Both as Iranians Organized inside Iran and against the Islamic Republic in exile, a bipartisan collection of more than 160 members of the US Congress introduced a resolution this week endorsing an exiled opposition group with credibly alleged past radical militancy-like behavior.
On Thursday, Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., held a congressional briefing to introduce House Resolution 100 with the stated goal of lending support to protesting Iranians for “a democratic, secular and denuclearized Republic of Iran.” The opening speaker at the session was Maryam Razavi, head of the Mojahedin-e Khalq, or MEK, an Iranian exile group previously listed as a terrorist organization accused of brainwashing and sexually abusing its members.
“It is no exaggeration to say that perhaps nothing can unite today’s Iranians except opposition to the MEK and their agenda.”
“It is no exaggeration to say that nothing could possibly unite today’s Iranians more than opposition to the MEK and their agenda,” said Arash Azizi, an Iranian historian and political commentator who describes the group as a “brutal cult.” “They are not only popular among Iranians, but they are hated and hated by Iranians across the political spectrum.”
This perception of the MEK among Iranians has not deterred many US politicians who claim to support democracy in Iran from continuing to support the group. Congress has long been a stronghold of support for the MEK. The group boasted a powerful lobbying operation before being listed as a terrorist group in the late 1990s and then spent years lobbying through cutouts to be removed from the terror list. The group has long appealed to hawks in Washington who favor a U.S. policy of war with Iran and regime change.
The text of the new bill is linked to a recent wave of protests and repression in Iran, citing a 2018 rally by the MEK in Paris calling for regime change in Iran. While the bill does not specifically name the group, it points to “Opposition Leader Ms. Maryam Razavi’s 10-point plan for the future of Iran” as a starting point for change. In his remarks at the briefing, Razavi thanked the measure’s supporters for “this very important bipartisan congressional initiative in support of the people of Iran and the Iranian resistance.”
Sponsored by McClintock, A Republican, the resolution boasts the support of 60 Democratic politicians, including several members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and the Congressional Progressive Caucus. (McClintock’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)
“For more than 26 years as a senior member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, I have co-sponsored many resolutions and bills related to democracy and human rights in Iran,” said Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., who led minority support. Bill said in a statement to The Intercept. Sherman pointed to an array of other bills he has supported in recent years that have condemned human rights abuses in Iran, called for sanctions and expressed support for protesters.
Although Sherman did not respond to The Intercept’s follow-up questions about MEK, he has been a staunch Congress supporter of the group in the past, supporting Rajavi, whom he Video chat With last year, and past McClintock signing the pro-MEK resolution.
Rep. John Garamendi, D-Calif., said he supported the resolution after receiving “significant outreach” from constituents. “I am H.R.S. 100 because I stand by the people of Iran in their fight for human rights and a secular and non-nuclear state,” Garamendi said in a statement. Acknowledging the bill’s obvious linking to McClintock’s MEK, Garamendi said, “I don’t control what other members say in their press releases about the bill, but let me be clear, the point of H.Res. 100 is a call to investigate extrajudicial killings and prevent other human rights abuses, which I support.
Rep. Brendan Boyle, D-Pa., told the Intercept he co-sponsored the resolution “to show support for the brave protesters in Iran who are risking their lives to protest an oppressive regime.” Boyle said he had not seen the MEK mentioned in the text of the bill but was glad there was bipartisan support to stand with the protesters.
Despite its high popularity among Iranians, the MEK continues to receive support from Western politicians, including many American leaders. Former Trump administration officials such as John Bolton have been longtime supporters of the group, which was successfully removed from the State Department’s list of designated terrorist organizations in 2012 after a yearlong lobbying campaign targeting senior politicians from both parties.
Despite its popularity on Capitol Hill, Iranians themselves strongly oppose the MEK due to its support of Saddam Hussein’s invasion of the country in the 1980s, its involvement in terrorist attacks inside Iran, and its own authoritarian ideology.
MEK’s funding sources remain opaque, but the group periodically holds rallies and public events attended by foreign dignitaries. Many participants in the event wrote about “hired-in-crowds” of non-Iranians who were recruited to show up and provide a semblance of popular support for the organization.
The group is also believed to conduct covert operations and information dissemination from foreign bases in Albania and France.