Group Fighting Terrorism Trials in Virginia Tied to GOP Firm

By
Thursday, June 11, 2009 at 6:00 am
Sarah Raak of Citizens for a Safe Alexandria (News8.net)

Citizens for a Safe Alexandria founder Sara Raak (News8.net)

As a substantial portion of about 250 detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay’s prison facility prepare to face trial in the United States, the alarm that has defined the Washington debate over civilian trials for terrorism detainees has spilled across the Potomac River. A new organization has formed in Alexandria, Va., to advocate that the federal court there, which has already heard several prominent terrorism trials, is an undesired venue for trying detainees. The founder of the two-week-old Citizens for a Safe Alexandria, Sara Raak, appeared on local TV news Monday night to tell the Obama administration and lawmakers not to “put those of us in the Alexandria neighborhood at risk” by transfering detainees to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

Illustration by: Matt Mahurin

But while the newscaster interviewing Raak called her group a “grassroots” organization — and while Raak explained its origins by saying “we wanted to have an organization that kept the citizens of Alexandria aware of things that were happening at the federal, state or local government level” about dangers to the area — the group shows signs of being an “astroturf” effort, an attempt at making an issue pushed by powerful sponsors appear like a spontaneous outpouring of public will. Raak, who has a substantial pedigree in conservative politics and works for a Virginia communications firm, denies the charge.

Citizens for a Safe Alexandria’s Website has a number of features that raise the eyebrows of astroturf experts. Its domain is listed as owned by DomainsByProxy, which conceals the identity of Websites’ owners. The site doesn’t feature any contact information — just a box where visitors can submit a message to the group. “These vague things, the lack of contact information, they’re all red flags,” said Diane Farsetta, a senior researcher with the Center for Media and Democracy. Asked about the DomainsByProxy Web ownership, Farsetta said, “I don’t know why a grassroots organization would do that.”

The servers that host Citizens for a Safe Alexandria’s Website, however, reveal somewhat more. According to the server-information hub Whois.net, the organization’s Website is hosted on servers belonging to a firm called Democracy Data & Communications, whose address is on the same floor of the same building as the communications firm where Raak is employed, a company called OnPoint Advocacy — whose Website is on the same servers as well. Those servers host Websites for several business interests and advocacy groups on the right, including the Altria-owned Tobaccoissues.com and the now-defunct Freedom’s Watch, formerly run by Bush White House Press Secretary Ari Fleischer. For its part, OnPoint offers clients the ability to “generate influential contacts with Congress” through “grassroots” and “grasstops” media strategies, including “interactive, grassroots-focused online recruitment and communications programs that help expand and strengthen your existing advocate audiences.”

According Raak’s OnPoint biography, Citizens for a Safe Alexandria is far from her first involvement in activism. The company lists her conservative-movement bona fides:

Prior to joining OnPoint Advocacy, Sara worked on the Vote for Business program at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, creating and managing grassroots advocacy programs for U.S. Chamber members. Earlier in her career, Sara directed the campaign of Presidential candidate Steve Forbes in the two largest counties in Iowa. Sara has also worked for Progress for America, where she played a key role in the nomination of Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Samuel Alito to the U.S. Supreme Court, and served as outreach director for the Support Your Troops campaign. In addition, while working for the DCI Group, Sara directed state-based campaigns for large telecommunications companies.

Reached for comment at her OnPoint office on Wednesday afternoon, Raak said that Democracy Data & Communications — which she clarified is part of OnPoint — “was kind enough to offer” a Website for Citizens for a Safe Alexandria, but otherwise “has nothing to do” with the group, which she said also extended to OnPoint more broadly. She said “there’s no funding” for the group other than what she, her husband and two associates who are “other moms” in Alexandria put into the effort. The money they spend will go toward “put[ting] out some pamphlets” against Guantanamo detainees going to trial in Alexandria and distribute them in Old Town and at area flea markets. The contact-us section of the group’s Website bounces to Raak’s personal email account, though she said she may change that aspect of the Website if her group expands. News Channel 8 contacted her after seeing the organization on various social-networking media. Raak Tweeted about it on May 29, using the “Top Conservatives On Twitter” hashtag.

