WASILLA — Anchorage Assembly member Amy Demboski, who represents Chugiak-Eagle River and hosts the Amy Demboski Show on Valley News Talk, posted a national news story to the show’s Facebook page Dec. 2 that alleges there are Islamist compounds where people are stockpiling weapons in the United States, and that one of these compounds is in Alaska.
The news story comes from the website Dennis Michael Lynch, and is essentially a summary of a linked video that shows Fox Business host Stuart Varney interviewing Ryan Mauro of the Clarion Project, an organization with the tagline, “Challenging Extremism – Promoting Dialogue.”
The link’s photo is a still from the interview, which shows Alaska on a map of states in the United States where Islamist compounds are located.
A spokeswoman for the Federal Bureau of Investigations in Alaska told the Frontiersman that there is no indication that any Islamist compound exists anywhere in Alaska.
Along with the link, Demboski made a written reference to a recent interview she’d had on her show, with Gregory Jones, a resident of Big Lake who ran for State House in District 8 this year, and who is a Muslim.
“Somehow we are the only ones talking about this group in Alaska,” Demboski posted. “Oh wait, no we aren’t, so is Fox News nationally. How is it a candidate pops up in the last Alaskan election, who is a member of this group, and we are the only ones who even mentioned it (or asked him about it) here in Alaska? He seemed like a nice guy, but doesn’t the group, associations, and past history deserve at least a little attention?” The post ends with, “Reassuring that national media highlights Alaska has our own ‘compound’ too.”
The group Demboski refers to is the organization Muslims of the Americas; she had asked Jones on her show during the recent election, about his connection to the group.
He talks about growing up in a Muslim religious community in the interview, but it is unclear whether Demboski and Jones are talking about the same group – Muslims of the Americas, which Clarion Project identifies as one of the Islamist extremist groups it says investigates; or The Muslims of America, which self-identifies as a group of Muslim villages in the U.S., similar to the Russian Orthodox, Amish, or other religious-based communities in the U.S.
In the Fox Business interview, Mauro says that Clarion group has video of people stockpiling weapons in the town of Islamberg in New York City, where he says MOA is headquartered. Video plays showing weapons and a sign for Islamberg, the headquarters for TMOA.
Law enforcement in New York state have repeatedly assured locals there that the tiny town of Islamberg is not, in fact, a terrorist headquarters. In 2015, two plots to attack the town were foiled by law enforcement.
The Delaware County, New York deputy sheriff, Craig Dumont, told Delaware news outlets in the same year that he is well familiar with the rural town Islamberg, had been inside it on numerous occasions, and was “perplexed” by allegations of a jihadist training camp there. He told media that Delaware County law enforcement had examined the Clarion Project’s video, depicting weapons, and that they do not believe that the video was taken inside of Islamberg at all.
The post on the conservative Amy Demboski Show page got a quick response from the liberal Alaska Commons website, by owner and writer John Aronno, who interviewed Gregory Jones about his time on the Amy Demboski show and the social media response to Demboski’s Facebook post.
“They’re talking about ‘Where is the Muslim training camp?’ and they’re trying to find it,’” Jones told Alaska Commons. “There are people on there that are saying that they want to go out and find the place. So, they’re gathering supporters to go out and find the Muslim. She’s endangering me and my wife and my children.”
Jones did not respond to a phone call requesting comment.
Demboski took on Alaska Commons in a comment to the Islamic compound story she had posted, saying, “The real misinformation here was spread by the blogger who falsely reported that any candidate was called a terrorist on the show; it simply didn’t happen. As I have stated many, many, times, I found the candidate pleasant, I asked him a variety of questions, and he answered them, expressed his views, and talked about his goals if elected. The focus of this post was to highlight a story that was covered nationally, and to point out that this hasn’t been discussed by any local media. We have clearly said that we would work to dispel, or confirm, the assertion of a ‘compound’ in Alaska, and we will present the facts in their entirety.”
Ina phone interview with the Frontiersman, Aronno said his article, “Anchorage Assembly Member Amy Demboski Targets Wasilla Man with Fake News Alleging ‘Islamic Compound,’” does not claim that Demboski called Jones a terrorist.
“But I think there is some responsibility there, especially as an elected official when you put something like that up there, it does point to Gregory Jones by name, and allege that he’s a person of interest with possible terrorist ties. That’s dangerous. Both Gregory and his wife have said they felt threatened in the time since.”
Demboski did not respond to request for comment over a period of three days, Dec. 6, 7 or 8; this story was held to give her further opportunity to respond to requests for interview.
Demboski made a Facebook post Dec. 4 that advised the best way to get a quote was to listen to the Amy Demboski Show.
Aronno’s Alaska Commons article contains screenshots of Demboski responding to one social media commenter asking where the Islamist compound is, saying “We’ve heard rumors, but I haven’t verified anything yet. I have heard there is one in the MatSu Borough. We’ll try to either substantiate or disprove the rumors, but we are looking into it.”
Supporters of Jones took to the Anchorage Assembly meeting on Dec. 6 , and Jones and his wife testified that Demboski’s Facebook comments had made them fear for their safety. Elvi Gray-Jackson, the chair, apologized on behalf of the assembly to the Jones family. Demboski did not offer an apology requested by the Jones family.
On her show the following day, Demboski characterized herself as the one who was the subject of intimidation tactics by politically left-wing people who were trying to silence her. She said the Alaska media in general dropped the ball on reporting on the Clarion Project’s assertions that there is an Islamist compound in Alaska connected to a group called Muslims of the Americas that has been investigated by U.S. law enforcement agencies for involvement in terrorism.
“When this happens, the left seizes on it,” she said. “They scream, and bat you down. They won’t talk about the substance of the discussion. They turn to calling you names, ‘You’re an Islamophobe, a racist.’”
She said she never called Jones a terrorist, and that she simply wants to have an open discussion about MOA, about any potential Islamist compound in Alaska, and for the media to investigate the claims made by Clarion Project.
On her Dec. 7 edition of her radio show, Demboski hosted a guest named Don Jones, who said he had been in U.S. intelligence for 20 years, and characterized the FBI Anchorage office’s assertion that there are no Islamist compounds in Alaska as a typical way of protecting information pertinent to an investigation.
Later, Demboski quickly read through an excerpt from what Jones said looked like an authentic FBI document detailing the terrorist involvement of the group MOA, before the show cut to playing an excerpt of Toby Keith’s song, “A Beer for My Horses.”
When asked on Dec. 8 for clarification of the FBI’s previous communication, that there is no Islamist compound in Alaska, FBI Anchorage’s spokeswoman Staci Feger-Pellessier reiterated that the FBI does not believe there is an “Islamist militant compound in Alaska.”
She added, “If your readers have information regarding the violation of federal crimes, we urge them to call the FBI at 907-276-4441,” and that “we review all tips that come into our office.”
Alaska Homeland Security public information officer Jeremy Zidek said the public should be responsible for how they consume news stories on social media.
“Whenever someone hears some of these claims like this, they should really use good judgement,” Zidek said. “Report suspicious activities to local law enforcement. Recently we’ve seen a number of false news stories pushed through social media, especially during the presidential election for both candidates, and we just want people to use caution, and really evaluate these things before they form any type of opinion or take any type of action.”