaining that his mail was being intercepted, according to Berger and others. And as word spread in southern Oregon about the presence of a potentially dangerous Islamic group, some people in the largely white working-class area began to harass Seda and other Muslims (as well as Latinos and other people they thought were Muslims).
Seda continued to seek ways to promote peace. In 2003, he asked David Zaslow, the rabbi, for help in contacting the Israeli consulate in San Francisco so he could carry out a project to bring humanitarian aid to Palestinians living in the West Bank. Although the Israeli government eventually refused to approve the project, the two men communicated with the Israelis at length. "We sat here with the counsel general of Israel," Zaslow said, pointing to a couch in his Ashland office. "A Muslim extremist would never do that."
Feeling depressed that his attempts at interfaith dialogue had failed, Seda temporarily left the country.
By the mid-1990s, U.S. officials began to believe that the Wahhabi organizations they once saw as a bulwark against the Soviet threat and Iranian radicalism were secretly funding anti-American terrorist groups. From the beginning, Al-Haramain, as Saudi Arabia's largest charity, was a prime suspect. In 1998, after al-Qaida operatives bombed the U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania, the CIA and FBI uncovered evidence leading them to believe that Al-Haramain officials and employees in East Africa had been involved in the planning of the attacks, and the agencies shared that intelligence with the Saudi government. U.S. focus on the charities greatly intensified after the 9/11 attacks, which were carried out by a gang of 19 al-Qaida operatives, 17 of whom were Saudi citizens.
The investigations into terrorist financing were managed by an interagency committee within the National Security Council that was chaired by the Treasury Department and included the CIA, the NSA, the FBI and three other law enforcement agencies. In 2003, the committee issued an important document that was, strangely, called a "nonpaper." It still remains classified. Based almost exclusively on U.S. intelligence on Bosnia and Somalia, the "nonpaper" laid out Al-Haramain's ties to terrorism and suggested that many charity field offices, as well as the headquarters in Saudi Arabia, "appeared to be providing important support to Al Qaeda," according to a government summary of the report. It was presented to the Saudis in 2003 by Cofer Black, a top U.S. counterterrorism official. (Black, who famously declared in congressional testimony that "after 9/11 the gloves come off," is now vice chairman of the notorious security and intelligence contractor Blackwater.)
In December 2003, the U.S. and Saudi governments jointly designated a Bosnian organization tied to Al-Haramain as a supporter of terrorism. Then, in January 2004, a month before the raid on the Ashland center, Washington and Riyadh took the unprecedented step of holding a joint press conference to announce that Al-Haramain branches in Indonesia, Kenya, Tanzania and Pakistan had been designated as terrorist financiers. The Saudi headquarters of Al-Haramain stayed off the list, but it was quietly closed by the Saudis in 2004.
Throughout these investigations, Al-Haramain officials argued that the charity had no control over how funds or supplies might be distributed in countries like Bosnia or Pakistan and that, with the exception of the well-funded Oregon branch, overseas affiliates operated independently from Riyadh. When the reports surfaced about the possible involvement of Al-Haramain's East African affiliates in the 1998 embassy bombings, "it was for us a shock," Al-Buthe said. "We had no idea about Kenya and Tanzania, and no connections to offices overseas except in the U.S." From his voluminous files, Al-Buthe also produced an affidavit from Kenya's Directorate of Security Intelligence stating that a Kenyan investigation had concluded that Al-Haramain "never supports or supported any Islamic terrorist group." (The document's authenticity could not be confirmed.)
The designation system that snared Al-Buthe and the Al-Haramain Foundation originated with the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act. Passed by Congress to set guidelines for economic sanctions and trade embargoes, the act gave the president wide powers to deal with any "unusual and extraordinary threat" from abroad by confiscating property and prohibiting financial transactions with specific countries contributing to that threat.
The powers were first used against individuals by President Clinton, when his National Security Council designated several Palestinian and Israeli opponents of the Camp David agreements as terrorist supporters. Later, use of the tactic expanded greatly under President George W. Bush.
In the days after 9/11, Bush signed an executive order giving the Treasury Department the power to blacklist individuals and organizations believed to be supporters of or "associated with" terrorists. The order specifically gave Treasury the power to blacklist and freeze the assets of people in the United States entitled to rights under the Constitution -- even before those people are accused of any crime. The dangers of the process were noted in 2004 by the National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States, better known as the 9/11 Commission. Using the 1977 law against domestic organizations, the commission warned in a 2004 report on terrorist financing, "raises significant civil liberty concerns because it allows the government to shut down an organization on the basis of classified evidence, subject only to a deferential after-the-fact judicial review." That proved to be a prescient concern.
