July 10, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran Supporting and Funding Pro-Hamas Protests in the U.S.

July 10, 2024 | Flash Brief

Iran Supporting and Funding Pro-Hamas Protests in the U.S.

Latest Developments

Following several months of often violent pro-Hamas protests across the United States, the U.S. Director of National Intelligence, Avril Haines, stated on July 9 that the Islamic Republic of Iran has been encouraging and funding some of these demonstrations. Haines said that the Iranian regime has “become increasingly aggressive in their foreign influence efforts” and has “sought to opportunistically take advantage of ongoing protests regarding the war in Gaza.” Without providing specific details, Haines said that her agency has “observed actors tied to Iran’s government posing as activists online, seeking to encourage protests, and even providing financial support to protesters.”

Reiterating her testimony to Congress in May, when she highlighted Iranian, Russian, and Chinese efforts to influence U.S. elections, Haines warned the American public “to remain vigilant” ahead of November’s presidential contest. She noted that Tehran has sought to “stoke discord and undermine confidence in our democratic institutions” during previous election cycles, as have other “foreign actors who seek to exploit our debate for their own purposes.”

While much of Iran’s activity is covert, some of its attempts to intervene in U.S. domestic affairs are out in the open. Earlier this year, according to Iran International, a regime think-tank named SARAMAD published a report with recommendations for influencing the 2024 U.S. elections, including “establishing ‘a network of elite lobbyists’ to indirectly ‘advance’ the regime’s interests in ‘policies and US public opinion.’”

Expert Analysis

“Iran has never missed an opportunity to exploit social and political cleavages in America for the regime’s gain. Whether using cyberspace, the bully pulpit, useful idiots, or worse, the Islamic Republic — just like Russia and China — continues to look for ways to spew its invective and turn Americans against one another. The issue here is not about left or right, or Muslim, Christian, Jewish, or other. It’s about Americans not falling for traps set by our authoritarian adversaries.” — Behnam Ben Taleblu, FDD Senior Fellow

“Under the cloak of a so-called ‘reformist’ administration led by newly elected President Masoud Pezeshkian, the Islamic Republic will expand its covert operations by exploiting protests in the United States and reactivating its influence network to advance its own agenda. This strategy will likely intensify leading up to the November presidential elections, as Tehran is deeply concerned with the prospect of a second Trump term and the possible continuation of the maximum pressure campaign.” — Janatan Sayeh, FDD Research Analyst

Regime Targets Americans on U.S. Soil

In addition to sowing public discord, Iran has repeatedly backed plots to assassinate its opponents on U.S. soil. In 2021, U.S. prosecutors charged four alleged Iranian intelligence operatives with plotting to kidnap Brooklyn-based Iranian-American journalist Masih Alinejad. In January 2023, the Department of Justice (DOJ) revealed that the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) disrupted a second Iranian plot to assassinate Alinejad. Operatives from the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps have also threatened former U.S. government officials, including former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, former National Security Advisor John Bolton, and former Special Representative for Iran Brian Hook. On May 28, a Maryland court issued a temporary restraining order against an employee of Iran’s Interests Section in Washington — the Islamic Republic’s de facto consular office in the United States — after he threatened anti-regime protestors with execution gestures.

Protests in Iran

Tehran’s efforts to stir unrest in the United States come as the regime continues to crack down on dissent inside Iran. In September 2022, the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini at the hands of Iran’s morality police for allegedly wearing her hijab improperly sparked an ongoing nationwide uprising. According to FDD tracking data, Iranians have conducted 6,841 protests to date, while Tehran has arrested 24,971 demonstrators and killed 643, including 80 minors.

Mapping Protests in Iran,” by Mark Dubowitz

Biden’s State Department ignores Iranian death plots inside America,” by Jonathan Schanzer and Natalie Ecanow

FBI Director Warns of Increased Risk of Iranian Cyberattacks,” FDD Flash Brief

Issues:

Iran Iran Global Threat Network Israel Israel at War Military and Political Power