As Vice President Mike Pence railed against ISIS-linked terrorism Thursday, we speak with longtime investigative journalist Allan Nairn about his shocking new exposé that reveals backers of Donald Trump in Indonesia have joined army officers and a vigilante street movement linked to ISIS in an attempt to oust Indonesia’s president. Writing in The Intercept, Nairn reveals that Indonesians involved in the coup attempt include a corporate lawyer working for the mining company Freeport-McMoRan, which is controlled by Trump adviser Carl Icahn. Video has even emerged showing the lawyer at a ceremony where men are swearing allegiance to ISIS. According to Nairn, two of the other most prominent supporters of the coup are close associates of Donald Trump—Fadli Zon, vice speaker of the Indonesian House of Representatives, and Hary Tanoe, Trump’s primary Indonesian business partner, who is building two Trump resorts, one in Bali and one outside Jakarta. Nairn’s article is making waves in Indonesia.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman. Vice President Mike Pence visited the largest mosque in Southeast Asia Thursday during a trip to Indonesia. A day earlier, he addressed reporters at a press conference with Indonesian President Joko Widodo in Jakarta.
VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: The United States is also proud to be one of Indonesia’s oldest and most engaged defense partners. And under President Trump, we are firmly committed to continuing to collaborate on the security of both of our peoples. A stronger defense partnership will serve us well as we confront the various security threats and challenges that we now face. And, of course, one of the greatest threats we face is the rise and spread of terrorism. Sadly, Indonesia is no stranger to this evil, nor is the United States of America, as the president and I discussed. The world watched with heartbreak in January of last year when ISIS-linked terrorists struck in central Jakarta in a barbaric suicide bombing. Our hearts broke for your people. This vile attack claimed the lives of five innocents, injured more than two dozen others. What I can assure you and the people of Indonesia is that you had the condolences and the prayers of the American people as you confronted this tragedy.
AMY GOODMAN: While Vice President Mike Pence railed against ISIS-linked terrorism, a shocking new exposé by longtime investigative journalist Allan Nairn has revealed backers of Donald Trump in Indonesia have joined army officers and a vigilante street movement linked to ISIS in an attempt to oust Indonesia’s democratically elected president. Writing in The Intercept, Nairn reveals Indonesians involved in the coup attempt include a corporate lawyer working for the mining company Freeport-McMoRan, which is controlled by Trump adviser Carl Icahn. Video has even emerged showing the lawyer at a ceremony where men are swearing allegiance to ISIS. According to Allan Nairn, two of the other most prominent supporters of the coup are close associates of Donald Trump: Fadli Zon, the vice speaker of the Indonesian House of Representatives, and Hary Tanoe, Trump’s primary Indonesian business partner, who’s building two Trump resorts, one in Bali and one outside Jakarta. Nairn’s article is making waves in Indonesia. The Indonesian military is threatening legal action against the news portal tirto.id, after it published a partial translation of the article and ran a profile about Allan Nairn. In response, Nairn tweeted a message to the Indonesian military, saying, quote, "Dear TNI: If you want to threaten brave Indonesian reporters and publishers, please threaten me too," unquote.
Well, I recently sat down with Allan Nairn in our Democracy Now! studio and asked him to outline what he’s uncovered.
ALLAN NAIRN: Indonesia is in the midst of a political crisis, in that there is an attempt to stage what people on both sides of the conflict call the coup. And this is a de facto, or even direct, coup against the elected president, the elected government of Indonesia, which is headed by President Joko Widodo, Jokowi. Jokowi was the first person from outside the political elite who ever was elected president. He’s—on certain issues, in certain respects, he’s a bit of a reformist. He got elected, in an important part because he speaks the language of the poor, and people relate to him. He has been pushing social programs on health and education. But, especially in recent months, his government has been fighting for survival. Those backing this coup project include the top generals in the country, who are seeking to escape any whisper of accountability for their past mass murders—mass murders that have been supported by the U.S.—and for their ongoing atrocities in West Papua, also the friends and business partners and political associates of Donald Trump. The local Trump people in Indonesia, including his top political backer, the politician Fadli Zon, including his local business partner, Hary Tanoe, and others, have been funding and backing this coup movement.
