Thursday, February 20, 2014

The Grooming of Illinois Policymakers: Toni Berrios

If you want to understand the grooming of Toni Berrios,  you need a little background. Here's a recent piece in the Financial Times about the group behind America's largest chain of charter schools, the Gulen Movement.

So, while it's all very nice to have award ceremonies and dinners and lunchtime dialogues, you have to keep in mind that back home, the Movement is a complex phenomena that appears to have helped take down the former Turkish military "deep state" in part by infiltrating the judiciary, wiretapping basically everyone, planting evidence, and in general running roughshod on the idea of civil rights.  And now it's engaged in a mortal struggle with its former ally in that effort, the AKP, which is run by the much more overtly horrid prime minister. 

I imgine it's hard to believe, when everyone's so being so polite and giving you lunches and baubles and taking you on these lovely, lavish tours, that this very same movement can be complicit in a deeply undemocratic and corrupt history, but there it is. The rest of the world seems to understand it. The majority of the Turkish people do, at any rate. If I were writing the book of guidance for Illinois elected officials, the first suggestion I would make would be to proceed with caution and do a little reading.

Now, onto the soft lobbying and the grooming of more Illinois policymakers and the general seeking of influence. Once you understand that the Movement's central goal is to increase its own political influence, then all of this becomes clearer. I'm sure many of our Illinois policymakers have told themselves they're working on Turkish cultural relations, or whatever, but the truth is more like this: a transnational Turkish social-religious movement has been working on them for its own purposes.

 Thanks to the Sun Times, we all know that the Movement has been shuttling planeloads of (primarily Democratic but not entirely) Illinois policymakers over to the motherland for wonderful, lavish, guided junkets.  We've already looked at the grooming of Susana Mendoza, for example

Now let's look at Toni Berrios. They've been working on her since at least 2009, and it looks like it's paid off. Niagara (The main Chicago face of the Gulen Movement) sent her to Turkey in 2009.

I'm not sure what happened between 2009 and 2011 but they must have continuted to work on her because it started to pay off in 2011, when the Gulen effort in general began to show returns in Springfield. Like Mendoza, who sponsored a resolution praising Fethullah Gulen in 2011, Berrios herself went on to sponsor a couple feather-in-the-Gulen-cap items in Springfield. 

First she sponsored the creation of the Turkish Relations Task Force in May of 2011, along with some other individuals who've been on junkets. I bet you didn't even know we had such a task force but we do. Strangely, I've not been able to find the official list of whose on this task force, but Niagara has one online (although they spell her name incorrectly.) You have to admit it's odd to have a state task force created by the legislature and yet its membership is only discoverable on a Gulenist website. The task force is packed full of junket people, including Madigan's kid, the insurance guy. I'll get you an exact count when I have time, but there are a lot of junket recipients on this official Task Force.

[Just to review: these folks probably actually think they're on some Turkish Relations task force, but they're really on what would more accurately be called a Gulen Movement Influence-Building task force.] I wonder how many other special interest groups have gotten their own misnamed state task force, staffed primarily with people to whom they've given travel gifts. I'm thinking there can't be that many.  If this task force has the imprimatur of Illinois behind it, then isn't it fair to say that Illinois has taken sides in the internal strife of a foreign land? If you were a secular Turkish businessperson, and you were interested in starting something with Illinois, would you feel comfortable with the process being controlled in part by Gulen-influenced policymakers?]

Then in March of 2012, Berrios sponsored this weird one in Springfield: HR O907, a resolution congratulating one of the Niagara/Gulen guys for being named to the Chicago NATO Welcoming Committee. [Turkey is a NATO partner, and this was before the nuclear meltdown between Gulen and Erdogan.]  Here's part of the text of the resolution.

Nothing about wiretaps in there, is there? I ask you this question: did the State of Illinois really need to pass this kind of resolution for this one individual person? How did it come to pass? Did Toni Berrios write this thing? Or was it basically handed to her by the Movement? It's a nice resolution, for sure -- definitely worth the cost of the junket. As for the peace, love, and understanding bits of the actual wording of the resolution--- there are people sitting in Turkish jails right now --- journalists, even--- who would probably like to add some asterisks.

So, those are two little items that probably got gold-starred and stuck on the fridge in Saylorsburg.

Next, sometime around November of 2012,  Berrios trudged out of district up to Clark Street, where she did the obligatory three-question interview for the CMSA kid. It's a thing to behold. 

The kids are excited. Ok? They're not only excited, they're, um, excited, and she doesn't see that sort of thing in the schools in her own district, where the children are evidently slack-jawed zombies. Also, CMSA incorporate the arts "into the core of the STEM classes". She loves the arts. Also, the state doesn't have much money.

It's weird who gets elected in Illinois, isn't it? I've watched that clip five or six times now, and each time I just marvel over the miraculous possibilities of democracy.

To Summarize:

1. Gulen Movement: controversial, in the news, definitely more than a dialogue group, connected to charter schools.
2. Toni Berrios: receives junket to Turkey from the Movement in 2009.
3. Toni Berrios: joins as co-sponsor of HB690 in 2009, doubling the number of charter schools in Illinois along with a number of other junketeers.  This bill also got the state charter commission started. Joins as co-sponsor of the 2009 school voucher bill. 
3. Toni Berrios: subsequently sponsors the creation of a state "Turkish Relations" task force in 2011; the task force is staffed with lawmakers who have also been on Movement-sponsored junkets to Turkey.
4. Toni Berrios: subsequently sponsors a state resolution congratulating a Gulen Movement individual for that individual's being named (by Rahm?) to a welcoming committee for NATO. The same resolution conveys a description of the Movement that is highly disputed in Turkey and to anyone doing research on the nature of the Movement.
5. Toni Berrios: subsequently goes out of district to visit and film a testimonial for CMSA, a school identified in the Sun-Times as being linked to Fethullah Gulen. Other links have also been pointed out on this blog and more are coming. Remember, the company line is that these schools are not related at all to the Movement.

Two Notes

1. I too think the kids at CMSA are excited. They're great kids; if you look hard enough, you can find dozens of videos of them at school, doing the same things that kids do in schools everywhere. I've now worked in six schools and visited scores more. Kids are excited all over the place. It's what you see when you go into a school. Down the road, I will indeed be writing about CMSA, its staff, and its programming. It's pretty darned interesting when you start looking at patterns.

2. Please see my previous posts for my attitude toward the  Gulen phenomenon in Illinois. I've been clear about it from the start: I'm concerned about the closeness of a controversial, secretive international political movement to the governance of a chain of American public schools.

New to the topic?
Please see some of my previous posts.

The Grooming of Illinois Policymakers: Toni Berrios
Today's Gulen Charter School News
Gulen 101: Session One, With Sharon Higgins.
The Tribune And The Gulen Movement
When Does This Gulen Mess In Illinois Become A Scandal?
Eyes Wide Shut In Illinois
About That BBC Gulen Interview
Think About This For A Moment
The Tribune Is So Full Of It
About That Unauthorized Invitation
How Does It All Start?
The Movement, As Seen By Our Own Foreign Service
Fellowship Joins With The Movement
The Grooming Of Illinois Policymakers: Susana Mendoza
What Is Going On In These Schools?
The Phone Call That Won't Be Happening Any Time Soon
What This Gulen Mess Is Really All About
Read The Whole Thing
An Addendum To The Concept Story
Concept Schools Have Learned Rahm's Rules
Connecting The Dots In Charter Secrecy

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