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Who’s Behind the Media Campaign Against a Decolonize This Place Organizer?

According to the MTL+ collective, articles have discredited their MTA actions and reduced one of its members “to the figurehead of a ‘violent’ Palestinian mastermind.”

Amin Husain of Decolonize This Place during a protest at the Whitney Museum in New York in May 2019 (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

In the past few months, hundreds of protesters swept through the streets and subway stations of New York City to stand up against the over-policing of public transit with a movement called FTP (“Fuck the Police,” “Free the People,” or “feed the people”). But only one of these protesters, Amin Husain of Decolonize This Place (DTP), has drawn the attention and scrutiny of New York tabloids and right-wing publications. The New York Post portrayed Husain as “one of the masterminds behind the anarchist group that organized the rampage through the subways” in January. And the Daily Caller, a right-wing website co-founded by Fox News host Tucker Carlson, accused Husain of urging DTP’s followers to “violently assault the city’s transit system.” Similar reports that specifically targeted Husain appeared on Fox News, Breitbart, and the Jerusalem Post.

In a blog post published on Verso’s website, MTL+ collective (the activist group facilitating the work of DTP) called these articles and others “a coordinated campaign by the right-wing media and the NYPD” against DTP which attempts to “demonize and discredit recent actions around the MTA by reducing them to the figurehead of a ‘violent’ Palestinian mastermind.”

“An intensive campaign to demonize and discredit the movement is unfolding, one that hinges on pinning these popular actions to a single one of the numerous groups stewarding the movement, namely Decolonize This Place (DTP),” the collective writes.

This smear campaign, the group continues, is carried out by what it calls the “Counterinsurgency-Media Complex (CMC),” which it believes is “deliberately profiling” Husain ” as Palestinian man and imputing to him a patently fabricated incitement to homicidal violence against police.”

An anonymous threatening letter sent to Husain with pejorative terms scribbled onto a photocopy of the Post’s article (courtesy MTL+)

Hyperallergic reached out to the New York Post, the Daily Caller, Breitbart, and Jerusalem Post for comment.

The media attacks against Husain, MTL + says, have led to direct harassment against him from the alt-right, including hate-mail, explicit death threats, and calls for NYU to terminate his employment. To illustrate that, the article includes an anonymous threatening letter sent to Husain with pejorative terms scribbled over a photocopy of the Post’s article

The torrent of hate-mail directed at him was compounded by threatening messages on Twitter, Husain told Hyperallergic in a phone conversation. “The threats go anywhere from ‘you’re a foreigner, you don’t deserve to live in this country,” to things like ‘you should watch your back’ and ‘If I get a chance, I’ll hurt you’,” he said.

“I try to not let it bother me,” Husain said, adding that members of DTP have been joining him on his way to work at the New York University (NYU) and Pratt Institute to ensure his safety.

The media attacks on Husain’s personal background are tactical, according to MTL+. “A core part of this CMC strategy has been to discredit the FTP actions by naming an individual ‘ring-leader’ and projecting a racialized ‘foreign’ identity onto the movement,” the article says. “This ideological move erases the fact that the FTP movement is led by a decentralized network of Black, Brown, and Indigenous women and queer folks and is embedded organically in local communities and long-term struggles for decolonization, abolition and the collective control of land and housing.”

MTL+ asserts that right-wing attacks against Husain and DTP were aided by Donald Trump Jr., who retweeted alt-right agitator Andy Ngo’s warning that DTP is planning “mass sabotage of the NYC MTA system” ahead of their action at Grand Central Station in Manhattan on January 31. Ngo’s tweet, MTL+ writes, “linked to the specter of ‘Antifa’ that has preoccupied the Right since the election of Trump.”

The article continues with an elaborate media analysis of the articles published against Husain, saying:

Framing Husain as the central, individual leader of FTP serves several additional purposes in the narrative of the CMC, including the weaponization of the implied association of a Palestinian with anti-Semitic terror. This in turn overlaps with Islamophobic profiling and violence at a global level in the post-9/11 era, from Trump’s birther campaign against “Barak Hussein Obama” and  the villification of congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, to the remergence of xenophobic Fascism in Europe, and the Hindu nationalist mass killings of Muslims sanctioned by Narendra Modi.

Despite the attacks, the activists stress that they remain undeterred. “Grounded in generations of struggle and embodied in everyday actions, the energies of FTP are building in New York City,” they write. “The backlash by the CMC is not a surprise, and its attempt to establish an opposition between violence and nonviolence will not dictate the terms of our strategy and tactics. The CMC will not distract our focus from the basic demands of the movement.”

As for Husain, he said that he will proceed with his activism but with a little more caution. “I don’t let this change my principles or my mood of organizing, but sometimes you can do things that are perhaps less visible,” he said. “FTP is a movement. I’m just one participant in it.”

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