by JewsOnFirst.org, September 14, 2008 (with multiple updates through October 28, 2008)
A shadowy organization is financing the delivery this month of millions of DVDs of the controversial video Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West. The video, which has been widely criticized as hostile to Muslims, has been inserted in numerous national and major-city newspapers.
The distribution, which began last week with inserts in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, among other papers, follows highly visible giveaways of the Obsession DVD at the Democratic and Republican parties' conventions. By next weekend the DVDs will have been inserted into 70 newspapers, according to Erik Ose, who includes a list in his story on Huffington Post.
The markets chosen for the inserts by the financing organization, the Clarion Fund, have prompted news reports that questioned whether distribution of the video is aimed at building support for the Republican presidential campaign in potential swing states.
In a report on its own insertion of the DVD, the Raleigh-Durham News & Observer noted: "Some have wondered if the distribution is intended to influence voters in swing states for this year's presidential election."
Clarion Fund denies partisan intent
The video itself was made in 2006 and does not explicitly endorse any Republican candidate. But it does take a jab at the Democratic Party. Using tiny clips of MoveOn.org and author Michael Moore, Obsession dismisses without consideration a nuanced view of the danger of terrorism, while it hammers away at its theme that "radical Islam" intends to destroy the United States.
Gregory Ross, the director of communications for the Clarion Fund, denied that the DVD distribution was aimed at influencing the elections. He told JewsOnFirst that as a non-profit, "We make a distinct point of reminding people that we are not trying to influence the elections." Ross said the purpose of distributing Obsession is to teach that there is "no greater threat than radical Islam."
However, several reports, including one on Editor & Publisher, said that a Clarion Fund website, radicalislam.org, had posted an article endorsing McCain that was removed after questions were raised about it.
Tom Trento, who heads WatchObsession, one of the two organizations distributing the video Obsession, rejected a comparison of radical Muslim terrorists and radical fundamentalist Christians who bomb clinics that provide abortions.
Trento, who described himself as an evangelical Christian with degrees in law enforcement, theology, and philosophy, was responding during a telephone interview with JewsOnFirst.org to a question about criticism of Obsession as defamatory of Muslims. We asked the question because Trento said that he had personally screened the video on campuses last year and acknowledged that a major criticism of it was that it condemned Muslims.
Critics would ask him, he said, "Why don't we focus on Christian and Jewish terrorists?"
"Okay," said Trento, "let's take a look at that, meaning evangelical Christians blowing up abortion clinics."
Because clinic bombers do not want to take over the country, as Muslim terrorists do, he continued, "that is an absolutely absurd analogy. A red herring."
Trento also dismissed the Jewish terrorist comparison. "What that means is 'why aren't you speaking out for the Palestinians, Hamas and Hezbollah?' he said."
Earlier this year JewsOnFirst reported that the Republican Jewish Coalition had mailed out numerous copies of Obsession to rabbis and others on Jewish mailing lists.
The Clarion Fund is planning to release a second video next month about Muslims in the United States, according to Ross.
Tom Trento, who heads www.watchobsession.org, the group that distributed the movie at the Democratic and Republican parties' nominating conventions, told JewsOnFirst that their goal is to awaken the country -- to get everyone in the country to watch the video before the election so everyone can "see the insidious nature of radical Islam." Trento said that his group's website then directs viewers of the video to "a scorecard that shows how elected officials have voted" on terrorism-related issues so they can decide "how they can intelligently vote" in November.
The scorecard is on the website of Act for America, a group that says it has tabulated electeds' "votes related to national security and the threat of Islamofascism." Its Senate scorecard consistently favors Republicans over Democrats, with Sen. John McCain scoring 58 and Senators Barack Obama and Joseph Biden each scoring 25.
Brigitte Gabriel heads Act for America. In an interview last month with the New York Times about her anti-Muslim book They Must Be Stopped, Gabriel said "The moderate Muslims at this point are truly irrelevant." The Times called Gabriel a "radical Islamophobe."
Asked how he thinks the political parties compare on the issues raised by Obsession, Tom Trento said, "In my personal opinion, the Republicans seem to get it much better than the Democrats -- and they get it that the problem is not a police problem, but a military problem."
Trento said he suggests that, after going to the Act for America scorecard, awakened video-viewers observe how MoveOn.org and Michael Moore "downplay the issue of terrorism."
Trento, who also heads a group called the Florida Security Council, then proceeded to talk about the threat of what he called "soft jihad -- the infiltration of the Islamic mindset and philosophy into American culture with the intent to replace the Constitution with sharia law."
Clarion Fund spending "millions" on distribution
Clarion Fund Communications Director Gregory Ross would not say how much Clarion was spending on distributing the DVD, beyond a vague "millions of dollars."
