When Muslim-American organizations and activists concerned with Islamophobia woke up the day after the election, on November 7, they were elated. Key members of what had been dubbed the House Republican “Islamophobia caucus”had been voted out of office. These Tea Party-affiliated Republicans included Joe Walsh (R-IL), who had warned in August that Islamists were “trying to kill Americans every week” and were lurking in the Chicago suburbs, and Allen West (R-FL), who linked the entire religion of Islam to terrorism.
These fear-mongers won’t be able to spread their hysteria from the bully pulpit of a House seat any longer. But that doesn’t mean that the House Republican caucus has rid themselves of the scourge of anti-Muslim politicians who stoke that sentiment for political gain. On the contrary, the House Republican caucus remains the place where the ugly head of Islamophobia rests comfortably.
Here are five House Republicans who spread anti-Muslim sentiment routinely. Activists concerned with Islamophobia should watch these players in the year to come. The fight against Islamophobia in this country is far from over, and many members of the Republican Party remains wedded to that hateful ideology.
1. Michele Bachmann
This Minnesota Tea Party favorite catapulted herself into the spotlight again by hawking a wacky conspiracy theory first propagated by a former Reagan administration official and now chief Islamophobe. She narrowly won re-election in November despite spending twelve times as much as her opponent, Democrat Jim Graves.
Last summer, Bachmann garnered national attention when she and other Republicans alleged that the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian-based political movement that spread throughout the Middle East, had “penetrated” the U.S. government. Specifically, Bachmann singled out a prominent Muslim-American aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton named Huma Abedin as being part of the conspiracy. The Minnesota congresswoman made the allegations in letters sent to U.S. government officials.
The letter questioned whether there was “direct influence” on the intelligence community from “[Muslim] Brotherhood operatives.” And the letter also mentioned that Abedin has “family members” connected to the Muslim Brotherhood.
Needless to say, the allegations were bogus, and some Republican leaders blasted Bachmann for going on a witch hunt. “Accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous,” said Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH). But other Republican officials backed up Bachmann. “Her concern was about the security of the country,” said Eric Cantor (R-VA).
Her letter to U.S. government officials made clear that Bachmann got her ideas from Frank Gaffney, a former Reagan aide and prominent neoconservative. Gaffney is a leading anti-Muslim activist in the U.S., and has produced a 10-part online series about the Muslim Brotherhood’s influence in the U.S. But the idea that the Muslim Brotherhood is plotting from within is a McCarthyite theory that casts aspersions on Muslim-Americans within the U.S. government. There is also no evidence to support the theory.
This summer 2012 episode was hardly the only iteration of Bachmann’s Islamophobia, though. In 2011, she stoked fear about sharia law--Islamic law--taking over U.S. courts.
2. Peter King
He may have lost his chairmanship of the Homeland Security committee due to party-imposed term-limits, but you can count on King stoking the flames of fear towards Islam next year. King, a Republican hailing from Long Island, used his post as chair of the House Homeland Security Committee to specifically target the problem of terrorism within the Muslim community--and nowhere else, despite right-wing extremism being on the rise. After serving for seven years, King is no longer the head of the committee, though he will remain a member.
King has a penchant for singling out Muslim-Americans. He held a total of five separate hearings on Islam and terrorism in the United States, ostensibly to focus on the threat of “homegrown” terrorism from Muslims. But as Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-MS), a fellow member of the Homeland Security Committee, pointed out: “According to a polling of state law enforcement agencies conducted by the Department of Homeland Security’s START Center of Excellence, there are a variety of domestic extremist groups more prevalent in the United States than Islamic extremists, including neo-Nazis, environmental extremists, anti-tax groups, and others.”
His first hearing sparked the most controversy. Titled “The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community’s Response,” it was based on King’s assumption that the Muslim community in the U.S. is prone to breeding extremists. In 2004, King claimed that “80%, 85% of the mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists." Despite this claim becoming a right-wing meme, there was no evidence to back it up. In fact, as the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights pointed out in a letter to King before his first hearing, “experts have concluded that mosque attendance is a significant factor in the prevention of extremism.”
King courted even more controversy based on one of his star witnesses at the first hearing: Zuhdi Jasser, an activist who has become the right’s darling Muslim. Jasser is the head of a group called the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, which is funded by anti-Muslim figures like the right-wing Christian Foster Friess. Many Muslim organizations say that Jasser has little following among American Muslims. Jasser narrated an Islamophobic film put out by an Israeli-settler and neoconservative linked outfit called the Clarion Fund. The film, titled “The Third Jihad,” was shown to New York Police Department officers as training and claims that Muslim extremists are plotting from within to take over the U.S.
Other statements in King’s past show that his motivation to root out Muslim extremism in the U.S. is based on faulty assumptions. He has stuck to his claim about mosques in the U.S. being run by radical extremists and has also claimed that “the Muslim community does not cooperate anywhere near to the extent that it should” on terrorism-related cases. But that statement ignores the fact that Muslims are tipped off law enforcement to break up the small number of plots that do exist.