The instrument they have been using is a—what purports to be a radical Islamist street movement, which has been staging massive demonstrations on the streets of Jakarta, demonstrations drawing out hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people. And their hook is what they claimed to be a religious issue, where they are attacking and demanding the death by hanging of the incumbent governor of Jakarta, who happens to be an ethnic Chinese Christian who is currently standing trial for insulting religion, for insulting Islam. And he could actually be sent to prison. And he’s also currently standing for re-election. But this Islamist street movement is, in a sense, a front for the real powers, the real interests, which are trying to use the demonstrations and the attacks on Governor Ahok—that’s his name, Ahok—to bring down the government of President Jokowi. I know this because for much of the past year I’ve been talking to people within the Jokowi government and also people within the coup movement, and they’ve been describing what’s happening as it—as it goes along. The group that they are using to front the street demonstrations is called the FPI. The FPI is what are known in Indonesia as preman, street thugs. They were created by the Indonesian army and police shortly after the fall of Suharto, in order to do killings—
AMY GOODMAN: U.S.-backed dictator.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yes—in order to do repression and, when needed, killings on behalf of the army, without the army having to take responsibility for it. And they would do it under the banner of radical Islam, kind of diverting attention from the fact of army and police sponsorship behind it. This group, the FPI, has been implicated in attacks on mosques—they frequently attack Islamic religious denominations that they do not agree with—attacks on churches and murders, one of which, in spectacular fashion, was videotaped, and their mob is seen beating and kicking to death a man who’s lying face down in the mud. They openly call for the hanging and murder of various politicians who displease them. They live day to day by—in addition to the funds they get from the army and the police, by extortion. They claim to be religiously compliant, but one of their key tactics over the years has been to go into strip clubs, go into bars; if the owners haven’t been giving their weekly payoff to the FPI in a timely fashion, breaking the place up with heavy sticks, then taking the liquor and drinking it or reselling it. I mean, this is famous on the streets of Jakarta. Everybody knows about this. Another of their big activities has been evicting the poor. They would be rented out to army, police, rich developers, landlords, in order to violently evict poor people so that their homes could be demolished and used for other purposes.
The group also happens to be listed by Western intelligence, including ASIO, the Australian intelligence service, as a violent extremist organization—a term they use for "terrorist." And this happens to be one of the cases where their characterization of a movement as violent and extremist is accurate. This group FPI also has numerous connections to ISIS. The leader of the FPI militia is a lawyer who is a corporate lawyer for Freeport-McMoRan, the giant U.S. mining corporation that is controlled by Carl Icahn, Donald Trump’s good friend and White House deregulation adviser. This lawyer—his name is Munarman—he represents a local corporate front for Freeport. And he is there presiding over the militia, as—the FPI militia, as they commit violence, and standing next to the FPI leaders as they call for the death by hanging of Jakarta’s governors. This lawyer for Carl Icahn’s Freeport was videotaped not long ago at an ISIS swear-in ceremony, where he was one of two people presiding as a group full of young men pledged allegiance to—swore allegiance to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of ISIS. The program of massive street demonstrations, aimed at ultimately bringing down the Jokowi elected government, has been endorsed by Indonesians who have gone to Syria and joined up as ISIS fighters, as they describe themselves, etc.
This is the group which is being used by the U.S.-trained Indonesian generals and being backed by Donald Trump’s key Indonesian business partner, Donald Trump’s key Indonesian political backer and the lawyer for Carl Icahn’s Freeport-McMoRan. Maybe it was about a year ago, we did a short segment on Democracy Now! regarding the fact that one of these figures, Fadli Zon, the politician who was involved in this coup movement, he appeared at Trump Tower along with Donald Trump. This was shortly after Trump launched his presidential campaign. He launched his campaign by attacking Mexicans as rapists, and he got some heat for that. And one of the things Trump did, apparently, was to say to his people, "Get me some foreigners." One of the foreigners they got him was this Indonesian politician, Fadli Zon. He appeared at the press conference with Donald Trump. For doing so, he was fiercely attacked by the grand imam of the Indonesian mosque here in New York City—a very courageous act, by the way, by that imam, given the fact that Fadli Zon is not just a politician but is also the right-hand man of General Prabowo. Prabowo is the most notorious mass-killing general in Indonesia. He was also the general who was the closest protégé of the U.S. Pentagon and intelligence during his military career. So, Fadli Zon was attacked by—
AMY GOODMAN: And Prabowo was instrumental in East Timor.
ALLAN NAIRN: Yes. He did massacres in Timor and many other places. But now, it is his right-hand man, Fadli Zon, who was appearing with Trump at Trump Tower, helping in the—the initial stages of launching the campaign, and who is now one of the main supporters of this movement, which has as its final goal the toppling of Indonesia’s democratically elected president. And among the generals—and this is in a piece that I’ve been working on, and maybe by the time this airs the piece will have already been released—that have been complicit, in one degree or another, in this movement, include General Prabowo; General Wiranto, who is currently still under indictment for war crimes in Timor; General Gatot, who is currently the commander of the Indonesian armed forces.