Ross said that Clarion did not fund the activities of Trento's WatchObsession, which distributed Obsession DVDs at the nominating conventions. "We were aware [of their activities]," Ross said. But, he said of WatchObsession, "They are completely financially independent."
By contrast, Tom Trento described his activities as part of the Clarion Fund's campaign. He described the newspaper inserts as the second phase of a campaign that began with the distributions at the party conventions. In a telephone interview, Trento told JewsOnFirst.org that "millions of copies of the DVD are currently being distributed to homes all over the United States."
A third phase of the distribution, according to Trento, will be "a direct campaign to campuses." Ross also noted the campus distribution.
Obsession was screened on some campuses last year, while others, fearing it would prompt attacks on Muslims, blocked its screening. Trento said he was the one who showed the film on campuses. (Please see the sidebar on this page.)
DVDs given to convention delegates
Trento did not claim his convention activities were funded by Clarion. He said he himself "put a few people together" and "raised a little money and made a lot of noise." According to news releases distributed by Christian Newswire, the campaign at the conventions included a truck with a huge poster of Osama bin Laden (at right) and an airplane towing a banner about Obsession.
Trento told JewsOnFirst that "DVDs were handed out to all the delegates" at the party conventions and that he had partial success in his efforts to place the video in the gift bags provided to each delegate.
"I personally went to the DNC," he said, "to offer 50,000 [DVDs] as a gift to go in the bags." He said that the Democratic National Committee told him the cost for that would be $50,000. We are awaiting the DNC's comment on Trento's statement.
Trento said he went directly to some of the Republican delegations' hotels and they "gladly" accepted the DVDs and put them in the delegates' bags. He said that after some success with this method, his group became unable to get to the delegations because their hotels increased security as demonstrators protested in the streets.
Where the newspapers with Obsession inserts were delivered
A New York Times spokesperson, Diane McNulty, told JewsOnFirst that the paper included 145,000 copies of the DVD in home delivery packets on Sunday, September 7th. She said the one-time insert went into packets delivered in Denver, Detroit, Kansas City, St Louis, Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Madison, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and Miami, Palm Beach, Tampa and Orlando.
The Wall Street Journal, the Denver Post, the Miami Herald and the Detroit Free Press also delivered inserts of the Obsession DVD, according to the News & Observer.
Another 70,000 DVDs went to subscribers to the paper edition of the weekly Chronicle of Higher Education. The insert cost Clarion Fund $28,000, Chronicle Editor-in-Chief Phil Semas told JewsOnFirst. Asked why the Clarion Fund decided to advertise in his paper, Semas replied: "I assume they felt we were an influential audience." The Chronicle publishes reports of interest to educators and academic officials, some of whom might be affected by the campaign to show the video on campuses.
Who, what and where is the Clarion Fund?
Because it was established only recently, the Clarion Fund has not yet filed its first required disclosure (Form 990) with the IRS. It is not disclosing its officers.
The address Clarion used to satisfy the New York Times' requirement that political or opinion advertisements include the advertiser's contact information -- 255 West 36th St., Suite 800, in Manhattan -- turns out to be Grace Corporate Park Executive Suites, an office-space rental operation which also rents "virtual office identity packages" for as little as $75 a month.
The Clarion Fund's only previous known address was that of its incorporator, New York attorney Eli Greenberg, on Madison Avenue. Gregory Ross said the Fund was based in New York and California.
Ross described the fund's staff as "sizeable," but did not give a number. Ross said that Clarion Fund is involved in "three linked efforts: documentary films, online education and college outreach," including sending speakers to campuses.
He also said that Clarion will not disclose its donors' names. He described them as "private American individuals that span the political spectrum."
Ross said people have been coming forward with donations. "As we are doing this effort, people have been contacting us, saying 'We think this is amazing. We want to contribute.'"
When pressed for details about his own career, Ross said that "for the privacy of everyone involved, we try to limit" information.
Clarion Fund's forthcoming video, The Third Jihad
Ross said that the Clarion Fund's new video, The Third Jihad, will have a limited theatrical release next month, "and then, shortly afterwards, it will be for sale on the web."
Tom Trento of WatchObsession explained the new video's title, saying that the "first Jihad was Mohammed," the second was the Ottoman Empire and the third raises the alarm about radical Islam "trying to take over the U.S."
According to Trento and the tiny trailer at the right, Clarion Fund's forthcoming "documentary" follows a moderate Muslim as he tries "to reform Islam in the U.S."
Obsession never had a theatrical run. Ross said that Clarion Fund was organized after the film was made and became its "creator and distributor."
Ross said that since Obsession came out two years ago, "it has had one life after another." He said it has been screened for churches and the Naval War College, noting that it is a "good primer" on the issue.
