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A supporter's role also linked Ziyad Khaleel to Al Qaeda. Throughout the '90s, the Palestinian lived in various locations across the U.S., procuring supplies for overseas extremists. Khaleel's purchases included the $7,500 satellite phone Osama bin Laden used to plot the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya. Khaleel previously headed the MSA at Columbia College in Missouri.
During the 1983–84 school year, the MSA at the University of Arizona was run by Wa'el Hamza Julaidan, the son of a wealthy Saudi family. After college, he ran the Islamic Center in Tucson, where he became passionate about the Afghan-Soviet struggle. In 1986, he headed for that region, serving in the mujahideen alongside Abdullah Azzam and bin Laden. The three would later found Al Qaeda.
This small army of MSA presidents–turned-terrorists has provided Horowitz with powerful ammo among the unregenerate right. But, of course, the MSA, like any college group, is as diverse as its membership. Some chapters emphasize religion, others social outreach. The MSA at the University of California, Berkeley, has produced videos on gay rights. The one at UC Irvine is known for flexing a militant side. Two years ago, 11 members were arrested for disrupting a speech by the Israeli ambassador.
In short: Broad-brushing the entire group is akin to labeling all evangelical Christians as freaks on par with the Westboro Baptist Church. But it's good business for David Horowitz.
Punch Horowitz's name into a YouTube search and you'll find a man who clearly enjoys strapping on the pads.
His campus road shows typically begin with an invite from college Republicans to speak, at which point Horowitz begins stoking the uproar with his ads in school papers. By lecture day, things are hot enough to require extra security—and Horowitz delivers.
While visiting UC San Diego in 2010, he scored an on-camera checkmate that has become Exhibit A for Muslim-haters on campus. During a question-and-answer period, he tangled with a female student in a head scarf. The woman was pressing for specifics on MSA's ties to terrorism. Horowitz ducked the question, instead demanding that she denounce Hezbollah on the spot.
"For it or against it?" he barked.
"For it," she replied.
Later, the woman, claiming she was upset and confused, backed off the comment. But Horowitz still landed an appearance on Sean Hannity's show to discuss his triumph.
At a UC Santa Barbara lecture, he didn't just face down a hostile audience; he controlled the crowd as if his hand had been on a thermostat. The packed auditorium was filled with members of the MSA. One outraged student after the next took the microphone to confront Horowitz. He deftly steered each question off in his own direction or bullied students into frustrated silences by demanding on-the-spot denunciations of groups like Hamas and Hezbollah. Shouts of "Fuck you!" and "You're making stuff up!" popped up from the seats.
Horowitz's incendiary rhetoric was also on full display at a Brooklyn College appearance last year. "No people has shown itself so morally sick as the Palestinians have," he announced. "No other people in the world have sunk so low morally as the Palestinians have, and yet everybody is afraid to say this." The crowd responded with angry cries.
Horowitz defends the atmosphere at his events by throwing up his hands and pointing to the MSA. "I don't go to campuses inciting people," he says. "I go to speak. I can't have a civil conversation. I have to go with bodyguards, and that's because of the Muslim Student Associations. Their behavior is what's important, not their sophistry in avoiding my questions."
As Henry Kissinger once said, "University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." But they're very good for landing you an appearance on Fox News.
The charged atmosphere—and the readiness of the far right to cheer him on—allows Horowitz to spin theories with little structural integrity. One of his favorite conspiracies: that all U.S. Muslim organizations are tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian group with a history of jihad and anti-Semitism that has become Egypt's leading political force. His evidence is woven from the thinnest wool.
The Holy Land Foundation was once the largest Islamic charity in America—until it was caught violating U.S. law by funneling $12 million to Hamas. Five members of the foundation were handed life sentences in 2009 for the crime.
As part of that investigation, the feds found a memo at Holy Land's suburban Dallas headquarters. It was written in 1991 by a Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas member named Mohamed Akram. The text lays out a comical plot to institute sharia—Islamic religious law—across America by using "our organizations and the organizations of our friends," MSAs included.
The idea that sharia would ever dominate the land of the mega-church might be laughable, but that hasn't stopped Horowitz from insisting that Muslim Student Associations take their marching orders from the memo. "I see [MSA] as a recruitment organization," he says. "Its purpose is first to isolate the Muslim students, to create a Muslim center, so they're not going to assimilate into Western values. I know this from my youth in Communist front associations. The idea is you create a group that gathers all the Muslim kids, and then you identify the ones who become leaders. Those are the ones who get positions of power in the organization, and those are the ones who go on to do other Muslim Brotherhood tasks."