Asra Nomani | February 18, 2023
(RealClearPolitics) — Right after 11 a.m., Monday, Feb. 7, Democratic Virginia state Sen. Chap Petersen was walking up a hill to a session of the state legislature in Richmond when his phone rang. The caller was Rafi Ahmed, the Pakistan American cofounder of the Dar Al-Noor mosque in Manassas, Va., and board chair of the Virginia Council of Muslim Organizations, overseeing 10 mosques in Northern Virginia. According to people familiar with the call, Ahmed went straight to the point: Vote no against Suparna Dutta, a Northern Virginia mother and citizen activist whom Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin had nominated to the Virginia Board of Education. His issue wasn’t partisan. Petersen could vote yes on Youngkin’s other Republican nominees.
“Suparna Dutta belongs to an anti-Muslim Hindu extremist organization,” Ahmed claimed, apparently referring to the American Hindu Coalition, a bipartisan Virginia-based grassroots organization of Indian Americans. For years, as a national Muslim leader, Ahmed has been campaigning against India’s Hindu leaders over alleged “genocide” against Muslims in the country, one time posting a tweet mocking India for its “so called world largest democracy” and punctuating his remark with “#indianterrorism.”
Other Pakistani American Muslim leaders and community members flooded Petersen with the same refrain, according to people familiar with the calls, including: Raheel Sheikh, another leader at Dar Al-Noor mosque and a onetime local Democratic political candidate; Atif Qarni, former state education secretary under Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam; and Babur Lateef, the Democrat who chairs the Prince William County school board. Petersen had broken bread with all of them at a political fundraiser for Sheikh.
They all repeated the same talking points: Dutta was a Hindu “extremist.” None of the men provided evidence. None of the men returned numerous attempts to reach them for comment. In recent days, several constituents said Petersen told them: “I heard from elders at the mosque and other Muslim leaders that Suparna is an anti-Muslim extremist. Some of them are clients. I had to listen to them.”
But the men were joining a refrain building up against Dutta by left-leaning activists, according to an investigation I’ve just completed for Independent Women’s Network. There was an unholy alliance between these two groups – leftists, arguing “my body, my choice” for women’s rights, working with establishment Muslims who segregate women and girls at the mosque so they won’t be sexual distractions to men. In a new book, released this week, I call this network the Woke Army, a red-green alliance that is destroying America’s freedom.
My investigation reveals that a network of leftist activists worked in concert with establishment Muslim leaders to put a hit on Dutta and defeat her nomination with an ugly character assassination campaign.
Two nights before the vote in Richmond, at 10:25 p.m., a Sunday, a far-left teachers’ union organization, Virginia Educators United (allied with the larger National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers) attacked Dutta from its Twitter account — @RedForEdVa, a not-so-subtle nod to the group’s self-proclaimed socialist agenda.
Posting photos from a parents’ rally Dutta had attended in October 2021, right after U.S. Attorney General Merrick Garland had equated parents to extremists engaged in “domestic terrorism,” the Twitter user @RedForEdVa called the event “Suparna Dutta’s rally with America First.” A local right-wing activist, Fredy Burgos, had planted flags for America First Foundation behind parents with no clue about the controversial views of the group launched by a polarizing Christian nationalist, Nick Fuentes. Dutta didn’t know, and as a Hindu immigrant woman of color, certainly doesn’t support its bigoted ideas. Just days before the rally, Youngkin staffers had booted Burgos from a rally because he refused to remove a pin bearing Fuentes’ logo.
Within minutes, at 11:08 p.m., Vanessa Hall, cofounder of a 501(c)4 lobbying group, 4 Public Education, supporting northern Virginia’s mostly Democratic school boards, posted a tweet from her account @V_TheClash, writing: “Keep white nationalism out of our Board of Education. Vote #NoToDutta.”
Before dawn the next morning on Monday, Feb. 7, Robert Rigby, a substitute teacher in Fairfax County Public Schools and a Dutta foe on local educational policy, responded, drawing connections between Dutta and the “sacking of the US Capitol building on January 6, 2021,” “PizzaGate” and “Alex Jones’ InfoWars.”
