How the FBI’s visit to a Muslim woman became a right-wing rallying cry


The video begins with a door opening onto a latest vibrant spring day. Three guests, figuring out themselves as FBI brokers, stand in the yard of a woman who makes it clear they aren’t welcome.

Using her telephone to document the trade, she lays into the brokers, demanding to see their credentials. When they inform her they need to “have a conversation with you about some social media posts,” the woman, sounding incredulous, asks: “So we no longer live in a free country?”

There will likely be no dialog, the woman tells them, and refers them to her legal professional. The brokers stay courteous, if thrown off their recreation. One of them begins to clarify, “Facebook gave us a couple screenshots of your accounts,” however she isn’t having it. Eventually, the guests hand over and stroll again to their silver Nissan SUV.

“This is Rolla Abdeljawad in Stillwater, Oklahoma,” the woman says as she movies the automobile leaving her driveway. “This is America.”

Because it’s America — or, somewhat, a second in America marked by outrage politics and deep mistrust of the authorities — no additional context was required for the almost four-minute video from March 19 to go viral. Reposts of the clip have garnered thousands and thousands of views throughout social media platforms, largely due to right-wing pundits and conspiracy theorists.

Devoid of details about Abdeljawad or her beliefs, the video was uncomplicated by racial, spiritual or ideological baggage. It was a made-for-sharing scene of a woman in Oklahoma standing up for her rights. The fuzziness of the particulars allowed the episode to journey throughout cultural and political strains, turning one Egyptian American Muslim’s expertise into a image for anybody with a grievance towards the federal authorities. The video labored like a kaleidoscope of the fraught political local weather, the picture shifting relying on who was wanting.

Muslim civil rights teams noticed it and frightened about a resurgence of surveillance ways that vilified communities in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, assaults. Among Donald Trump’s Republican base, the visit was proof of “Joe Biden’s Justice Department” harassing atypical residents. Left-wing activists noticed the lengthy arm of the state. Far-right militia teams noticed proof of the “tyranny” they profess to combat.

The FBI’s Oklahoma City workplace declined to deal with the video, responding to questions with a normal assertion saying that the bureau routinely “engages with members of the public in furtherance of our mission.”

“We can never open an investigation based solely on First Amendment protected activity,” the assertion mentioned. “The FBI is committed to ensuring our activities are conducted with a valid law enforcement or national security purpose, while upholding the constitutional rights of all Americans.”

A consultant for Facebook didn’t instantly reply to a request for remark.

Although the clip has unfold amongst a broad cross-section of the on-line public, an uptick since late final week might be traced to promotion by the exhausting proper’s social media stars.

“Wake up, America,” posted Richard Grenell, who is claimed to be a prime contender for secretary of state if Trump wins the November election. “The thought police,” declared Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist and Infowars founder, to his 2.2 million followers on X. “Holy smokes,” wrote Libs of TikTok, an account generally known as a right-wing outrage manufacturing facility, including with no proof that the visit was in response to criticisms of President Biden.

“Definitely a strange turn of events. Didn’t see that one coming,” mentioned Adam Soltani, government director of the Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, referring to the right-wing assist for Abdeljawad. CAIR was amongst the civil rights teams she contacted after the brokers’ visit.

“It’s concerning to me that right-wing, anti-government folks would try to spin it,” Soltani mentioned. He mentioned partisan point-scoring misses how anti-Muslim bias is “ingrained” in companies like the FBI.

“We need to fix those systemic issues,” Soltani mentioned, “and not let it turn into some anti-government conspiracy theory.”

Abdeljawad calls herself an “Okified New Yorker.” Her Egyptian-born dad and mom moved the household from New York to Stillwater in the early 2000s to be shut to their daughter throughout her undergrad years at Oklahoma State University. They ended up placing down roots, and Abdeljawad nonetheless lives at residence between instructing stints abroad.

“Oklahoma I consider my base,” she mentioned in a telephone interview Saturday from Stillwater. “It’s where I always return to. For some odd reason, it has a hold on me.”

Still, Abdeljawad mentioned, she additionally feels intensely linked to Palestinians struggling in the war-ravaged Gaza Strip. Since combating erupted Oct. 7, when Hamas-led militants killed 1,200 folks in Israel and seized round 250 hostages, Abdeljawad mentioned she has watched in horror. The dying toll has swelled to greater than 32,000, in accordance to the Gaza Health Ministry.

“What goes through my mind is sadness. Anger that the world is watching what’s going on and not stepping in to actually stop it,” Abdeljawad mentioned.

The scenes of carnage make her really feel helpless and livid, she mentioned. She mentioned she started on the lookout for methods to specific her solidarity with Palestinians and to condemn the actions of Israel, which she pronounces “Isra-hell.” In late October, she modified her Facebook profile image to a masked determine in the black-and-white Palestinian kaffiyeh. She additionally made her posts public, as a result of “I want people to be aware of what’s going on.”

As the conflict continued to rage, Abdeljawad posted indignant screeds, together with thinly veiled assist for armed Palestinian resistance. She posted a picture lionizing a Hamas militant and one other calling Israeli army forces “terrorist filth.” At least one submit nodded to antisemitic tropes about Jewish energy. In different Facebook posts, her tone was conciliatory, resembling when she praised an interfaith peace effort.

