Thousands attend their rallies, claiming widespread discrimination. They wrap themselves in displays of “interfaith” cooperation. National, state, and local officials pay them heed. Words that “offend” them are removed from movies, newscasts, and even official government reports. All the while, the men who lead this organization have appeared extensively on FBI wiretaps and are known to federal law enforcement to be involved in a national criminal conspiracy.There's a line to walk here, as groups that legitimately exist to protect civil rights are often co-opted into going along with groups like these. That provides an additional complication, as it is necessary to disaggregate the legitimate groups from the ones that exist to provide cover for dangerous organizations. It wouldn't do to run the Anti-Defamation League out of business along with CAIR, even though they frequently end up going along with CAIR. That makes it more difficult, but still necessary, to criticize effectively.
You could be forgiven for thinking this describes the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)... But no. The year is 1971, and the pressure group is the Italian American Civil Rights League (IACRL). Its founder, Joe Colombo, is known to federal law enforcement as the head of New York’s Colombo crime family...
It may seem like a punch line now but, in the 1970s, the effort by gangsters to don the mantle of activists and wrap themselves the flag of “civil rights” was taken semi-seriously. Many prominent Italian-American elites (prominenti in Italian) endorsed the call, throwing their influence behind the grievance-mongering.
A lengthy aside, that may serve as an example: ADL has other conceptual problems, too, such as listing the Celtic Cross as a "hate symbol," along with Anglo-Saxon and Norse runic writing. The Celtic Cross is one of the most common expressions of Christianity in much of the United States, as well as of course in Ireland. Runic writing is of great interest not only to neopagans, but to lovers of J. R. R. Tolkien and medieval history in general. The fact that somebody somewhere used a symbol in a hateful way does not make the symbol itself a form of hate.
In fairness, ADL does clarify a few cases in which "interpretation" is important. I would say they understate the case, and that such a symbol should only be taken as an expression of hate if no interpretation is required to see that it is intended as one -- it's not as if the KKK or the Aryan Brotherhood are shy about what they think. The attempt to ban or constrict speech and expression is not desirable, nor is it wise to yield up powerful symbols to the hateful. Far wiser would be an effort to reclaim those symbols, by contesting that the legitimate use of them is the one fully proper use. I raise that criticism of the approach, however, without wishing to undermine the cause of rejecting Anti-Semitism.
To return to the main point, it can be difficult to disentangle the group you want to expose as a front group -- CAIR -- while not undermining the legitimate group that has adopted exactly similar rhetoric, and that appears at some of the front group's events. Likewise, when prominent people are suckered into playing along, you can't help but frame your criticism of them in a way that is going to make them look foolish (at best). The alternative is to let bad actors get away with disabling necessary security work.
Our outgoing administration has erred significantly in the one direction. It remains to be seen if the incoming administration will get the balance right, or if it will err in the other direction. At the moment we've gone so far down the one road that even an error in the other direction would be corrective. Still, it would be best by far to get the balance right.