The next Republican presidential debate will take place tomorrow in Las Vegas, but a few of the 2016 Republican hopefuls will be arriving in town early to participate in the Nevada National Security Action Summit. The event will feature Ben Carson, Carly Fiorina and Rick Santorum, who will be speaking alongside other Republican and conservative heavyweights like Rep. Steve King and John Bolton. Other presidential candidates have spoken at previous National Security Action Summits in Iowa, New Hampshire and South Carolina – Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Bobby Jindal and George Pataki have all participated.
What makes these events noteworthy, other than the guest list of speakers, is the group that organizes them: the Center for Security Policy. Going by the name alone, you would assume it’s just another one of the innumerable think tanks that dot the Washington, D.C., area like mold on a shower curtain. But the Center for Security Policy is different. It’s an extremist group that traffics in undisguised Islamophobia and argues that “American civil and political society is under systematic, sustained and seditious assault – a ‘Stealth Jihad’ – by adherents to Shariah.” Its founder and president, former Reagan official Frank Gaffney, is a leading voice of anti-Islam activism and an inveterate conspiracy theorist who has dabbled in Obama birtherism and implicated Saddam Hussein in the Oklahoma City bombing.
It was Gaffney’s group that produced the shoddy poll that Donald Trump cited in proposing his plan to ban all Muslim immigration to the United States, and Gaffney praised Trump’s move as similar to what the Center for Security Policy endorses. Trump’s proposal drew condemnations from Ben Carson and Carly Fiorina, both of whom will nonetheless be speaking at Gaffney’s event today and giving his group a jolt of mainstream credibility.
Gaffney’s worldview, and that of the Center for Security Policy, is generally that Islam represents a profound threat to the United States, and that any person or entity with any connection to Islam – no matter how tangential or nonexistent – is corrupted and untrustworthy. As you would imagine, this inclination toward conspiracism has only been exacerbated with a man named Barack Hussein Obama occupying the White House.
In 2009, Gaffney argued that Obama’s use of the phrase “peace be upon them” during a speech in Cairo was proof that he is secretly a Muslim and was “aligning himself and his policies with those of Shariah adherents such as the Muslim Brotherhood.” In 2010, Gaffney postulated that the inclusion of a crescent shape in the redesigned Missile Defense Agency logo was part of an “obvious and worrying pattern of official U.S. submission to Islam and the theo-political-legal program the latter’s authorities call Shariah.” Gaffney wants to create a select committee in Congress – in the model of the “much-vilified, but ultimately vindicated, House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC)” – to investigate “the extent to which the Obama administration’s anti-American activities reflect the success of the toxic Muslim Brotherhood in penetrating and subverting U.S. government agencies and civil institutions.”
It’s all terribly ugly. And it’s made all the worse by the fact that Gaffney and his organization have the money and the clout to develop and propagate their increasingly virulent strain of Islamophobia. The Center for Security Policy pulls in millions of dollars in contributions annually, and it benefits from the largesse of one of the most influential conservative “dark money” groups: Donors Capital Fund. As Mother Jones reported in 2013, Donors Capital Fund and its affiliated group, Donors Trust, allow “wealthy contributors who want to donate millions to the most important causes on the right to do so anonymously, essentially scrubbing the identity of those underwriting conservative and libertarian organizations.” From 2010 to 2013, the Center for Security Policy took in over $1.6 million in grants from Donors Capital Fund, according to financial disclosure forms. Gaffney’s group has also received money from defense contractors and the galaxy of conservative philanthropies that fund the larger right-wing non-profit network.
What does it do with all this money? It “promote[s] an increasingly paranoid misrepresentation of the threats posed by Islam in America,” the Center for American Progress explained in a 2011 report. The Center for Security Policy develops elaborate and exotic theories explaining how Muslim individuals and organizations are infiltrating the United States and undermining it from within. Per the center’s “research,” the resettlement of refugees from majority Muslim countries is a progressive plot to expand the welfare state and import Democratic voters. Its 2010 report, “Shariah: The Threat to America,” argued that the Muslim Brotherhood is “infiltrating American society at every level and executing a very deliberate plan to manipulate the nation into piecemeal submission to shariah.” It’s rank paranoia that, because of the steady stream of funding behind it, can be dressed up as official and authoritative.
The paranoia runs so deep that it pays no heed to partisan and ideological boundaries. One of the Center for Security Policy’s most high-profile targets is conservative anti-tax gadfly Grover Norquist, whom it accuses of being a secret agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Gaffney’s investigation of Norquist grew out of an earlier unsuccessful attempt by Gaffney to out Norquist as gay, and the evidence of his alleged Islamist sympathies (such as it is) is detailed in the group’s book “Agent of Influence: Grover Norquist and the Assault on the Right,” which is “now in its fourth[!] edition.
(Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin is also suspected by Gaffney and crew of being a surreptitious agent of the Muslim Brotherhood. Gaffney’s conspiratorial allegations about Abedin prompted former congresswoman and righteous twit Michele Bachmann to demand a State Department investigation into her “connections” with the group.)
It looks crazy when you put it all together like this because it is, in fact, exceptionally crazy. The Center for Security Policy is the inheritor of the legacy of the John Birch Society, which spent the Cold War years marginalizing itself with persistent warnings of communist plots and Soviet infiltration at the highest levels of the government. In the age of the war on terror, Gaffney and the Center for Security Policy have made the Muslim faith the new existential menace, the new secret corruptor. The gross xenophobia on display here is not too far removed from what we’re seeing in Republican politics, with GOP presidential candidates proposing bans on Muslim immigrants and religious tests on Syrian refugees. Republican governors are turning away Muslim refugees and suing the government to block refugee resettlement within their borders. This is precisely what Frank Gaffney and the Center for Security Policy want to see: fear of Muslims driving the policy discussion.