Abdeljawad mentioned she doesn’t know which of the writings landed her on the FBI’s radar. She defended her opinions as protected speech.

“I don’t care about backlash,” she mentioned. “In fact, I take backlash as a badge of honor.”

March 19, a Tuesday, arrived throughout the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Abdeljawad’s household was out of city visiting kinfolk, leaving her alone at the home in Stillwater. She had woken up earlier than dawn to eat the conventional meal earlier than fasting started at daybreak, then went again to sleep.

Just earlier than midday, Abdeljawad recalled, she was waking up for a second time when she heard the household’s three canine “going crazy.” She walked to the lobby of the residence, she mentioned, and was shocked to see “a guy, not standing at the door, but hunched over peering through the window of the door.”

“This is Oklahoma — people don’t do that,” she mentioned. “They don’t just walk up on people’s property.”

She recalled yelling, “Back away!” earlier than operating to get her telephone. She began recording a video as she marched out a facet door to confront the man, with out realizing she was nonetheless “in my jammies” and with out her typical scarf. As her eyes adjusted to the daylight, she mentioned, she realized there have been three folks on her doorstep.

“I hear, ‘We are FBI,’ and I’m like, ‘This cannot be happening right now,’” she recalled. “This is not real.”

The tense assembly with the brokers — two males and a woman — culminated in a back-and-forth on civil liberties. When one in every of them tried to reassure Abdeljawad that “we’re not here to arrest you,” she minimize him off.

“Well, you can’t arrest me for freedom of speech,” she informed him. “We live in America.”

They saved speaking and the identical agent added, “We do this every day, all day long. It’s just an effort to keep everybody safe and make sure nobody has any ill will.”

After filming the encounter, Abdeljawad mentioned, she instantly posted the video on Facebook, to guarantee it was “out in the open in case I needed to defend myself.” She additionally alerted attorneys and rights teams, together with the American Civil Liberties Union and CAIR-Oklahoma, the place she beforehand had served on the board.

Abdeljawad mentioned she hasn’t heard from the FBI since and sees no motive to choose up the dialog: “If I have not transgressed the boundaries, the limitations, on free speech, and I’m not breaching the law, I’m not calling for violence against others, then really I have nothing to discuss with them.”

Abdeljawad’s defiance was outstanding to Muslim activists who mentioned they had been witnessing the fruits of years of labor by advocacy teams to educate communities about their rights, particularly when coping with authorities.

“In our past, if we’re going back a decade or more, we get the phone call from people when they’ve already let the FBI in their house,” mentioned Soltani, of CAIR-Oklahoma. “They’ve served them tea and they’ve answered questions and then they feel like, ‘Uh-oh, I shouldn’t have talked to them.’”

Abdeljawad’s story made the rounds in Muslim circles, however went viral Wednesday after her legal professional, Hassan Shibly, posted her video to his Instagram, X and Facebook accounts. From there, it moved into MAGA circles, the place it was fueled by feedback suggesting she was focused by the FBI due to anti-Biden posts.

The video has since popped up in Reason, the libertarian journal, and in a Fox News article. Anti-government militants hailed her as a patriot. Edward Snowden, the National Security Agency whistleblower residing in Russia, weighed in on X: “So, the FBI is now doorstopping ordinary Americans for criticizing the White House’s Gaza policy online?”

Abdeljawad mentioned she’d had no concept about extremist involvement in the wildfire unfold of the video and didn’t appear positive of how to reconcile it. She mentioned she didn’t need to choose others or squander the likelihood to construct bridges. Her personal politics are “the middle,” she mentioned, in accordance with Islamic teachings about moderation.

“We know what happens if our rights were to be taken away,” she mentioned. “None of us wants that.”

Over the weekend, Abdeljawad’s views got here underneath assault by pro-Israel activists on social media who flooded feedback sections with screenshots of her posts, urging conservative defenders to rescind their assist.

Conservative determine Chris Loesch, for instance, shared Abdeljawad’s video final week with the remark: “The FBI needs to be dismantled from the top down. An agency that had lost its way.” By Saturday, Loesch was on the defensive as followers known as him out for supporting what one described as “an un-American Muslim.”

“Is she an American citizen? I disagree with her, think her views are disgusting and she is wrong but I see that sort of crap from popular accounts on X all day,” Loesch replied. “She still has a right to be offensively wrong, right?”

As a few of the assist melts away, Abdeljawad has begun receiving hate mail from pro-Israel strangers. Screenshots confirmed messages disparaging her ethnicity and faith; she additionally posted her fiery responses. The video’s weird kumbaya second was fleeting.

At residence in Stillwater, Abdeljawad mentioned she had no regrets. The FBI visit she filmed in her pajamas has been seen by thousands and thousands of individuals and stirred debate on the limits of free speech.

“I am that person that actually has a pocket Constitution on their shelf,” Abdeljawad mentioned. “They actually, unfortunately for them, walked in on a very educated, very aware American.”

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