As El Paso County Commissioner Peggy Littleton rolls out her tale of creeping jihad, for emphasis she attempts to spell the last name of Fethullah Gülen, and fails. Look this name up on the Internet, she instructs the crowd: "G-U-L-A-N."
On the screen behind her are the names of schools that Littleton alleges to be "Gulen charter schools."
This comes as Littleton, a former state Board of Education member, speaks in late January in St. Louis at the Educational Policy Conference. The far-right gathering features presenters like stealth-jihad activist Frank Gaffney, and is keynoted by conservative columnist Ann Coulter.
Littleton is warning against what she describes as a new kind of stealth Islamization, in which Muslims start and lead clandestine Islamic schools while collecting public money. Conspiring to promote this jihad, Littleton alleges, is none other than President Barack Obama.
In a video of the speech put online by ThinkProgress, Littleton tells the crowd: "I believe — and this is just my own personal opinion, without any factual data to back it up — one of the only reasons the Obama administration is willing to stand in the face of teachers' unions ... by making states adopt charter school rules ... I think that he's doing that because of these Gülen schools. The Gülen schools are the Muslim schools in our country ... telling the kids of the United States of America, 'Hate Americans' and the whole rest..."
Later, when asked by ThinkProgress why she believes Obama would support this scheme, Littleton replies, "You've heard that he thinks we ought to be friendly to some of their causes, that we should be tolerant in promoting some of the Muslims that are scientists and technology people."
Speaking to the Independent 5½ weeks later, Littleton denies having said that these supposed Gülen schools were teaching American kids to hate Americans.
"No, no, no, no, I never said that. And everything I said in there, I reiterate three times this is my own personal opinion, this is not based on fact or data, we just need to be cautious of them coming over here and having the same type of focus that they do in Turkey. I think that a lot of people have tried to twist this and misquote me. ... I did not say that."
To see the video, click here.
Fethullah Gülen is a Turkish educator and scholar, and a controversial political figure. He fled his homeland in the late 1990s due to his political conflicts with the military-backed regime. He currently lives in Pennsylvania, having obtained his green card in 2008.
To supporters, Gülen is seen as a positive force for modern Islam, a proponent of interfaith communication who believes that in order for Islam to modernize, it must teach western concepts of science and math alongside traditional religious lessons.
According to a 2010 Wall Street Journal article, his teachings and writings have inspired a movement of 3 million to 8 million followers. But the paper reported he had no direct influence over the movement or its privately funded schools, which exist in more than 100 countries.
The Gülen movement has been praised by President Bill Clinton and by Dalia Mogahed, a Muslim member of the Obama administration's White House Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnership.
Critics, however, paint Gülen and the movement he's inspired with dark strokes. Numerous websites and blogs fan this negative view, drawing tenuous connections between the movement and American charter schools.
In a lengthy USA Today article last year, critics pointed to three charter schools or networks with alleged ties to Gülen. One, Beehive Science & Technology Academy in Utah, has since been investigated and cleared of charges that it was promoting Islam. In Texas, home of a charter system mentioned in the article, the state Senate passed a resolution this year praising the work of Gülen, whose institute is housed at the University of Houston.
Littleton tells the Indy she hasn't spent much time researching Gülen schools. "I am by no means the expert on this. I do about 60 to 80 hours a week doing roads and streets and bridges and commissioner work."
What Littleton presented to the conference was the list, easily found online, of the 150 schools in question. Colorado has only one: Lotus School for Excellence in Aurora.
While Lotus emphasizes math and science and clearly embraces Turkish heritage — its Turkish Club celebrates Turkey's "various folkloric themes, rich cuisine, and language" — there's no evidence it's associated with Gülen.
Lotus principal Adnan Doyuran is singled out on at least one website as a Gülen subversive. He is Turkish, studied physics and moved to the U.S. in 1996 to get his Ph.D. And he's aware of Gülen, one of the best-known figures of his home country. But, he says, "Just because I am from Turkey, doesn't mean that I am a terrorist."
"You can find me," he says. "You can come to my school. I am serving 600 students." Lotus has been operating from 2006, he points out, "and we have no affiliation with any other group other than the Aurora Public Schools and the state of Colorado."
The Aurora School District reports having received one anonymous complaint about Lotus in five years, which it deemed unfounded.
"In my staff, you will find people of all colors and all walks of life," Doyuran says. "And people from all different religions. It is a very diverse school, because it is a public school."
Yes, his school offers opportunities to learn about Turkey. But many charter schools, he points out, teach students about other cultures.
"Is this all wrong?" he asks. "I think this is richness."