At 7 a.m., Hall, the 501(c)4 lobbyist, piped up, hand-drawing a circle around Dutta in a photo from the parents’ rally and pointing an arrow to the mother with a bold caption: “Suparna Dutta rallies with white nationalists.”
There was no concern, of course, for the facts. “I had no idea what the flags were about,” Dutta told me. “I hardly knew Fredy Burgos, and I had never even heard of America First.”
Online support for the smears arrived from Sujatha Hampton, local education chair of the Fairfax County NAACP, and Makya Little, former president of the TJ Alumni Action Group, a Democratic candidate for state delegate from Prince William County and self-described “#EdEquity Advocate.” In 2020, both had fiercely opposed Dutta’s efforts to preserve the merit admissions test at her son’s school, Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology.
At 8:33 a.m., Juli Briskman, a Democrat who had flipped her middle finger at then-President Trump while riding her bike in Loudoun County, Va., earning her a seat in local office, wrote, “No thanks. #NotoDuta,” misspelling her name.
The barrage continued. At 10:45 a.m., the Herndon, Va., and Reston, Va., chapter of Indivisible, a progressive national organization, posted an explosive campaign from the “Virginia Grassroots Coalition,” which includes 51 leftist groups in the state, including the Virginia chapter of the socialist group Justice Democrats, noting: “Don’t let the Virginia Senate Confirm a Far-Right Extremist to the Board of Education.”
Not long after, the Pakistan American mosque leader, Ahmed, called Virginia state Sen. Petersen, with the icing on the cake, alleging that Dutta belonged to a “anti-Muslim Hindu extremist group.”
Shekhar Tiwari, chairman of the American Hindu Coalition, rejects the smears, saying his organization “advocates policy positions based on Hindu enlightenment principles that are closely aligned with the U.S. Constitution.”
How did this character assassination begin? One thing is clear: It happened fast. Just six days earlier, on the night of Tuesday, Jan. 31, the Virginia Senate Privileges and Elections Committee – including all of its Democratic members – voted unanimously 14-0, for Dutta’s nomination to the state Board of Education.
It was a remarkable journey for the immigrant from India. In 1947, her father, a Hindu refugee, crossed the border to West Bengal in India from a region that Pakistani military leaders were claiming as East Pakistan (later to become modern day Bangladesh after a war in 1971). Fleeing war with just his family and the clothes on his back, he walked miles from his family’s new home in a village to the closest school, enlisting in his teens in the Indian Air Force.
In the summer of 1993, Dutta, then 23, arrived in the United States for her graduate studies. Her assets consisted of her clothes, a supply of rice, lentils, and red kidney beans — and $250. As a grad student at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Dutta remembers once walking across campus, quarters in her pocket, wishing she could afford a burrito at Taco Bell.
In 2020, Dutta became an accidental activist (with me), spurred to speak to the school board of Fairfax County Public Schools when the principal at Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology sent parents and students an email to check their “privileges” and join a “racial equity” campaign that eventually meant removing the merit admissions test to the school, ranked the No. 1 school in America by U.S. News & World Report. In resisting this ill-advised approach to a dubious policy, she became an instant hero to many local parents.
An omen appeared the very next day, however, on Feb. 1, when Dutta got into a back-and-forth with fellow board member Anne Holton, the wife of powerful Democratic Sen. Tim Kaine. Holton said the U.S. Constitution wasn’t “remarkable.”
Dutta, an immigrant from India, begged to differ. Little could she know how vicious and organized the response would be to her nomination. On Tuesday, Feb. 7, on the floor of the Virginia Senate, Democratic state Sen. Ghazala Hashmi, a Muslim immigrant from India, defamed Dutta with the “white supremacist” smear. Hashmi, Petersen, and the other 20 Democrats voted unanimously against Dutta. On a straight 22-18 party-line vote, she was defeated. On Twitter, the Woke Army cheered. At home, Dutta responded with the resilience and courage that is her hallmark. “It is a badge of honor,” she said. “I will never give up in my defense and love of America.”
Asra Q. Nomani is a former reporter for the Wall Street Journal and author of the new book, “Woke Army: The Red-Green Alliance That Is Destroying America’s Freedom.” This article first appeared at RealClearPolitics.com.