Additionally, the group may expand its focus to “rising crime” in Alexandria. “We kind of reflect the views of people in the neighborhoods of Alexandria. It’s a completely bipartisan group,” Raak said. “It’s not an astroturf” organization.

What’s actually the problem with trying Guantanamo detainees in Alexandria? Several terrorism trials have already been held at the district court without any damage to public safety, with convicted al-Qaeda conspirator Zacharias Moussaoui being perhaps the highest profile defendant. When that trial and others were held, Raak rejoindered, there were “road closures, snipers on rooftops, traffic congestion.” The trials placed the city “on the radar,” she said, and were hardly “the positive thing Alexandria wants to be on the radar for.” Other jurisdictions, Raak noted, have offered to take in Guantanamo detainees for trial. (Florence, Colo., home of a federal Supermax prison, is one of them) “They’ve already been here,” Raak said. “We’ve had our turn.”

On that point, Raak has support from Virginia politicians and national Republicans. Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.) said last month that he opposes transferring Guantanamo detainees for Virginia to stand trial. Rep. Eric Cantor (R-Va.), a House GOP leader from the state, blasted Creigh Deeds, who won the Virginia Democratic gubernatorial primary on Tuesday, for not taking a clear position on the issue. And Senate GOP leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) made similar arguments on the Senate floor last month that when Moussaoui was brought to the Alexandria courthouse for his trial, “traffic was stopped due to security concerns, a major inconvenience to locals and local businesses.” Raak’s group is well-positioned to echo that argument.

Research assistance for this piece provided by TWI managing editor Matthew DeLong.

Follow Spencer Ackerman on Twitter


Comments

29 Comments

BlueDawgD
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 7:32 am

domains by proxy is a service that costs like 2 bucks when you register on godaddy… and a bunch of other web sites hosts. Most people do this so that wackos don't get their home address.

I'm a liberal domain owner and I do this with ALL of my domains. You definitely got them on hosting the server at their company (which is 100% boneheaded and SO 1999), but the domains by proxy is not a legitimate argument.


becs09
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 8:16 am

As spokesperson for Smart Girl Politics (http://www.smartgirlpolitics.org, a national conservative women's movement of over 10,000 promoting grassroots efforts and conservative activism, I applaud Ms. Raak. She saw a local issue affecting her community, found a way, through her work, her professional experience, and her interests to garner grassroots support and reach out to others in her community, and asked her company – which happens to be in her community, as well – to help out. This is true grassroots activism.

Smart Girl Politics encourages, enables and empowers women who want to be leaders in their communities. What Ms. Raak did was impressive. This is the kind of activity that Smart Girl Politics will continue to advocate for nationwide. Kudos to her for being a strong conservative woman and her company for supporting local grassroots initiatives.


Edd
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 9:14 am

Ms. Raak is really dumb; and you support it. Instead of wasting energy to delay the effects of finishing our government's costly blunder, she could focus on getting more women involved in running the country. But no, that would mean REAL girl power.


lindsey
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 10:40 am

Edd–your estrogen pride will only get you so far in life, and the fact that you have a monthly period to deal with does not equal gender supremecy or entitle you to feel superior to those you merely disagree with. The fact that your response is “Ms Raak is really dumb” says enough about your ability to think through complex issues and come up with an original argument. Until you can come up with an intelligent and respectful retort, please leave the debate to those with actual solutions to offer.

Ms. Raak–I applaud your efforts to be an active community organizer and leader on issues important to Alexandria. I wholeheartedly agree with your position and the desire to keep Alexandria, VA SAFE.


Sarah
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 10:49 am

wow, you're a cunt.


Dolmance
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 10:49 am

Please, she's a crackpot.


