Since Gulen's self-imposed exile from Turkey in 1999, he has built a multi-billion dollar network of organizations and businesses throughout the United States and around the world promoting his version of Islam from a large compound he built tucked away in the Poconos. Gulen, who seemingly never emerges publicly from his private compound, choosing instead to communicate to his followers via the Internet and video recordings, encourages his followers to praise Allah by making lots of money, mostly for him, instead of building new mosques. The so-called Gulen Movement has sought to influence American politicians, business, education and civic leaders in a relatively short period of time with profound results, an effort that has reached deep into the Hoosier state.
Although the charismatic imam has grown into the most powerful religious cleric in Turkey, Gulen hasn't set foot in Turkey since he arrived in the U.S. to receive medical treatment in 1999. After arriving in the United States, he was indicted by Turkey's secular government for attempting to organize a stealth Islamic coup by urging his supporters within the Turkish government to take control of the government. Gulen insisted his statements were taken out of context, and he was later acquitted after he was tried in abstentia. Nonetheless, many inside Turkey and within the U.S. government view his growing web of activities and influence with suspicion.
Despite serious misgivings by the FBI about his motivations and intentions, Gulen found top officials within the CIA and State Department to vouch for him to allow him to remain in the United States and obtain lawful permanent residence here. FBI whistle blower Sibel Edmonds has reported the fact that among his top sponsors was a former top CIA official, Graham Fuller, who was exposed as having close family ties to Ruslan Tsarni, a Russian immigrant and uncle of Boston Marathon bombing suspects Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. According to Edmonds, Fuller, a chief architect of the Iran-Contra scandal that rocked the Reagan administration, has been behind CIA efforts to recruit radical Islamists to carry out terrorist activities to destabilize Russian and Chinese influence in Central Asia. Edmonds included Fuller on her rogue gallery of U.S. officials, in large part, due to his role in propping up and handling Gulen and his $20 billion plus network of non government organizations.
In addition to promoting a large network of charter schools, Gulen's nonprofit organizations in the United States have largely focused on: promoting Turkish culture through festivals and classes; seeking access to public officials, academics and other influential people in the community; providing all-expense paid guided trips to Turkey to American public officials and persons of influence; engaging in interfaith dialogue and outreach; hosting lectures, luncheons and dinners; and offering gifts and special recognition to American public officials and persons of influence. A 2008 RAND National Defense Research Institute report described the Gulen movement as being "highly nationalistic and heavily involved with promoting Turkish language and culture. It has been accused of spreading pan-Turkism and neo-Ottomanism."
A "60 Minutes" report by Lesley Stahl last year reported on how Gulen's network had established more than one hundred charter schools throughout the United States, the largest collection of charter schools in the country, including Indianapolis' Math & Science Academy. Together, they receive more than $150 million in public funding annually. Although the schools are not religious, Stahl reported on festering questions about Gulen's motivations. Stahl's report noted that many of the schools are staffed with Gulen followers from Turkey, who are brought here on work visas sponsored by the Gulen-backed schools to teach in a variety of areas, including English. That's led critics to accuse the Gulen charter schools of committing visa fraud by claiming a lack of qualified American teachers to fill teaching jobs at the schools. Stahl even learned that Turkish immigrant teachers at the schools are required to donate up to 40% of their salaries to Gulen's organization. Stahl found it difficult to find any critics to speak out about Gulen in Turkey for fear of reprisal, noting that his critics often wind up jailed.
|Bilal Eksili presenting Sen. Richard Lugar Lifetime Scholarship Award
Eksili sits on the board of trustees for Indianapolis' Math & Science Academy, a publicly-funded charter school he was instrumental in establishing. Eksili ran Indiana's chapter of the Niagara Foundation until last year when he became the Vice President of the Turkish American Federation of Midwest, another Gulen-funded organization. Despite efforts at one time by the FBI to kick Gulen out of the United States, FBI Director Robert Mueller presented to Eksili's organization the 2008 Community Leadership Award.
Eksili, who has made large campaign donations to several Hoosier public officials, including Gov. Mike Pence and U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly, has hosted numerous lunches, dinners and other events on behalf of the Niagara Foundation at which many of Indiana's top political, business, education, religious and community leaders have participated. He also solicits public officials and other leaders to accompany him on all-expense paid trips to Turkey. Advance Indiana obtained an e-mail solicitation that Eksili sent out in 2011 to persons who he sought to accompany him on a trip to Turkey. The following is a partial text of that e-mail, boasting about the number of influential persons who have accompanied him on past trips to Turkey:
You are cordially invited to join our Inter-Cultural Friendship Trip to Turkey. Every guest is responsible only for purchasing his/her Indianapolis - Istanbul airfare. We will cover all travel, lodging and food costs in Turkey. Your spouse is also invited.
Other than our regular tour program, we will be welcomed by the Turkish academics, media members, government officials and by the leading businessmen of Turkey. In each city we will have a chance to have dinner with local families at their residents too.
The Niagara Foundation (formerly known as Holy Dove Foundation) is a Non-profit foundation and aims to forge bonds of lasting friendship between Hoosiers and Turkish people by identifying what it is we have in common, by learning to appreciate and honor our differences, and by collaborating on mutually beneficial projects.
