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When Terrorists Learned 'Lawfare' Works: The Holy Land Foundation Trial's 10-Year Anniversary

In November, a writer for the American Thinker called to ask for my recollections about covering the trials and tribulations of what is often described as the largest terrorist fundraising operation in U.S. history. It hadn’t occurred to me, but the 10-year anniversary of the “Holy Land Foundation Five” convictions in a Dallas federal courtroom has unexpectedly arrived.

The call from the American Thinker triggered even older memories related to the Holy Land Foundation case, and of the related case against Infocom Corporation: I had become one of the first U.S. targets of Islamist “lawfare,” a term reflecting the tactic of filing high-expense civil litigation to silence and delegitimize opponents. I had been placed on a Muslim community “blacklist” and labeled a Muslim-hater for doing my job. I remembered feeling shocked and betrayed by having seen, for the first time up close and personal, how a pressure campaign by criminal suspects could, like a paper cup, collapse the journalistic ideal of boldly defiant truth-telling.

HLF, Infocom, and everyone connected to them are gone, still in prison, or deported. But long before any of us who played bit roles could even have predicted such outcomes, in 1999 and 2000, the HLF and its supporters were on a war footing. They were fighting a public relations influence campaign to keep the millions flowing to its coffers and (as would be revealed later) then to “zakat committees,” which would launder the cash to Hamas’ arsenals and the families of suicide bombers. I was a young reporter at the time, just assigned to cover federal courts and the FBI for The Dallas Morning News. By then, the Morning News’ Steve McGonigle (now unfortunately deceased) and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Gayle Reeves had broken stories about suspicions that HLF was actually Hamas’ clandestine fundraising arm in America, and that a massive FBI counterterrorism investigation was underway. Steve had been sent to Israel at one point to report on evidence and intelligence collected there on connections to HLF in Dallas.

Financial investments in travel like that reflected an early commitment by the newspaper to a legitimate public interest news story. It wouldn’t last.

My own exposure to this young phase of the HLF story became unavoidable after I got my Dallas FBI/federal courts assignment in 1999. It happened that, just then, HLF and a nationwide network of Islamic advocacy groups had been ramping up a strategic campaign to shut down any further news coverage by hawking a narrative of religious discrimination. A narrative that bigotry had driven the newspaper and the federal government to baselessly persecute a charity interested only in helping Palestinian women and children, or Kosovo war refugees.

More than once during this time, I saw delegations of HLF leaders and suited-up lawyers caravanning through the newsroom to meetings with senior editors. I don’t know what was said in these meetings. But I do know that Steve complained to me privately many times that, as a result of these meetings, he was banned from ever writing anything about HLF again.