SarahW
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 11:08 am

Wow–way to contribute to the discussion. Stay classy!


lindsey
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 11:20 am

Seriously, ladies. Let's focus on the issues and solutions here, regardless if there is male or female leadership at the helm. The issue boils down to a few mere points: 1) The vast majority of Guantanamo inmates are enemy combatants with no US rights. They should not be tried in the US.
2) Logistically, our tax dollars will have to go to the infrastructure to send, keep and try them in Alexandria.
3) The symbolic gesture of bringing them to Alexandria, so close to the Capital, not only sends the wrong message to the terrorist inmates supporters, but puts a huge target on our city
Putting aside for a moment that the treatment the “inmates” are currently receiving costs too much, and that they deserve alot worse, there are a host of reasons why keeping them in Guantanamo is a better alternative than being anywhere in the US, much less Alexandria, VA. Now, if you can keep the debate focused on the actual issue at hand, rather than acting like 3 year old little snobs on a playground calling each other names like “stupid” and other words I won't repeat, maybe you will achieve real “girl power” worth respecting. I welcome your thoughts. =)


Alina
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 11:43 am

Who pays for stuff like this? Groups like this shouldn't exist – it's a waste of tax payer and private dollars. And if you start a group — you should have someone with a little bit of personality and education to back it up. What a joke.


GOP astroturf organization fighting terrorism trials in the US « Later On
Pingback posted June 11, 2009 @ 1:06 pm

[...] any event, the GOP fights the idea, both openly and (apparently) through astroturf. Spencer Ackerman has the story in the Washington Independent: As a substantial portion of about 250 detainees being held at [...]


Brittany
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 12:43 pm

Wow, I love seeing another fellow female with guts and a willingness to stand against the tide even while taking the hits! Placing all of the ridiculous pettiness aside (although seeing some of these insane postings by other women goes to show we are our own worst enemy and why we get the reputation that we so often do) there is no doubt that this would be a horrifying move by this Administration. They are turning a war, with foreign combatants, into a criminal petshop. Since when in the history of our country do you see soldiers reading enemy combatants their rights and moving them onto our own soil, thereby giving them our Constitutional Rights? These are NOT American citizens and they are enemies of our Constitution!

The long list of reasons as to WHY this would be an incredibly horrible idea are glaringly OBVIOUS to anyone who would simply take the time to step away from their emotions and hormones and ponder the repercussions WITH LOGIC for just a few minutes.


SusanElizabeth1949
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 6:10 pm

Brittany: The detainees were on US soil from the second they got to Gitmo –all US Bases are US soil as are Embassies as well as Consulates. That is why the SOTUS regularly told Bush he was out of line over the handling of the.


Brittany
Comment posted June 11, 2009 @ 6:33 pm

Perhaps I should be more clear SusanElizabeth… when I said “US soil”, I was inferring between THESE particular borders. Of course, we have bases all over the world in order to keep an established “presence”. You can avoid addressing the real issues and debate semantics but it still doesn't change that we are treating foreign comabatants as common criminals…handing them our Constitutional rights, something that has never been done before in the history of our country.


More Astroturfing Accusations « Pink Elephant Pundit
Pingback posted June 11, 2009 @ 11:23 pm

[...] thing. I don’t know Sara Raak. I do however know people that are connected to her, and the allegations cited for astroturfing are totally ridiculous and [...]


Hawaiian style
Comment posted June 14, 2009 @ 1:59 am

Brittany,

Your comabatants are criminals. You cannot have a war on a philosophy.

OUR Constitutional rights are an enumeration of the rights given to all men.

Terrorists ARE criminals committing crimes against humanity. They should be treated as common criminals, captured, held, prosecuted and punished as criminals wherever they are found.

The world would be better off if we had done this to start with. However the Admin at the time was so terrified both of further attacks and of us the US citizens because they dropped the ball on prevention they had to “declare WAR ON TERROR”. This was just another political progrom the same as the war on drugs and the war on poverty.

What you are advocating is to hold all these folks without any determination of possible guilt forever or til the end of the War on Terror. That's what you do with POWs. These men are not prisoners of war they are enemy combatants some of which have no evidence against them. Fear is not a reason to become any more of a rogue nation than we already have.

If you plan to hold all the enemy combatants that come along, I hope you have a lot of prisons and a lot of money.

What are you afraid of? Justice?


