I must confess it was kind of exciting to sit in my car outside the gate of Gülen's compound in the Poconos. I was passing through and PA-33 actually facilitated my route. Coming out of southern New Jersey, I was working my way up to I-80. I pulled off in Saylorsburg and my wife turned to me and asked "Are you looking for that Turk?"
I couldn't suppress my grin. It's not a question I get asked every day.
Entering town I had two objectives. One, find the compound and take a look. Two, talk to a few locals and find out what people knew.
Both were accomplished. Interestingly the locals I talked to seemed to know very little about any of it. They knew there was 'something' going on 'up there' but beyond that they remain in the dark. I'm sure there are exceptions. I only spoke with some folks at the filling station. No one seemed to have any idea that their neighbour was a source of international intrigue and tension.
The gateway to the compound itself was largely unremarkable though very out of place. It's certainly a mini-fortress. You're not getting in there. You feel the security and I'm sure I was photographed and my license plate taken down. It's not marked but the Turkish-language parking signs confirmed my momentary doubt.
Saylorsburg is off the beaten path but near enough to the highways and airports that it's functional. I was reminded of Joseph Bonaparte who after being driven from Spain eventually settled near Bordentown NJ. At the time it was fairly rural and yet he was near enough to New York and Philadelphia to 'get the news', meet with people and make a move if necessary. He of course did eventually go back to Europe.
Will the 76 year old Gülen return to Turkey? It seems unlikely unless something happens to Erdogan. One wonders what will happen to his little empire when he's gone? I tell you what though... when driving through Saylorsburg Pan-Turkism and Turco-Central Asian politics are about the last thing on your mind. Saylorsburg feels like the kind of place I live... quiet but kind of rough, more populated than my area but still within the orbit of Appalachia, even though it's only a short distance from the Lehigh Valley and the great cities of the Eastern Seaboard. In some ways his choice of location seems counter-intuitive, even foolish. But on the other hand... it's perfect.
Many rural areas have present-day 'mysteries'. One thinks of strange gated mansions in the woods, hidden airstrips and cultic compounds. People whisper about them from time to time but eventually people just get used to their presence and move on with their lives. We have such things in my area too... but a Turkish exile running a financial empire with CIA, paramilitary and terrorist connections? Saylorsburg has us beat on that score.
I still say it's easier to be invisible in an urban area but for some activities you need a rural location. If the pretty well attested stories are true about paramilitary training going on at Gülen's compound, then a rural location (and one used to hearing gunshots) is required. If Saylorsburg is like my area, sometimes it sounds like there's a war going on. We get campers up from the cities who invade our peace and quiet by firing off a few hundred rounds on a Saturday morning or a Sunday afternoon. It's annoying at times but no one thinks much of it.