Non-profit

National Iranian American Council (NIAC)

Website:

www.niacouncil.org/

Location:

WASHINGTON, DC

Tax ID:

73-1626026

Tax-Exempt Status:

501(c)(3)

Budget (2017):

Revenue: $1,737,856
Expenses: $1,214,865
Assets: $1,326,079

Formation:

2002

Founder:

Trita Parsi

President:

Jamal Abdi

The National Iranian American Council (NIAC) is an advocacy group which claims to advocate for nonpartisan action on behalf of the Iranian-American community in domestic and foreign policy issues. In reality, NIAC pushes for a range of left-wing policy positions, including an end to all sanctions on the Iranian regime and supports far-left political officials.

NIAC has faced several allegations of improper alignment with the repressive Islamic Republic of Iran’s regime, most recently in an open letter from three United States Senators which asked the Department of Justice to investigate NIAC as unregistered foreign agents. NIAC has long expressed sympathy towards the Iranian government, encouraging the United States not to respond to the Iranian-backed dictatorship in Syria, even after its regime used chemical weapons against civilians during the Syrian Civil War. NIAC officials have been pictured with Iranian diplomats, and founder and former president Trita Parsi was found to have encouraged the former Iranian ambassador to the Untied Nations to meet with Democrats in Congress.

In 2008, NIAC filed a defamation lawsuit against a journalist who alleged that NIAC lobbied on behalf of the Iranian government. The lawsuit was dismissed, and in a subsequent countersuit, it was revealed that NIAC withheld and altered information during the legal discovery process, including altering two-thirds of all calendar records for Parsi’s meetings. NIAC was further found by a Federal Appeals Court judge to have withheld over 5500 emails from its outreach director to various parties. NIAC was ordered to pay the journalist against whom it had originally filed suit over $180,000.

History

NIAC was founded in 2002 in order to promote political organizing on behalf of the Iranian-American community. [1] NIAC cites the September 11 terrorist attacks, which occurred just a year before NIAC’s founding, as the moment it “emerged as a leader” on Iranian American issues. [2]

In 2015, NIAC created NIAC Action, a 501(c)(4) political advocacy group designed to “build political power for Iranian Americans.” [3] Though NIAC itself is technically nonpartisan, NIAC Action promotes a range of left-of-center policies, notably signing on to an open letter by the left-wing Women’s March to allow for mail-in voting during the COVID-19 pandemic. [4] NIAC Action works on issues of diplomacy, immigration policy, and civil rights, while NIAC leads initiatives to educate and engage the Iranian-American community in left-of-center values. [5]

Domestic Policy Activity

National Iranian American Council leads a series of education campaigns designed to promote left-of-center policy positions. [6]

Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy

In 2019, NIAC president Jamal Abdi joined Gender Champions in Nuclear Policy (GCNP) on behalf of NIAC. [7] GCNP brings together the heads of various organizations working on nuclear policy who commit to “break down gender barriers” and “make gender equality a working reality.” [8] GCNP includes members from a range of left-of-center organizations, including the Compton Foundation, the Truman National Security Project, and Physicians for Social Responsibility. [9]

As part of its membership in GCNP, NIAC created the Gender Equity Task Force comprised of NIAC board members and staff, including Yasmin Radjy, who sits as secretary of NIAC Action. She also works as the national political director at Planned Parenthood and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. [10]

Through the task force, NIAC released a series of “pledges” which apply to both the national organization and local chapters of NIAC. [11] These include left-of-center policies regarding gender, including a policy that no staff will participate in or organize panels in which all of the participants are men, even at the local level. [12] NIAC further introduced a policy guaranteeing that at least half of all staff leadership and board positions would be held by women by 2019, and created a set of community guidelines on gender. [13]

Immigration

NIAC has been active in opposing right-of-center immigration policy, specifically since President Donald Trump released Executive Order 13769 in 2017, followed by two other iterations of the order in the following years. The order banned entry into the United States for 90 days for citizens from seven countries, including Iran, and was branded by political opponents as a “Muslim ban.” [14] After several legal challenges from the political left, the Supreme Court ruled that the executive order did not violate the United States Constitution. [15]

