First of Two Parts
Steven Emerson has 3,390,000 reasons to fear Muslims.
That's how many dollars Emerson's for-profit company — Washington-based SAE Productions — collected in 2008 for researching alleged ties between American Muslims and overseas terrorism. The payment came from the Investigative Project on Terrorism Foundation, a nonprofit charity Emerson also founded, which solicits money by telling donors they're in imminent danger from Muslims.
Emerson is a leading member of a multimillion-dollar industry of self-proclaimed experts who spread hate toward Muslims in books and movies, on websites and through speaking appearances.
Leaders of the so-called "anti-jihad" movement portray themselves as patriots, defending America against radical Islam. And they've found an eager audience in ultra-conservative Christians and mosque opponents in Middle Tennessee. One national consultant testified in an ongoing lawsuit aimed at stopping a new Murfreesboro mosque.
But beyond the rhetoric, Emerson's organization's tax-exempt status is facing questions at the same time he's accusing Muslim groups of tax improprieties.
"Basically, you have a nonprofit acting as a front organization, and all that money going to a for-profit," said Ken Berger, president of Charity Navigator, a nonprofit watchdog group. "It's wrong. This is off the charts."
But a spokesman for Emerson's company said the actions were legal and designed to protect workers there from death threats.
"It's all done for security reasons," said Ray Locker, a spokesman for SAE Productions.
Emerson made his name in the mid-1990s with his documentary film Jihad in America, which aired on PBS. Produced after the first World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the film uncovered terrorists raising money in the United States.He followed up with the books Jihad Incorporated: A Guide to Militant Islam in the U.S. and American Jihad: The Terrorists Living Among Us.