AMY GOODMAN: We’ll be back with investigative journalist Allan Nairn in 30 seconds.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our conversation with investigative journalist Allan Nairn, who has just published a shocking exposé at The Intercept revealing backers of Donald Trump in Indonesia have joined army officers and a vigilante street movement linked to ISIS in an attempt to oust Indonesia’s president. I asked Allan Nairn to talk more about Trump’s connection to Fadli Zon, the Indonesian politician who was seen with Trump at Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, after Fadli Zon returned to Indonesia, as I mentioned, he was fiercely and very courageously attacked by the grand imam of the Indonesian mosque here in New York City. And then he was also attacked by his colleagues in the Indonesian congress. Fadli was and is the number two person in the Indonesian congress. And they tried to censure him for appearing with Donald Trump, on the grounds that it was unethical. And as the imam had pointed out, the thing that Trump is famous for in New York—in U.S. politics is being a racist and being anti-Islam. And this was especially sharp and ironic, because Prabowo and Fadli Zon have used as their main political tactic attacking any of their opponents on the grounds that their opponents are, one, anti-Islam, not as Islamic as they are, and, two, tools of foreigners. Prabowo, of course, as he had told me in our extensive discussion, himself was the most—the closest partner of U.S. intelligence in Indonesia when he was helping to run the mass-murdering Suharto military. He worked for the DIA, the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency. But in the campaign, he was running as a phony nationalist.
So, after he returned to Indonesia, Fadli Zon was under pressure from the congress. He, in the end, escaped any serious censure. But he did not repudiate Donald Trump. He became Donald Trump’s most vocal defender within Indonesian politics. And indeed, after the point in the campaign when Trump said that he was going to ban all Muslims from the United States, including in its first version, in its first iteration, ban even Muslims who were citizens of the U.S., even members of the U.S. military who happened to be overseas at that moment—he was going to ban them from returning home; he later had to modify and back off from that—after Trump made his first outrageous call for the Muslim ban, Fadli Zon defended him in Indonesia. And he said, "Trump is not anti-Islam. Donald Trump is not anti-Islam. And just you wait and see. As soon as he becomes president, he’s going to drop all that stuff, because that’s only campaign rhetoric." So, in essence, Fadli Zon has been Donald Trump’s political spokesman in Indonesia.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Allan Nairn, who is Hary Tanoe.
ALLAN NAIRN: Hary Tanoe is one of Trump’s two business partners in Indonesia. They’re working on a resort and some other projects. And there was recently a report within BIN, the Indonesian intelligence agency, which asserted that Hary Tanoe was covertly donating funds to the anti—the coup involving the FPI and the generals. Hary Tanoe is a media magnate like Trump. They actually have a similar profile in business. He’s in media, and he also sponsors beauty pageants. Tanoe’s media stations have been, in a sense, propaganda wings of the—of the coup, the street coup movement, to the extent to which they were actually admonished, officially admonished, by the Indonesian state broadcasting board, which is a very—usually a very weak, quiescent body. So these stations have been serving as kind of the propagandists for Trump. And the internal intelligence—
AMY GOODMAN: For Trump?
ALLAN NAIRN: As propagandists for the coup movement. And the internal intelligence report, which I had access to, asserts that Tanoe was also going beyond that and directly contributing funds to the movement.
Now, the background to this is very important. The Indonesian military came to power in 1965 in a coup, where they ousted the country’s founding father, Sukarno. They consolidated power with a massacre of anywhere from 400,000 to a million civilians. The massacre was enthusiastically backed by the U.S. The CIA gave them a list of 5,000 communists to start with. The U.S. press hailed it as, in the words of one New York Times column, "a gleam of light in Asia." The army installed General Suharto as the country’s dictator. The Clinton White House, years later, described Suharto as "our kind of guy." President Ford and Henry Kissinger gave—personally gave Suharto the green light to invade East Timor, which produced the most extensive proportional slaughter since the Nazis. The army implemented a regime which involved kind of a semi-religious glorification of the army and stigmatization of any kind of reformist element, which they would characterize as communist. And, when needed, or when they felt like it, over the years, they would stage additional massacres.
Then, in ’98, partly as a result of the Asian financial crisis, triggered by banks, partly as a result of the amazing courage of activists who came out on the streets of Jakarta to demand the ouster of Suharto, partly as a result of the fact that the grassroots movement here in the U.S. had succeeded in cutting off most of the arms pipeline from the U.S. to Indonesia, which then constrained them, in the extent to which they were willing to open fire on those demonstrators, Suharto fell.
