Fethullah Gülen, a cleric living in self-imposed exile two hours north of Philadelphia, was paid a visit this week by a man who has also drawn the ire of the Turkish government: NBA star Enes Kanter.
Kanter, a center for the Portland Trail Blazers, visited Gülen’s 26-acre retreat center in Saylorsburg, Monroe County, on Thursday, according to Y. Alp Aslandogan, the executive director of Alliance for Shared Values and a close associate of Gülen’s.
Aslandogan was unable to provide details, but said that “to meet with Mr. Gulen would be the main reason to visit the center.” Kanter’s agent did not return a request for comment Friday.
Gülen, 81, is the leader of a religious movement within Sunni Islam called Hizmet that promotes civility and peace. For those who travel to northeastern Pennsylvania to see him, he is a religious figure on par with the pope or the Dalai Lama.
Yet he remains a controversial figure, accused by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, his former ally, of orchestrating a failed military coup in 2016. Gülen vehemently denies this.
Kanter’s presence at the facility was hinted at late Thursday, when a series of tweets he sent from his personal Twitter account said he was located in Wind Gap, the closest borough to Gülen’s property.
The visit is hardly out of character for the 27-year-old.
Kanter has been outspoken about his support for Gülen, often to his own personal detriment.
After the reported coup, Kanter took to Twitter, speaking out against Erdogan and calling him the “Hitler of our century.” In response to this criticism and Kanter’s continued support of Gülen, the Turkish government revoked Kanter’s passport and has repeatedly called for his arrest and imprisonment.
Kanter has publicly stated that he is afraid to travel internationally, and has sat out of NBA games in London and Toronto.
Erdogan’s followers have taken a similar interest in Gülen.
In addition to Gülen’s alleged role in the attempted coup, Turkish prosecutors have accused Gülen of terrorism and other crimes and say his network of followers was behind the 2016 killing of Russia’s ambassador to Turkey. After the failed coup, thousands of his followers were rounded up and jailed.
From his Poconos retreat — where he has lived since 1999 — Gülen has watched as President Donald Trump has come under increasing pressure from Erdogan to send him back to his native land, where he would almost certainly face imprisonment, or even death.
Former national security adviser Michael Flynn, whose consulting company was paid to lobby the Trump administration on behalf of Turkey and target Gülen, has called him “a shady Islamic mullah” and “a radical Islamist.”
So far, no official extradition order has been signed for him, but Justice Department officials visited Turkey earlier this year to speak with Erdogan about the ongoing issue.