3. Mike McCaul
For the House Homeland Security Committee, it’s out with one Islamophobe as chief of the panel, and in with another. McCaul, a Republican hailing from Texas, has dutifully served alongside King on the committee. And now, he’s getting his chance to run it on his own.
Since King was forced out of the top spot due to party-imposed parameters, McCaul has been tapped to lead the Homeland Security Committee. McCaul’s history of Islamophobia shows why he will likely lead the committee similar to how King did.
In fact, McCaul strongly supported the King-led hearings focusing on Muslim-Americans. McCaul praised King’s hearings as a way to “end the era of political correctness.” During the hearing itself, McCaul said: “I am mystified by the controversy that has followed from this.”
After King’s fifth set of hearings, McCaul said that the “U.S. should not overlook the correlation between Islam and national security.”
And McCaul also runs around with the players behind the wave of Islamophobia that has swept the nation since 9/11. McCaul appeared on Frank Gaffney’s radio show last year--the same radio show where Gaffney has spread his toxic theories about sharia law and the Muslim Brotherhood in the U.S. And McCaul didn’t bat an eye, or mutter any response, when Gaffney carried on about the “Muslim Brotherhood’s operations in the United States.” When he got a chance to speak, McCaul indulged in speculation about the “threat” of Hezbollah, the Lebanese armed group, in the Western Hemisphere--a threat for which there is little evidence for, according to PolitiFact.
4. Louie Gohmert
This Texas Republican has promoted anti-Muslim sentiment too many times before. Gohmert was widely mocked for his August 2010 assertion that Middle Eastern terrorists were plotting new attacks on the U.S. by sending their pregnant wives to this country whose children “could be raised and coddled as future terrorists.” The phrase “terror babies” entered the political lexicon after Gohmert’s outlandish statements. Yet, as Mother Jones noted at the time, there’s not “a morsel of evidence to support Gohmert's terror baby tale, which the congressman says he learned of from a woman on a plane while en route to the Middle East and from a retired FBI agent.”
The next year, Gohmert again made headlines with remarks about Islam and President Barack Obama. He suggested that Obama’s allegiances were with Islamic states instead of the U.S. “I know the president made the mistake one day of saying he had visited all 57 states, and I'm well aware that there are not 57 states in this country, although there are 57 members of OIC, the Islamic states in the world,” Gohmert said on the House floor. “Perhaps there was some confusion whether he'd been to all 57 Islamic states as opposed to all 50 U.S. states. But nonetheless, we have an obligation to the 50 American states, not the 57 Muslim, Islamic states...This administration [has been] complicit in helping people who wants [sic] to destroy our country.”
Gohmert’s speech played into the right-wing conspiracy theory that Obama was a secret Muslim in league with anti-American Islamists. In line with that theory, Gohmert has also suggested that Obama listens to advisers from the Muslim Brotherhood.
And finally, Gohmert was one of four other Republicans to sign onto the Bachmann letter on Muslim Brotherhood influence within the U.S. government. When other, more sane Republicans questioned the letter, Gohmert lashed out. “I wish some of these numbnuts would go out and read the letter before they make these horrible allegations about the horrible accusations we’re making,” Gohmert said.
Expect 2013 to see a lot more of Gohmert’s conspiracy-laden theories about Muslims in the U.S.
5. Trent Franks
In recent years, Arizona Republican Trent Franks has taken to demonizing Muslim-Americans.
In 2009, Franks was one of four Republicans to call for an investigation of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s leading Muslim civil rights group and a favorite target of the Islamophobic right. The GOP members claimed an investigation was needed into whether CAIR was “spying” on Congressional offices in order to influence policy. The evidence for that charge was a 2007 CAIR memo that called for placing Muslim interns in key Congressional offices in order to influence policy on issues important to Muslim-Americans--something that every interest group does in Washington. As Glenn Greenwald pointed out at the time: “They stand accused of plotting to influence members of Congress and trying to help interns obtain positions in Congress in order to advance their political agenda. That’s consistent with what virtually every political advocacy group in the nation does; it’s normally called activism and democracy.” But for House Republicans, Muslim-Americans working on Capitol Hill is a step down the road towards sharia law.
The House GOP members’ initial source for the entire CAIR debacle was a book titled Muslim Mafia: Inside the Secret Underworld That’s Conspiring to Islamize America.
Franks’ anti-Muslim fear-mongering didn’t stop in 2009, though. The next year, he showed support for Frank Gaffney’s theory that sharia law was on the march in the U.S., led by Muslim-American organizations with links to the Muslim Brotherhood who were plotting from within.
Predictably, the latest iteration of Franks’ Islamophobia was his signature on Bachmann’s McCarthyite letter about Muslim Brotherhood influence in the U.S. government and Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
So while Allen West and Joe Walsh have to take a breather from spreading fear and hysteria about Muslims, they have plenty of colleagues to pick up the slack. Some of the leading purveyors of anti-Muslim bigotry may have been booted out of office, but you can still expect 2013 to have its fair share of Islamophobic hate.