For those caught up in it, the designation process is a legal nightmare. David Cole and other lawyers who focus on the problem say there is no clear procedure for appealing the terrorist designation, let alone getting removed from the blacklist. Moreover, nowhere in the 1977 law or the Bush administration's post-9/11 counterterrorism edicts is the term "specially designated global terrorist" defined. And because there are no standards for what constitutes a "specially designated global terrorist" who is not charged with a crime, people like Al-Buthe and organizations like Al-Haramain are left to guess why the terrorism charges were made against them. As Bernabei and its other attorneys wrote in a May 8 legal brief, the Oregon foundation "had to defend itself entirely in the dark."
The Treasury Department provided a written statement to Salon on May 2 responding to criticisms of its designation process. Every terrorism designation, the statement said, "undergoes multiple levels of review to ensure that there is a reasonable basis to conclude that the designee meets the criteria" of President Bush's 2001 executive order. Moreover, the Treasury Department "provides designated persons who challenge their designation in court with copies of all releasable information upon which the designation is based."
The agency added that "there has not been a successful judicial challenge to a designation, which we believe is a direct result of the rigor of the designation process, which ensures that sufficient evidence supports every designation."
Yet in a number of cases when the U.S. government has tried alleged terrorists or terrorist supporters, juries have refused to convict. That's what happened in the case of the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation, which was the nation's largest Muslim charity until it was designated a financial front for Hamas, the militant Palestinian group, and shut down by President Bush. In October 2007, a judge declared a mistrial in the Dallas trial of five Holy Land suspects after the charity's top two executives were acquitted on all counts and the jury deadlocked on the other defendants. By that time, of course, the charity had been shut down.
A similar outcome transpired in the case of Sami Al-Hussayen, the Saudi computer programmer who was acquitted in 2004 on charges that included his being the mastermind behind a network of Web sites -- including the Al-Haramain Foundation's -- that allegedly promoted terrorism. While on trial, Al-Hussayen spent more than 17 months in solitary confinement, and he and his family were later deported.
When I met him in Riyadh in March, Al-Hussayen, remarkably, expressed no bitterness about his ordeal. But he voiced fears that the United States was on its way to becoming a police state. "I hope your country doesn't end up like Russia," he said. "America is still young. Don't let Bush and Cheney destroy it so quickly." That may sound extreme from the citizen of a country that still holds public executions; but it also comes from a person who, like Pete Seda, organized vigils and prayer services in his local mosque to express solidarity with America and the victims of 9/11.
Oddly, the Al-Haramain case has not drawn much attention from leading human rights groups, perhaps due to its complexity and murkiness. When I contacted Human Rights Watch to see if it had investigated the government's crackdown on Al-Haramain in Oregon, Christopher Wicke, a New York-based specialist on Saudi Arabia, said no. "Do we see a heavy-handed shutdown of an NGO [nongovernmental organization] and the freedom of civil society being suppressed? I don't quite see that being the case."
"I find that very disturbing," David Cole, the constitutional lawyer, said when hearing of the response. "Of course this is a human rights issue. Due process -- the right to be told why the government is taking action against you, and to have an opportunity to defend yourself -- is about a basic a human right as there is." Similar sentiments are starting to appear in Europe, where several governments, and the United Nations, have adopted the U.S. designation system to go after alleged terrorist supporters. In April, a High Court judge in London declared that unilaterally sanctioning suspects without evidence was "absurd, unfair and a breach of human rights."
The fallout is not limited to the individuals who are blacklisted. In Oregon, the government's crackdown on the Al-Haramain Foundation has palpably affected attitudes toward Muslims. "It has given this community the impression that all Muslims are terrorists," Bauermeister, of the Medford Multicultural Association, told me when we met in a downtown Medford coffee shop. "We had a real opportunity after 9/11 to bring people together and isolate the radicals." But by attacking Pete Seda, a man who tried to break down religious barriers, "the government blew it," he said. "I don't think Pete posed any threat at all," he added. "The investigation was a complete waste of time."
Moreover, under the Bush policy, any organization that provides legal or monetary support to a blacklisted group like Al-Haramain risks being labeled an accessory to terrorism. "Technically we'd be classified as a terrorist organization if we speak out," said Bauermeister. That violates the Medford Multicultural Association's First Amendment rights "to associate with who we want and deprives a nonprofit of freedom of speech, association and religion," he said. (The group is now party to the Al-Haramain Foundation's lawsuit against the U.S. government.) Bauermeister looked out the window for a moment before adding, "This is a really dark era we're in right now."