The vast, wide-ranging infiltration of state institutions by the Fethullah Gülen organization is widely known in Turkey, where events such as the Ergenekon and Sledgehammer trials, as well as the July 15 attempted coup, have shown just how powerful and how deep its influence runs.
However there is much less awareness regarding the scale and scope of Gülen’s influence in Washington DC, where for years his organization has been using highly coordinated political donations, top-shelf lobbyists and PR firms, while funding scores of lavish all-expenses-paid trips to Turkey for U.S. lawmakers (this of course later became a scandal before the House Ethics Committee). Now that Turkey is seeking Gülen’s extradition to stand trial for the attempted coup, this secretive organization has begun calling in its favors to all these lawmakers with whom they hold influence.
This campaign on behalf of the Gülenists culminated on September 14 in a hearing put together by the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee, an event which predictably devolved into a one-sided, absurd farce. This hearing, which appeared to many observers to have been put together with the clear goal of attacking the Turkish government and defending Mr. Gülen, has been the source of significant insult and anger to people in Turkey.
During the proceedings Committee Chairman Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) made a number of highly opinionated and unsubstantiated claims regarding Gülen’s role in the coup. At one point, the Congressman said he didn’t think the Republic of Turkey’s case against Gülen was “credible,” and said that Turkey had “erred” by arresting members of the Gülen organization. The California lawmaker went on to denounce the security measures taking place in the aftermath of the coup, scolding the Turkish authorities over arrests without any mention of the scale of threat facing the country’s national security.
Rep. Randy Weber, a Republican Congressman from Texas (the location of Gülen’s largest charter school operation), led the questioning of witnesses, at one point even said of the accused coup leader, “he’s doin’ some good work,” and then later asked a number of leading questions, such as “Do you agree… that, generally speaking, Gulen is viewed as doing some pretty good things… here and in Turkey?”
The insult here is obvious and profound. It would be similar to holding a hearing to discuss Hezbollah’s charitable activities in Lebanon immediately following a deadly bombing in Tel Aviv, but of course, special rules seem to apply when it comes to Turkey.
One thing that Rohrabacher, Weber, and others did not mention was their long history of contacts – both personal and financial – between Gülen-linked entities and those leading these hearings. There is simply no reasonable basis that these men can consider themselves impartial to the Gülen movement after such a long history of close engagement.
There is no shortage of examples. In 2011, Rohrabacher was wined and dined at Gülen’s Anatolian Cultures and Food Festival, where he happily endorsed his hosts: “Merhaba, [“Hello”] Today I want to thank the Pacifica Institute and those who helped put this program together to create better relations between the two nations. Thank you for doing your part. Let’s reach out and be friends. God bless you.”
Later that year, the Gülenists hand-picked Rohrabacher to speak at their 2nd annual Turkic American Alliance Gala. Rohrabacher was again the celebrity featured guest at the 3rd Turkic American Convention. In 2013, he again attended another Gülen-led food festival, this time accompanied by Ed Royce, Loretta Sanchez, Michael Honda, and Allen Lowenthal, which at the time was boastful of the “strong proof of the lobbying potential of the festival.” There are at least three more public events held by the Gulenists that Rohrabacher is known to have attended, in addition to taking a paid trip to Istanbul on behalf of Tukson in 2011.
But he’s far from the only one on the committee that has been owned and operated by Gülen. There’s Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-NY) who accepted the Rumi Forum’s Congressional Dialogue Service Award in 2008, sent a staffer on a paid trip to Turkey, went on his own $7,000 trip to Baku paid for by the Gülenists, and has given speeches at a number of key Gülen events, such as the 2011 Turkic American Alliance Gala. Rep Meeks was even so grateful to Gülen that he made one of his disciples a congressional staffer for a few months.
Then there’s Rep. Mo Brooks (R-AL), who was present at the hearing to lob insults at Turkey and shield Gülen from criticism. Rep. Brooks of course was one of those many lawmakers who accepted not one, but two fully paid trips to Turkey by Gülen’s Istanbul Center, and has been a featured guest at least four key events, including several Turkic American Convention events in 2013.
The list goes on and on. Rep. Gerry Connolly has received gratuitous honors from Rumi Forum, American Turkish Friendship Association, and has sent a staffer on a Gulen-paid trip, while Rep. Paul Cook has his photo up on the Turkic American Alliance website and also was a signatory on the Matt Salmon letter to John Kerry (among most of the other committee members as well). Rep. Weber has given speeches at several events organized by the Turquoise Council of Americans and Eurasians, and helped to pass a visa waiver law to benefit Gülen’s charter school operation. Amazingly, appeared on stage at the International Festival of Language and Culture in Washington DC in April 2016, where he praised Gülen and called him “our good friend.”
Is it possible that these same lawmakers who are honored and featured guests at so many Gülen events would also be the recipients of coordinated political donations by Hizmet members? Certainly some whistleblowers within the organization have spoken openly about being instructed to donate every year to specific congressional and senate campaign races.
How are U.S. citizens meant to understand the true reality of what happened in Turkey leading up the coup if these are the men who purport to hand down interpretation? At the very least, they should do the honorable gesture of declaring their bias before getting into the work of defending their client.
A hearing like this, consisting of such incredibly biased tone aimed at benefiting a single individual, does very little to educate the public on the real issues facing Turkey and the importance of the U.S.-Turkey alliance. In fact, it causes significant damage to relations between the countries. Looking at the outcome of this hearing, one can finally begin to picture the true size and scale of Gülen’s power and influence, even within the U.S. government.