In September 2019, when the regulation was under consideration in Congress, NIAC offered “experts” to provide media commentary on the first congressional hearing held by the Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship. [16] In January 2020, NIAC released an article entitled “How the Trump Administration has Abused the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to Ban Muslims from the US.” [17] The article claimed that the Supreme Court, in allowing the ban to remain in effect, “ignored a clear track record of discriminatory intent from the President.” [18] For the remainder of the article, NIAC endorses the NO BAN Act, a congressional bill which would overturn the travel restrictions and alter the law used by the Supreme Court to uphold it. [19] NIAC Action has worked on passing the bill, which has been delayed in the House in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. [20] [21]

In February 2020, in response to President Trump’s State of the Union Address, NIAC issued a press release again criticizing the travel restrictions. [22] The release accused President Trump of having “infringed on the rights of Iranian Americans who have been treated as second class citizens” in addition to claiming that the “cruel Muslim Travel Ban…separates Iranian-American families.” [23] The release ended by claiming that President Trump’s immigration policies are “eroding the foundations of America’s claims to greatness.” [24]

Civil Rights

NIAC works to promote left-of-center civil rights policy, specifically as it pertains to the Iranian American community. For the past two years, NIAC has run a community organizing campaign to remove two officers from the United States Park Police. [25] In November 2017, the officers killed an unarmed Iranian American man, Bijan Ghaisar. [26] The officers were not charged with any crime or removed from the Park Police, and NIAC has since run a campaign encouraging supporters to file formal complaints against the officers with the Park Police every day in order to get the officers removed from duty. [27]

NIAC has worked with the United States Census Bureau in order to push for a distinction of “Middle East and North African” (MENA) to the census to distinguish those from the aforementioned regions from the designation of “white.” [28] When the Census Bureau denied the request to add a MENA category to the 2020 Census, NIAC came out in strong opposition. [29]

Much of NIAC’s work tagged as “civil rights” issues are focused on pursuing the interests of the Iranian state. In June 2018, Nike announced a decision to refuse to supply cleats to the Iranian World Cup soccer team in an effort to oppose Iran’s deplorable human rights record. [30] NIAC responded, calling the refusal “shameful” and requesting that the United States government intervene with Nike’s private decision to refuse to provide shoes to the team. [31] NIAC accused Nike of “dragging politics into international sporting events” before blaming the decision on the Trump administration. [32]

In December 2018, workplace management software company Slack, in compliance with United States sanctions, deleted the accounts of individuals with IP addresses in countries facing sanctions by the United States, including several Iranian Americans who had recently visited Iran. [33] NIAC responded to the deletion, sending an open letter to Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield, alleging that the “over-enforcement of sanctions causes substantial harm and can be seen as a form of discrimination.” [34] Slack immediately apologized, claiming that the deletions were made in error. [35] NIAC responded, promising to “monitor” Slack’s efforts to comply with sanction “with an eye toward impacts on Iranian Americans and Iranian nationals in the United States. [36]

Foreign Policy

Most of NIAC’s foreign policy advocacy comes in the form of left-wing petitions advocating the end of sanctions against the Islamic Republic of Iran, which were put in place after the Iranian government violated its nuclear agreement with the United States and continued to work to expand its nuclear capabilities. After President Donald Trump exited the deal in response to Iran’s violation of the agreement, NIAC encouraged supporters to contact their representatives in order to convince Trump to re-enter the nuclear agreement. [37] Though NIAC must remain legally nonpartisan, the petition touts that “the DNC, Presidential contenders, and legislators all support returning to compliance with the deal,” urging supporters to sign a petition in favor of a Democratic resolution and policy proposal. [38]

Further petitions include supporting left-wing representatives, including controversial Representative Ilhan Omar (D-MN). [39] One petition calls on supporters to contact their representatives to support the “Congressional Oversight of Sanctions Act,” a bill proposed by Rep. Omar which would mandate congressional oversight of sanctions. [40] The petition alleges that the Trump administration has used sanctions as “a tool to strangle the Iranian people and undermine any path to diplomacy,” despite the fact that sanctions were put in place after Iran violated the nuclear agreement. [41]