Hawaiian style
Comment posted June 14, 2009 @ 2:08 am

SGP cheesh.

If you want to be powerful, influential, effective and significant. Drop the “girl” bit and become a player in the political comment field on an equal footing. No one cares about your gender just your ideas.

“Girl” carries neither a badge of entitlement nor entre into the debate.

Empower your followers, leaders, and fellow travelers on planet earth you will get more respect and have a bigger audience.


Jon H
Comment posted June 14, 2009 @ 8:55 pm

“She saw a local issue affecting her community”

She's going about it dishonestly. Her concern isn't a “Safe Alexandria”, it's convenience, which just makes her look like a petulant Yuppie who doesn't want to be stuck in traffic on the way to Whole Foods.


Jon H
Comment posted June 14, 2009 @ 8:58 pm

” The symbolic gesture of bringing them to Alexandria, so close to the Capital, not only sends the wrong message to the terrorist inmates supporters, but puts a huge target on our city”

Boy, you're just stupid, aren't you? You're already a target because of your proximity to Washington. Any Whole Foods in the area is probably a target-rich environment on the weekends.

Anyway, safety isn't the problem for this twit, she's concerned about traffic.


Rebecca Wales
Comment posted June 15, 2009 @ 2:53 pm

Smart Girl Politics is a women's conservative movement. We are proud to be a place for conservative women to go, to mobilize, to engage, and to learn. If we can help get more women into politics and keep them there, then we consider that a success.

That being said, if there are issues that do not require us to comment as women, or to make a delineation between other conservatives and female conservatives, then we do not. There is a time and a place for it.

An example of where our gender DOES come into the debate – the hateful attack on conservative female political pundits by Playboy. That is only one instance, but a prime example of where it was necessary and appropriate for our group, Smart Girl Politics to defend other female conservatives.

We will continue to to engage, educate, and empower women with a keen and unapologetic commitment to our conservative values. I invite you to visit us at http://www.smartgirlpolitics.org.


SarahW
Comment posted June 17, 2009 @ 6:29 am

Jon H you really have it in for Whole Foods, eh?

Even if you're right, what's the matter with being concerned about the traffic and other concerns that woudl affect local business? I work in Old Town, and the likely circus surrounding the detainees being tried here would seriously impact me on a daily basis as I tried to get to work. Why not try them in a less urban area where it would affect less people? Why should we WANT them to come here?

Also, by dismissing people as just “stupid” or “twits” makes you look like a real a-hole. At least say something thoughtful even if you disagree.


SarahW
Comment posted June 17, 2009 @ 1:29 pm

Jon H you really have it in for Whole Foods, eh?

Even if you're right, what's the matter with being concerned about the traffic and other concerns that woudl affect local business? I work in Old Town, and the likely circus surrounding the detainees being tried here would seriously impact me on a daily basis as I tried to get to work. Why not try them in a less urban area where it would affect less people? Why should we WANT them to come here?

Also, by dismissing people as just “stupid” or “twits” makes you look like a real a-hole. At least say something thoughtful even if you disagree.


k. hood
Comment posted June 22, 2009 @ 8:57 pm

In plain English: The reason they are so terrified of giving the so-called 'terrorists' trials is because they know that in a fair trial most if not all of the so-called 'terrorists' would have to be found not guilty and released, and their city would come under attack from people like themselves who believe that the Bush government was empowered by God to imprison people without trial.
What they fear is themselves, and there is no way out of that. One day they will have to face their own complicity in the horrors that were done.


fredfreedom
Comment posted June 25, 2009 @ 2:15 pm

Of course, the SHERIFF of Alexandria has publicly stated that his city and facilities are ready to handle any of the transferred inmates. But what wold he know about public safety compared to a Republican political operative?


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louis vuitton
Comment posted August 5, 2010 @ 9:23 am

Terrorists ARE criminals committing crimes against humanity. They should be treated as common criminals, captured, held, prosecuted and punished as criminals wherever they are found.


Discount Louis Vuitton
Comment posted August 23, 2010 @ 2:57 am

One day they will have to face their own complicity in the horrors that were done.


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