Al-Jazeerah: Cross-Cultural Understanding
Opinion Editorials, May 2019
On May 9th, 2019, a jury in US District Court for Washington, DC found a former US diplomat guilty on 14 counts of threatening me and other employees of the Arab American Institute "because of [our] race and ethnicity" and "because of [our] efforts to encourage Arab Americans to participate in the political life in the United States."
So read the opening of a press release issued by the US Department of Justice.
These convictions bring to a close a 12-year long ordeal during which time the same individual had repeatedly sent emails threatening me, my staff, and the Arab American community. He had already been convicted of the same crime in 2008 for sending threatening emails and making phone calls to my office. At that time, he admitted his guilt saying that he had intended to threaten us and even apologized for his actions. Despite this admission, after serving time in prison and a period on probation, he began threatening us again between 2012 and 2017.
The renewed threats grew in intensity after several terrorist acts that occurred here in the US and abroad. The severity of the language he used caused us deep concern, especially when seen against the backdrop of the increasing frequency of mass shootings occurring here in the US.
The indictment of the defendant cited his repeated use of lines like – "the only good Arab American is a dead Arab American" or "America cleansed of Arab Americans will be America free of terror" or "America will never be safe until America is cleansed of James Zogby..." or "Death to all Arab Americans" or "the Arab American Institute is a terrorist organization."
The trial lasted three days during which time members of my family, my staff, and I testified on these threats had on us, our families, and on our ability to do our advocacy work on behalf of our community. After closing arguments, the jury deliberated and the next day they issued their verdict finding the culprit guilty on all of the charges against him.
The DOJ press release summed up the case in the following manner:
“'Threats aimed at individuals because of their race and national origin have no place in our society and violate federal civil rights laws,' said Assistant Attorney General Eric Dreiband. 'The Department of Justice will continue to hold criminals accountable who commit such acts of hate so that all individuals in this country can engage in civic life and political discourse.'
"Evidence presented at trial established that from 2012 to 2017, [the charged individual] sent over 700 emails to AAI employees, culminating in five death threats in 2017. According to court documents, [he] previously pleaded guilty in 2008 to sending threatening emails to AAI employees. Evidence presented at trial showed that [he] used nearly identical language that he admitted were threats in 2008 as he did in 2017.
"According to testimony in court, AAI employees were frightened of [the charged individual], because he had sent them death threats in the past and continued to do so over a decade later.
Additionally, according to witness testimony, many AAI employees lived in fear that [he] would follow through his threats and physically harm them. They further testified to the toll it took on them personally and their families and loved ones."
This is not the first time we have faced threats of violence or actual violence. As I testified in court, I received my first death threat in 1970; my office was fire-bombed in 1980; my friend and colleague, Alex Odeh, was murdered at his office in 1985; and two other individuals were convicted of death threats against me and sentenced to terms in prison in the years since the horrific terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
While we, of course, know that the danger of new threats will always be with us, needless to say, we are enormously relieved by these guilty verdicts and are deeply gratified by the tireless efforts made by the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division and the Federal Bureau of Investigation to defend our rights to engage in our advocacy work on behalf of our community and our country without fear of threats of hate-based threats of violence.
Former U.S. Diplomat Convicted Of Threatening Arab American Group
NPR, May 10, 20199:49 AM ET
Heard on All Things Considered
By Hannah Allam
For more than a decade, a former U.S. diplomat targeted an Arab American advocacy group with hundreds of menacing emails, often declaring: "The only good Arab is a dead Arab."
Messages from Patrick Syring typically contained racist descriptions of Arabs and accused the staff of the Arab American Institute — and specifically its president, James Zogby — of orchestrating terrorist attacks around the world. The emails terrified staff members, who drew up a security plan in case Syring ever showed up at their offices.
No one disputes that Syring's messages were disturbing in their content and frequency, but do they constitute a crime? On Thursday, a jury in federal court in Washington, D.C., said, "Yes."
Syring was convicted of 14 counts of threatening employees of the Arab American Institute, including seven federal hate crime charges. As the verdict was read, Zogby and his colleagues held hands. Some wept with relief.
"This is a nightmare that's haunted us for years," Zogby said. "We just wanted it to end, and, hopefully, now this means it will end."
The Justice Department's long history with Syring raises one of the most perplexing questions faced by prosecutors who work on hate crimes: How do you charge harassers who terrify their targets but keep their language in the gray area between free speech and criminal threat?
That question is at the heart of hundreds of cases across the country and is likely to become more pressing as bias-motivated incidents rise in tandem with the country's political polarization, said Danielle Citron, a University of Maryland law professor and a leading scholar of hate crimes online. Her research shows that women and people from marginalized groups — racial and religious minorities — are the most frequently targeted for online harassment.
Ex-Diplomat Sentenced for Anti-Arab Threats
By Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, July 12, 2008
A retired Foreign Service officer was sentenced yesterday to one year in prison for making threats against Arab American Institute President James Zogby and other employees there.
W. Patrick Syring, 50, who served two tours in Beirut during his 25-year State Department career, pleaded guilty to violating civil rights laws. The charges stem from messages he left at AAI in the midst of the 2006 war between Israel and Hezbollah.
"The only good Arab is a dead Arab," Syring said in a profanity-laden July 2006 voice-mail message delivered to AAI, which promotes Arab American participation in elections and policy issues.
After federal prosecutors in the District accused him of intimidating the workers based on their national origin, Syring sent an incendiary message to a television station where Zogby had been interviewed. In the March 2008 e-mail, Syring repeated some of the language from his phone call and accused Zogby of "promoting the interest of Hezbollah, Hamas and Arab terror."
The move prompted the government to withdraw its initial plea offer of no prison time, according to court records.
Earlier this year, after the latter incident, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly declared Syring in violation of the terms of his release and ordered him to report to the D.C. jail, where he has spent the last four months. Under the terms of yesterday's sentence, the Arlington resident also must perform 100 hours of community service and pay a $10,000 fine.
"There is no room in our society for the intolerance of other races or national origins, particularly by those who hold positions in the government," said U.S. Attorney Jeffrey A. Taylor.
David Schertler, a lawyer for Syring, said his client has "accepted full responsibility for his actions."
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