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Group Swamps Swing States With Movie on Radical Islam

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By Kimberly Kindy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, October 26, 2008

A New York-based organization has sent copies of a movie about Islamist extremism to more than 28 million houses and religious institutions in presidential election battleground states over the past several weeks.

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The 60-minute documentary-style production, "Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West," includes images of terrorist attacks from around the world, historic footage of Nazi rallies and modern-day scenes of Muslim children reciting poetry that celebrates suicide bombings. The costs of producing and distributing the film, through mass mailings and newspaper inserts -- an effort that one Muslim advocacy group estimates at $50 million -- were paid by the Clarion Fund, a nonprofit group that says it is seeking "to educate Americans about issues of national security to influence voters."

Members of several Muslim groups have condemned the film, saying that it is inflammatory and that it could incite violence against them.

"It's a mind-boggling massive campaign. When you send material like this almost exclusively to presidential swing states that sends a message that you are trying to influence the election," said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. "It's inappropriate as a nonprofit for the Clarion Fund to do."

The council filed complaints with the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service last month, accusing the group of promoting the candidacy of Sen. John McCain over Sen. Barack Obama's. Federal election and tax laws prohibit nonprofit organizations from promoting specific candidates.

One of the Clarion Fund's Web sites, http://www.radicalislam.com, posted an article two weeks ago that stated, "McCain's policies seek to confront radical Islamic extremism and terrorism and roll it back while Obama's, although intending to do the same, could in fact make the situation facing the West even worse."

The Clarion Fund has since removed the article, but its Web site still links readers to a vast network of sites that promote McCain. The election has also dominated panel discussions at dozens of Clarion-organized private screenings of the film and its recently released sequel, "The Third Jihad."

Clarion Fund spokesman Gregory Ross said that the group's intent had been to distribute "The Third Jihad" in the mass mailings but that the production was not completed in time. In an e-mail, a Clarion staff member and fundraiser said the sequel's planned rollout in September was meant to coincide with the elections.

"The film 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," fundraiser Matt Weisbaum said in a July 15 e-mail obtained by The Washington Post. The message was sent to members of Jewish Republicans of Colorado.

Distribution of the film has been focused primarily on battleground states such as Virginia, Colorado, Florida and Ohio. Virginia residents began receiving DVDs of "Obsession" last week.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations estimates that the Clarion Fund spent $50 million to produce and distribute the film. Ross said it has been a "multimillion-dollar" effort.

Clarion refuses to reveal the identity of donors who funded the making of the "Obsession" in 2006 and paid for the costs associated with its distribution. Because Clarion is a nonprofit group, it is not legally required to disclose names of its financial backers.

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