RUTLAND, Vt. — About 50 people from the local community gathered Tuesday night at the Rutland Free Library to hear nationally known security experts weigh in on the city’s refugee debate.
The seminar, sponsored by the group Rutland First, comes in the midst of a tense debate over Rutland Mayor Christopher Louras’ secretive decision to bring 100 Syrian refugees to the city this year.
Although lack of transparency is one of the main objections the group has to resettlement, speakers at Tuesday’s event addressed financial and security concerns related to the program.
Phil Haney, a retired founding member of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, discussed the program’s potential safety issues. While working in the department, Haney dealt with 300 cases of terrorism on U.S. soil.
“San Bernardino, Orlando, Boston, Fort Hood, Little Rock — all these attacks were carried out by less than 10 people,” he said, emphasizing the importance of security screening.
The government is failing to properly vet refugees, he added, which puts communities at risk. Haney cited studies that show 20 percent to 30 percent of refugees living in the United States support violent jihad, and 40 percent to 60 percent support non-violent jihad.
According to Haney, an even greater threat than violent jihad is “civilization jihad” — a clash of cultural identity and values rather than physical conflict. He said Islam holds out heavenly reward for Muslims who resettle to non-Muslim countries, and added that the implementation of Sharia law is the goal of many refugees.
Another speaker at the event, James Simpson, a former analyst for the White House Office of Management and Budget, addressed the program’s financial impacts.
Citing numbers from the Census Bureau, Simpson said 76.4 percent of Muslim refugee households are on Medicaid, compared to just 18.7 percent of U.S. households. He said this is due in part to resettlement contractors who enroll refugees in government programs to fulfill their contractual obligation to help refugees become “economically self-sufficient.” Welfare enrollment for refugees, Simpson said, is easier than job placement.
After the event, Simpson told Vermont Watchdog that Mayor Louras “doesn’t know and he doesn’t care” about the financial cost of his relocation project.
During a comment period, Rutland residents expressed concerns over the financial burden that increased Medicare enrollment could cost, especially when the city’s pension deficit and homeless rate already strain the city budget.
“There’s a big question as to whether we can afford this or not. Every Medicare enrollee is an addition to taxpayer burden,” said state Rep. Douglas Gage, R-Rutland, who attended the meeting.
Haney warned of Sharia law taking root in areas with high Muslim populations, and referenced U.N. Human Rights Council Resolution 16/18, adopted in 2011, which criminalizes speech critical of Islam. He added that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood have “virtually unlimited” access to policymakers in Washington through the Islamic Society of North America. Haney hopes this access will end with Congress passing H.R 3892, the Muslim Brotherhood Terrorist Designation Act.
Don Chioffi, a Rutland First member who helped organize the event, said residents should heed the advice of experts, including authorities not at the meeting who have confirmed the potential security risks.
“We’ve talked to federal security officers at the national level; these refugees are not vet-able. Should we doubt one of our own security people?” Chioffi said.
“We’re not Islamophobes or bigots, we are just looking at the evidence that is right in front of us.”
Chioffi blamed Louras for keeping important information hidden from the public.
“We’ve gotten no facts from the people most responsible to give it. That’s a red flag indicator right there.”
Board of Alderman President William Notte, a vocal supporter of resettlement, was in attendance at the event.
“I’m not infallible — I’m here to keep myself open to other possibilities,” he told Watchdog.
However, Notte said he remains unconvinced of the threats discussed at the meeting. “Nothing I heard here today was new. I’ve heard this before, and I believe it has been disproved by other sources.”
Contact Emma Lamberton at [email protected]