Virginia Bay councilman criticized for mosque claims

Last week, the Virginia Beach City Council voted 9-1 in approval of the city’s first mosque. But that lone “no” vote by Councilman Bill DeSteph has created controversy. He claims building the mosque would be a threat to national security.

The Council’s approval gave local Muslim nonprofit Crescent Community Center the green light to build the mosque at the intersection of Landstown Road and Salem Road. The group says the site will hold up to 225 people in its prayer hall.

DeSteph told media outlets last week he voted in opposition to the plan because he had information linking Crescent Community Center to the Mosque and Islamic Center of Hampton Roads, which he said has ties to the radical Muslim Brotherhood. obtained a PowerPoint presentation that DeSteph emailed to a constituent with information about members from the Crescent Community Center and the Hampton mosque. The document raises questions about links to the Muslim brotherhood, but the statements are vague and fail to show any documented proof that anyone in the Hampton Roads Muslim community poses any threat.

One constituent wrote back to the councilman, taking issue with his so called proof: “This garbage is nothing more than a Joe McCarthy type attempt to insinuate through … innuendo … the mosque will be a haven for radical Islamists.”

DeSteph’s response to that: “This is not about religion. This is about national security.”

DeSteph would bring up the same “national security” line many times in the presentation.

On Friday, 10 On Your Side’s Erin Kelly showed the information to Dr. Ahmed Noor, a trustee at the mosque in Hampton. He denied it proved anything. “We will not have ties to any of the Muslim groups outside the United States,” Noor said. “It really is unbecoming of a person of that stature to make these allegations without any foundation.”

Councilman John Uhrin said he’s heard nothing about the mosque that raises any red flags. In fact, no one on the Council has heard anything about DeSteph’s claims until he made them. “No one ever raised or gave me any data that supports that … I would be curious to know where he got his data from and what proof he has, and I wish he would have shared it with [the Council] before we actually had to consider it,” Uhrin said.

But DeSteph never shared his concerns about the mosque’s alleged radical ties. In fact, he never did anything to encourage other members of the council to vote against the plan for it to be built. He did, however, reach out to others. “I passed along information to federal authorities and the Chief of Police,” he said. was told Virginia Beach Police Chief Jim Cervera spoke with DeSteph and reached out to federal authorities. Cervera would not say who exactly he reached out to or speak about any information DeSteph may have given him.

Before a Virginia Beach City Council workshop Tuesday night, Mayor Will Sessoms read a letter from the Human Rights Commission calling DeSteph out for his “no vote.” “We stand with our Council in support of the mosque in Virginia Beach; and we join our Council in their concern about the outrageous and offensive accusations made by a member of Council,” Sessoms read from the letter.

Despite being thoroughly questioned by, DeSteph’s only reply to the controversy he’s caused was, “I have nothing further to add. This is not about religion. It is about national security.”

The Crescent Community Center of Virginia Beach issued this statement to 10 On Your Side:

It is disturbing to us to hear one elected official has apparently asserted that our membership constitutes a threat to national security or something of that sort. Crescent Community Center has not received and does not receive funding from residents of other countries nor from the “Hampton Roads Mosque”. We have no idea as to the alleged “secret connection” with the Muslim Brotherhood that apparently has been asserted to exist between our Virginia religious organization by an elected official. We have no ‘connection.

WAVY, 1 October 2013