The Washington Post reported that Clarion Fund's initial plan had been to distribute the sequel to Obsession to coincide with the election. The report cited an email sent in July to Jewish Republicans in Colorado stating that sequel video The Third Jihad "is in post-production now and we will be able to take it to the masses in time to make the issue a central topic in the Presidential elections." Gregory Ross of Clarion told the paper that Obsession was substituted when The Third Jihad was not ready. The Third Jihad raises fears of a takeover of the United States by already present radical Muslim groups.
The Post also reported that, two weeks ago, the Clarion Fund again had an article praising John McCain on its website, which it subsequently removed, but that Clarion's "Web site still links readers to a vast network of sites that promote McCain."
On October 28th the St. Louis Post-Dispatch quoted the pastor who mailed 325,000 copies of Obsession to religious organizations (see below) calling Islam a "very dangerous and evil cult." Rev. O'Neal Dozier, pastor of the Worldwide Christian Center in Pompano Beach, Florida and the "general editor" of the Judeo-Christian View, a new publication in which the DVD was inserted, also told the Post-Dispatch that financing for the mailing came from the a funder "in touch with officials" from right-wing religious group Aish HaTorah which has been linked to the Clarion fund. (See the September 25th update, below).
A Christian right group says it is distributing Obsession to 320,000 religious congregations and an additional 10 million religious lay leaders in a campaign that ties the video's anti-Muslim message to Sen. Barack Obama's positions on choice and same-sex marriage. The group, calling itself the Judeo-Christian View, is claiming that Obama's positions will inflame Muslims abroad against the United States.
According to the group's news release issued October 20th, the Obsession DVD is being mailed out to every Jewish and Christian congregation in the U.S. as the centerpiece of an attack on Sen. Barak Obama. The release says that the video is being sent to 320,000 clergy and 10 million lay leaders inside the Judeo-Christian View, a new "publication -- signed by dozens of rabbis and pastors who concur that U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s policies on same-sex unions and partial birth abortion tend to inflame U.S. tensions with Islamists and are at odds with their ancient Biblical faiths."
The news release says that the mailing "is heading online to another 10 million congregational leaders and laity as part of an ambitious subscription strategy."
The release also states: "The document’s signatories contend Obama’s policy to liberalize abortion, 'combined with his effort to kill a bill that would protect babies who survive abortions, tends to gut the USA’s moral standing to condemn jihadic use of Muslim children as suicide bombers; both are horrific cases of child sacrifice that support a Culture of Death and demonstrate utter contempt for the Judeo-Christian Culture of Life.'”
JewsOnFirst has obtained and posted a copy of the Judeo-Christian View mailing. Please click here.
The Judeo-Christian View website includes a video "sermon" with graphic footage of an abortion procedure and many videos clips attacking Barack Obama.
The Cincinnati Enquirer, the Detroit Free Press, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cleveland Plain Dealer, and the Greensboro, North Carolina News & Record refused to insert Obsession DVDs in their papers.
In doing so, the Enquirer passed up "a significant amount of advertising dollars," according to the paper's vice president for advertising, Carol Hahn. Hahn told JewsOnFirst that the Enquirer decided against distributing the DVDs because "we were concerned our readers would confuse us with the distributors." Hahn said that, after one of the paper's advertising representatives alerted her, she watched the video and discussed it with the publisher.
"We had no political agenda," Hahn said, "but we are getting a lot of attention because we didn't distribute the DVDs." She added that she had just received Obsession in the mail.
Tim Townsend, who writes the Civil Religion blog for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reported on September 22nd that his paper's decision not to distribute Obsession was based on the refusal of the "advertisers" to provide a copy of the DVD. According to Townsend:
Jen Wood, the Post-Dispatch’s vice president of advertising, said her department received the request to include the DVD as an insert at the beginning of the summer. She said the advertiser provided the newspaper only with a trailer, and refused when Wood asked to see a copy of the entire film - something she described as “not an unusual request.” "I didn’t have enough information to make a decision, so I said ‘no thank you,’” said Wood. “It wasn’t clear what exact message they were trying to send.”
The Detroit Free Press has not responded to our request for comment, but an Associated Press story carried by the paper named it, along with other publications that rejected the DVD insert. According to the story, the Greensboro News & Record considered Obsession "inflammatory and hateful without contributing much educational value."
On September 26th the St. Petersburg Times reported that there are several connections between the Clarion Fund and Aish HaTorah, a right-wing religious organization. The paper also reported that some of the DVD's were mailed from Freeport, New York under Clarion's non-profit postal permit but that "Clarion Fund had no money in its bulk-mail account, according to postal administrators." The Times quoted a postal inspector saying "The bulk mailing of this was made possible by a third party, other than Clarion" and that the Post Office was "looking into it."
Also on September 26th, the Portland, Oregon Mercury reported that Portland Mayor Tom Potter was imploring the Oregonian, the city's daily, not to go through with inserting Obsession in this weekend's papers.