NIAC’s petitions espouse anti-Trump rhetoric and frequently expresses sympathy towards Iran. NIAC alleges that President Trump has provoked war with Iran, with one petition encouraging supporters to “Block Trump’s Path to War” by contacting their congressional representatives. [42] The petition goes on to express sympathy for Iran, accusing President Trump of “recklessly” contributing to “assassinate Iranian general Qassem Soleimani,” a man believed responsible for mass violence against Sunni Muslims in Iraq and Syria. [43] [44] When Iranian officials called for war with the United States, NIAC portrayed them as having “rallied around the flag” in response to President Trump. [45]

One of NIAC’s most recent initiatives includes its “Solidarity Not Sanctions” petition, which calls on the United States to end trade sanctions with Iran in light of the coronavirus outbreak. [46] Though the Department of the Treasury had eased some sanctions on Iran in response to the pandemic, NIAC uses the petition to push for an end to all sanctions “harming Iran’s economy” under the guise of preventing the spread of coronavirus. [47]

Human Rights in Iran

NIAC often reports on human rights violations in Iran, specifically regarding the unlawful detentions of left-of-center activists. [48] In February 2018, nine Iranian environmentalists were detained by Iranian authorities and accused of “spying” after performing routine field work, one of which died in custody. [49] In November 2019, the remaining activists were given prison sentences ranging from four to ten years, over which time reports of torture and maltreatment of the activists have surfaced. [50] In February 2020, NIAC published a press release calling on Iran to uphold human rights after the activists were denied in their appeal. [51]

In January 2020, the United States House of Representatives passed Resolution 752, a resolution to show support for Iranian demonstrators’ rights to expression, assembly, and protest. [52] NIAC praised the resolution for reaffirming the rights of the Iranian people, and for condemning Iranian officials for their violent suppression of the November 2019 protests which resulted in hundreds of deaths. [53] Nonetheless, the NIAC briefing went on to criticize the United States for its sanctions and immigration policies yet again, alleging that the measures target the Iranian people and “exacerbate their suffering.” [54]

Allegations of Alignment with Iranian Regime

On January 13, 2020, U.S. Senators Tom Cotton (R-AR), Mike Braun (R-IN), and Ted Cruz (R-TX) sent a letter to Attorney General William Barr which urged the Department of Justice to investigate National Iranian American Council and NIAC Action for “potential violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act.” [55]

The letter alleges that NIAC spreads propaganda and lobbies on the behalf of the Iranian government. [56] The senators cite incidents of NIAC supporting Iranian-backed conspiracy theories, including those which deflected blame from the Iranian regime after it shot down a civilian airliner from Ukraine, killing 176. [57] NIAC further circulated an email memorandum in December 2019 which blamed the United States government for attacks carried out by Iranian-backed militia forces on United States forces in Iraq and the American embassy in Baghdad. [58]

The letter also drew attention to a 2008 defamation lawsuit filed by NIAC, in which it was revealed that NIAC founder Trita Parsi had arranged meetings between members of Congress and Javad Zarif, Iran’s former ambassador to the United Nations and later foreign minister. [59] When former FBI associate deputy director Oliver Revell reviewed the information, he claimed that such activity would require NIAC to register as an agent of Iran, while former FBI counterintelligence official Kenneth Piernick encouraged counterintelligence forces to look into NIAC further. [60] During the discovery process for the same lawsuit, former NIAC policy director Patrick Disney admitted that he and NIAC’s legislative director spent more than 20% of their time on lobbying, and wrote that he  himself believed “we fall under this definition of ‘lobbyist.’”[61]

In response to the letter, NIAC issued a public statement which alleged that the accusations were “slanderous,” “disgusting,” and “dangerous” and calling the letter an attempt by “warhawks” to “intimidate pro-peace voices.” [62] Several left-of-center and left-wing organizations signed onto the letter, including MoveOn, Peace Action, and the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights. [63] No public investigation into NIAC has been pursued as of April 2020.