In 3 years over 400 leaders from Indiana including many State Senators, Representatives, academics, media members and leading businessmen have experienced this life changing opportunity and they all came back with remarkable memories.
We believe what makes Turkey particularly attractive as a travel destination is the fact that it has historically been one of the most interesting meeting places of different civilizations, not to mention its marvelous natural beauties, warm hospitality and world famous cuisine, which attracts approximately 25 million of foreign tourists every year.
The dates will be as follows: June 8th – 19th, and June 19th – 29th. Attached you can find sample itinerary and also you can visit our webpage for further information. Our webpage is www.theholydove.org , www.niagarafoundation.org
The list of prominent Hoosiers participating in Gulen-funded trips to Turkey is astonishing to say the least. It's not surprising that so many politicians would jump at the opportunity to take part in an overseas junket to Turkey, but many people will be shocked that top media representatives, business, religious and community leaders took advantage of the free trips as well. Advance Indiana obtained a sample itinerary for one of the Gulen-sponsored trips, which included stops at a mosque, the Turkish parliament, Turkey's largest TV station and newspaper controlled by Gulen, meetings with government and media officials loyal to Gulen, and dinners in the homes of Gulen followers, along with plenty of time allotted for typical tourist trappings including shopping, boating, swimming and other leisure-related activities.Some of the Previous Travelers:Senator Brandt Hershman, Senator Vi Simpson, Senator Jim Arnold, Senator Karen Tallian, Senator Jim Lewis, Representative Linda Lawson, Representative Vernon Smith, Kevin Rader Channel13 . . . Sherrie Bossung Eli Lilly, Julie Dewitt . . . Jason Kloth Teach for America, Jason Dombkowski Chief of Police Dept in West Lafayette, Tom Harton IBJ, Roland Dorson President of Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce, Donald Knebel B&T Law, Bobby Fong President of Butler University, Scott Appleby Director of Kroc Institute at Notre Dame, Patrick & Melissa Mason Notre Dame, Barbara Lockwood Notre Dame, Kent Millard, St. Luke’s United Meth. Church, Dennis & Sandy Sasso, Beth El-Zedeck Synagogue, Suellen Reed, former Superintendent of Public Education, Judy O’Bannon WFYI, Lewis Galloway Second Presbyterian Church, Kevin Armstrong North Meridian United Meth. Church, Bonnie Maurer Printing Editor of IBJ, Virgil Madden Lt. Governor’s Policy Advisor, Chris Crabtree Lt. Governor’s Chief of Staff, Pierre Atlas Marian University, Sylvia Payne IUPUI, Bill Plater IUPUI, Dwight Burlingame Philanthropy Center, Gary Roberts IUPUI, Nancy Chism IUPUI, Grady Chism IUPUI, Valerie Eickmeier IUPUI, Laurie and Bill Schneider IUPUI, Darrel Bailey IUPUI.
In February, Advance Indiana exclusively reported that another prominent Turkish immigrant, businessman Ersal Ozdemir, was accompanying Indiana Commerce Secretary Victor Smith on a four-day trade mission to Turkey during which Smith was planning to attend the Young President's Organization Global Leadership Summit in Istanbul at which Smith was presenting. YPO is an exclusive organization first established by the CIA back in the 1950s, which counts Ozdemir among its members. An IEDC spokesperson told Advance Indiana that Ozdemir accompanied Smith and IEDC officials on the trip to "introduce IEDC staff to leaders in the Turkish business community."
Advance Indiana has previously reported on the meteoric rise of Ozdemir in Indiana during the relatively short time he has lived here. Ozdemir has scored numerous government construction contracts from state and local governments and won tens of millions of dollars in government handouts for his private development projects after emerging as one of the state's largest individual campaign contributors. Ozdemir exerts enormous influence over Mayor Greg Ballard and the Marion County Republican Party, which houses its offices in a building owned by Ozdemir, as well as Carmel Mayor James Brainard. Ozdemir also recently announced that he had landed a professional soccer team franchise for Indianapolis. Speculation now abounds that the CIB, with Mayor Ballard's backing, will build or at least subsidize a new soccer stadium for Ozdemir's soccer franchise.
|Former Supt. of Education Tony Bennett embracing Eksili
|Former Indianapolis Council President Rozelle Boyd on Niagara-sponsored trip to Turkey
|Former Gov. Mitch Daniels receiving an honor from Eksili at Niagara-sponsored dinner
|WTHR's State House reporter Kevin Rader with group on Niagara-sponsored trip to Turkey
|State Rep. Mike Speedy (left) on Niagara-sponsored trip to Turkey
|U.S. Rep. Susan Brooks with House Majority Leader Eric Cantor and Eksili
|Former Lt. Gov. Becky Skillman presenting Distinguished Citizen Award to Eksili at State House event
You won't want to miss this video produced in 2011 and narrated by WTHR weatherman Bob Gregory to see the extent to which the Gulen Movement has co-opted so many of Indiana political, business, religious and education leaders based on false assumptions about who and what they're all about.