After Suharto came what is referred to as Reformasi, reform, which is still underway. The army is still the dominant number one power in Indonesia, but their power is much less than it used to be. The fact that Jakowi, the civilian who related to the poor, was able to defeat the mass-murdering U.S. protégé, General Prabowo, in the presidential election was a real watershed in Indonesian politics. A very courageous movement of survivors of army massacres and human rights activists in Indonesia has persisted for year after year after year, putting their own lives at risk and sometimes dying in the process, like in the case of Munir, the brilliant and heroic human rights activist and my friend, who was assassinated by arsenic poisoning in 2004. They have persisted with this movement to bring the generals to justice. And in past few years, they’ve succeeded in upping the pressure. They’ve made gains, to the point that some generals have started to worry about whether they might be brought to justice, or at least might be publicly humiliated by their crimes being acknowledged publicly and the survivors gaining some degree of public legitimacy. So, the generals, to a degree much more than I realized before I started talking to people about this coup movement, have become obsessed with the idea of staving off justice.
And what has happened with their sponsorship, the sponsorship of many generals of this coup movement, is that they’ve created a very elegant win-win strategy. If they succeed in toppling President Jokowi, then no worry about accountability. On the other hand, if they don’t succeed, Jokowi will owe the generals who are supporting him, because although the bulk of the mass-murdering generals are affiliated in one way or another with the coup movement, there’s another fraction who are backing Jokowi and helping him to fend off the coup movement, and are getting—exacting a de facto guarantee. "Hey, we’re keeping you alive here. No prosecution, right? No public exposure of our crimes. No humiliation for the atrocities that we have committed." So, whichever way it turns out, in their mind—and there’s certainly reason to think that it’s a not unreasonable expectation— justice and accountability lose—loses, and the army wins.
AMY GOODMAN: Is Jokowi aware of the Trump connections to the supporters of the coup movement?
ALLAN NAIRN: That’s a good question. I don’t know. I don’t know when this will air, but as we are speaking, as this is being recorded, next week, on Wednesday, the Jakarta gubernatorial election is due to happen. That’s when it will be decided whether the governor, who is the kind of pretext for this street movement, will be voted in or voted out as—
AMY GOODMAN: This is April 19th.
ALLAN NAIRN: —as governor. Yes. And the day after the scheduled gubernatorial election, Vice President Mike Pence is due to arrive in Indonesia for two days and to meet with President Jokowi. Now, one interesting aspect of this is: Where does the U.S. stand on all of this? Because, on the one hand, the U.S. has a longtime policy, in countries around the world, of backing the repressive armies and security forces, but, on the other hand, also backing elected presidents—as long as those elected presidents do not have a program that threatens U.S. corporate interests or the interests of the local rich or the fact that the U.S. is allowed to back the local army and security forces. Barring that, the U.S. is all for local elected presidents. So, in accord with that historic worldwide policy, the U.S. has, up to this moment—as far as I know, up until at least recently, been backing Jokowi against the coup movement.
But it’s Trump’s local people who have been helping to push the coup movement. Now, I don’t know whether this question has come to the attention of President Trump himself. It could come to his attention through his business partner, Hary Tanoe, through his main Indonesian political partner, Fadli Zon, through his other business partner, Setya Novanto, who is a famously corrupt politician, or it could come to his attention through Carl Icahn, who is close to Trump, is his deregulation adviser from the White House and who is the controlling shareholder of Freeport-McMoRan, the oil and—the mining giant of copper and gold which has been ravaging West Papua, taking their gold and copper, but which—and this is quite significant—recently has been under challenge from the Jokowi government. For years, Freeport-McMoRan has had a free ride in Indonesia. As long as they paid off General Suharto and his cronies, as long as they paid off the army, various bureaucrats, they were able to do whatever they want. They were able to just strip the mountains of West Papua, turn the rivers indescribable primary colors from their pollution, knock off their dissident workers when necessary. They were able to do anything. But now, just in the past year and a half or so, they have been under challenge from the Jokowi government, which is demanding a renegotiation of the contract between the Indonesian government and Freeport-McMoRan, and which has been restricting Freeport’s copper exports. So this is creating a problem for Icahn, a serious economic problem for Carl Icahn. As this conflict between the Jokowi government and Icahn’s Freeport has been going on, the local lawyer for Icahn’s Freeport has been helping to lead the coup movement to oust—to oust Jokowi.
Now, I don’t know how much Trump knows about this, but I know there’s some question among some officials in Indonesia as to, in the end, which side will the U.S. come down—come down on. Will it continue the traditional U.S. policy of wanting to keep an elected president in for kind of stability purposes and front purposes, or might it align with Trump’s personal and business connections on the other side, who are backing the coup?
AMY GOODMAN: Investigative journalist Allan Nairn. We’ll link to his piece at The Intercept.