Sympathy towards the Iranian Regime

NIAC has long been accused of sympathy towards the Iranian regime, known for its brutal human rights record. In 2015, when Iran-backed forces were perpetrating war crimes in Syria, NIAC excused the actions of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, claiming the actions of the regime’s ruthless armed wing was justified in light of “Iran’s core national security interests.” [64] [65]

NIAC’s excusal of Iran’s actions in Syria followed a mass media campaign to absolve Bashar Assad, the Iran-backed dictator of Syria, of his guilt for employing chemical weapons against civilians. [66] NIAC released a statement arguing that the United States should not take action against Assad in response to the use of chemical weapons against his people, claiming that any retaliation against Syria would damage the Obama administration’s nuclear deal with Iran. [67] Rather than encouraging the US to fight back against chemical warfare unleashed upon civilians, NIAC leveraged the situation to argue that the United States should lessen sanctions on Iran in order to push a “diplomatic” agenda. [68]

The campaign pushed the narrative that any retaliation against Syria for its use of chemical weapons would “trigger retaliation and a bloodier and wider war,” a reality which has not come to fruition in the wake of joint U.S.-European airstrikes against Assad. [69] When the United States intervened with Assad and began strategic air strikes in Syria, NIAC repeated this narrative and claimed that “there is no moral high ground for those who respond to abhorrent violence with more violence.” [70]

NIAC’s history with the Assad regime dates back to 2002, when Congress first considered the imposition of sanctions on Syria for Assad’s support of terrorist groups and development of biological and chemical weapons. [71] NIAC officials questioned the legitimacy of the threats and attempted to claim that imposing sanctions on Syria was actually a way of targeting Iran, even after Assad’s control over weapons of mass destruction had been confirmed by the United Nations. [72] [73]

Protest against NIAC

On July 19, 2019, Iranian Americans gathered in front of NIAC’s Washington, D.C. headquarters to protest the organization as a front for the Iranian regime. [74] A statement read aloud by protest leaders alleged that NIAC is “the representative of the corrupt and brutal Islamic Republic regime,” and the protestors stated that they were demonstrating in order to inform US policymakers that “NIAC does not represent the Iranian community in the United States and that it does not reflect the real hopes of the people living in Iran.” [75]

NIAC has repeatedly denied these allegations, asserting that it is nonpartisan and that it does not lobby on behalf of Iran. [76] Nonetheless, NIAC supporters and officials have been photographed with Iranian public officials and expressed support for regime sympathizers whose Twitter accounts were suspended. [77]

Daioleslam Lawsuit

In 2008, NIAC filed a lawsuit against Iranian American blogger Hassan Daioleslam, alleging that he had defamed NIAC. [78] Daioleslam had written that NIAC had advocated on behalf of the Iranian government as a lobbyist. [79] In 2012, the US District Court for the District of Columbia found that the work of NIAC founder and then-president Trita Parsi was “not inconsistent with the idea that he was first and foremost an advocate for the regime,” holding that the accusations were not defamatory. [80] The lawsuit was then dismissed. [81]

After the case was dismissed, Daioleslam filed a motion for sanctions in order to recoup the costs of the discovery process brought on by the NIAC lawsuit, arguing that NIAC had delayed cooperating with court orders and as a result, had driven up the costs of his legal defense. [82]

Federal Appeals Court Judge Robert Wilkins, who had been appointed to the bench by President Barack Obama, ruled in February 2015 that NIAC had “flouted multiple court orders” and improperly delayed its delivery of documents to Daioleslam, including the withholding of certain critical documents. [83] These included member lists, internal emails, meeting schedules, and other documents deemed relevant to the court. [84]

