Followers of Pennsylvania-based radical cleric Fetullah Gülen were very resentful on Twitter when they learned the U.S. Presidential election results last November. Considering Gülenist efforts to cultivate a really close relationship with Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for the last eight years, and their millions of dollars' worth investment in the Clinton Foundation, the Clinton Global Initiative and the Clinton-tied Super PACs, their desperation was understandable. They never thought about the possibility of Donald Trump's victory.But reality sunk in quick. Gülenists are genuine professionals when it comes to lobbying and public relations thanks to their decades-long experience in the Turkish government in this specific field.
First, Gülen-tied Washington-based Rumi Forum, and the Turkic American Alliance restructured their operations partly due to financial concerns and partly in order to accommodate their new strategy in Washington. Last fall, most probably because they had problems finding a lobbying group tied to Republicans, Gülenists established a new lobbying front, the Washington Strategy Group LLC.
Since then Gülen's new priority in Washington has been reaching out to Republican and conservative circles. Their first project was turning previously anti-Gülen conservative news website Daily Caller, widely read by Congressional staff, to a Gülen sympathetic news outlet. The Daily Caller used to call Gülenists a "secretive Turkish Islamic movement", and Gülen a "mysterious Turkish cleric" until last fall. Now gulen-scooped Daily Caller journalists seem to have decided to treat Gülenists as a victimized opposition group. Gülenist journalists and pro-Gülen commentators have become regulars in Turkey-related stories that closely moonlighting Gülenist interests and agenda in the United States.
Next, Gülenists sponsored a special report on the conservative newspaper Washington Times against the Turkish government, through an obscure group called Friends of the Republic of Turkey. The articles focused on unproven allegations against the Turkish government of aiding terror groups such as Daesh and al-Qaeda. Former police chief and fugitive Ahmet Yayla, another leading Gülenist who was published in the Times, also penned an article to conservative news outlet the National Review pushing for similar conspiracy-ridden theories.
Their plan included another dimension, Emre Celik of Rumi Forum has been trying really hard to contact experts in conservative think tanks in the town, offering people to arrange meetings with Gülen-linked journalists. They have also arranged some closed-door meetings to promote Gülen in leading conservative institutions.
Finally, this week we learned that the Washington Strategy Group, the new Gülen lobbying front, retained Gotham Government Relations & Communications, a New York lobbying company that helped to orchestrate President Donald Trump's campaign. Gotham's partner Brad Gerstman told Politico that part of why the Gülenists chose them was their proximity to the White House. The official lobbying disclosure report says Gotham was hired to "lobby in favor of the Turkish-American Gülen Movement to elected officials." Gerstman, rather oddly, told Politico that the group chose them to secure the release of Gülenists in Saudi Arabia.
The real question arising from these activities is the funding. The Washington Strategy Group paid Gotham a $50,000 retainer, and will pay $20,000 per month. The WSG itself has spent $80,000 for the last 6 months for its lobbying activities on Capitol Hill. The Estopinan Group, another subcontractor for the Washington Strategy Group, disclosed that it was paid $20,000 for its Gülenist lobbying in the first quarter. In total, the WSG spent $150,000 for the last six months for its lobbying efforts, according to the disclosure reports.
So where is the money coming from? For a "victimized' opposition group, Gülenists have plenty of money to spend on their nonprofits, lobbying firms and PR activities. Some people speculate that Gülen-run funds that have been relocated to Europe, through alleged money laundering activities before and after the coup attempt in Turkey, are in play. Yet there is no evidence to confirm this allegation.
What is certain is that Gülenists are really trying to influence Trump officials for their immediate future. Time will show whether they will be successful or not.