Most notably, NIAC refused to turn over its calendar records, which were critical to proving Daioleslam’s claim that NIAC leaders had met with Iranian officials. [85] Once those records were turned over, after ten months, Judge Wilkins found that they were “incomplete” and that “NIAC produced no calendar entries from before 2009.” [86] Wilkins further found that, “Of the entries it produced, 78 had been altered shortly before production, including two-thirds of those in Parsi’s calendar.” [87] NIAC also hid the existence of four of its computers, and misrepresented the use of those computers as “intern” computers when, in actuality, they had been used by the legislative director and outreach director of NIAC. [88] NIAC also withheld over 5,000 emails sent by NIAC’s outreach director. [89]

Judge Wilkins called the behavior “inexcusable,” and NIAC was ordered to pay $183,480.09 to Daioleslam. [90]

People and Funding

In 2018, NIAC reported $1,053,112 in revenue, in addition to $765,751 in net assets. [91] NIAC spent more money on salaries than on any other expense, increasing to $742,464 in 2018 compared to $699,151 in 2017, despite a drop in revenue of over $700,000. [92] NIAC is funded by gifts from individuals and grants from various American foundations, including the left-of-center Ploughshares Fund, the anti-Israel Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the George Soros-led Open Society Foundations. [93] [94] NIAC reported spending $197,009 on lobbying from 2015 through 2018 (with $155,235 spent in 2015 alone) with an additional $66,607 in “grassroots lobbying” over the period. [95] It completed two transactions with NIAC Action totaling over $685,000. [96]

NIAC’s former president and founder Trita Parsi now works at the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft, a think-tank funded by left-progressive George Soros and right-libertarian Charles Koch[97] to promote a noninterventionist foreign policy. [98] During his time with NIAC, Parsi was frequently accused of lobbying on behalf of the Iranian government, including by left-of-center publication The Atlantic. [99]

Law enforcement experts who reviewed emails between Parsi and Iran’s former United Nations Ambassador Javad Zarif claimed that the documents “offer evidence that the group has operated as an undeclared lobby and may be guilty of violating tax laws, the Foreign Agents Registration Act and lobbying disclosure laws.” [100] Parsi also suggested in a 2006 email to Zarif that he meet with members of Congress. [101] Parsi is not publicly known to be a United States citizen; it is reported that he holds only Iranian and Swedish passports. [102] Mohsen Makhmalbaf, a famed Iranian filmmaker who has functioned as an unofficial mouthpiece for Iran’s opposition “Green Movement,” said in an interview that “Trita Parsi does not belong to the Green Movement. I feel his lobbying has secretly been more for the Islamic Republic.” [103]

NIAC’s current president is Jamal Abdi, who also is the executive director of NIAC Action. [104] Abdi formerly worked as a NIAC’s policy director beginning in November 2009, after working as in the United States Congress as a policy advisor. [105] Abdi has a history of political organizing in national congressional elections. [106]

References

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Nonprofit Information

  • Accounting Period: December - November
  • Tax Exemption Received: November 1, 2002

  • Available Filings

    Period Form Type Total revenue Total functional expenses Total assets (EOY) Total liabilities (EOY) Unrelated business income? Total contributions Program service revenue Investment income Comp. of current officers, directors, etc. Form 990
    2017 Dec Form 990 $1,737,856 $1,214,865 $1,326,079 $0 N $1,725,398 $2,205 $11,545 $166,941 PDF
    2016 Dec Form 990 $879,525 $997,845 $791,665 $0 N $812,594 $94,216 $6,343 $184,331 PDF
    2015 Dec Form 990 $1,414,417 $1,478,577 $906,346 $0 N $1,335,470 $95,163 $5,953 $122,937 PDF
    2014 Dec Form 990 $1,138,215 $1,133,209 $983,343 $0 N $840,084 $0 $4,101 $105,371 PDF
    2013 Dec Form 990 $1,562,532 $895,242 $974,696 $0 N $1,562,532 $0 $0 $0 PDF
    2012 Dec Form 990 $1,065,771 $1,045,061 $329,022 $21,616 N $1,065,771 $0 $0 $96,267 PDF
    2011 Dec Form 990 $716,535 $1,098,873 $354,102 $67,406 N $684,453 $0 $0 $97,975 PDF

    Additional Filings (PDFs)

    National Iranian American Council (NIAC)

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    WASHINGTON, DC 20005-3416