by Eli Clifton
The day before Donald Trump’s inauguration, a new interfaith coalition of clergy announced their launch with a press conference urging the new president to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. Such a designation might allow the government to expand its surveillance and targeting of American Muslims. Earlier this week, Sen. Ted Cruz (R-FL) introduced legislation calling on the State Department to report to Congress on “the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a foreign terrorist organization.”
Urging a crackdown on American Muslims seems more like the policy arena inhabited by anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, who helped advise Cruz’s presidential campaign. Gaffney’s baseless accusations about the Muslim Brotherhood have included claims that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, and former George W. Bush appointee Suhail Khan were part of a vast plot to infiltrate the U.S. government.
As it turns out, similarities to Gaffney’s brand of anti-Muslim advocacy aren’t just a coincidence. The group, Faith Leaders for America, was apparently started by Gaffney’s organization, the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a fact the coalition never acknowledges on its website or press releases.
LobeLog reviewed domain name registration filings for the group and found that, despite an apparent effort to anonymize the registration, Center for Security Policy staff members Adam Savit and Christine Brim submitted the initial registration.
When contacted about CSP’s ownership of the group’s domain name and potential involvement in the interfaith coalition’s work, Gaffney acknowledged to LobeLog that his group was playing a behind-the-scenes role in shaping the group’s work. Gaffney said:
The Center for Security has provided some initial administrative support and counsel to the informal Faith Leaders for America coalition, and may continue to do so if asked by the Faith Leaders.
Indeed, the group’s positions have consistently fallen in line with Gaffney’s laser focus on promoting conspiracy theories about Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the U.S. government reframed in the context of an interfaith movement (the group includes one rabbi and no Imams). In a prayer delivered at the group’s press conference, Jerry Johnson, president of National Religious Broadcasters, said:
President-Elect Trump, tomorrow you will become the president of the United States. We, Faith Leaders for America, want you to know you have our prayerful support as you begin to counter jihad and protect Americans from Islamic terrorism.
When you label the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, we support you.
When you call Islamic terrorism what it is, Islamic extremism, we support you.
When you stop the mass importation of unvetted immigrants from areas that harbor, train, and send out jihadists, we support you.
When you require appropriate extreme vetting for those who do enter the USA from these same areas, we support you.
In other words, President-Elect Trump, we’ve got your back. Some religious leaders falsely contend that these actions would violate religious freedom. Actually, we know these steps are proper, legal, and necessary to protect our First Amendment freedoms of religion, speech, press, and assembly.
Indeed, singling out a single religious group for scrutiny, as Trump appears to be doing with his forthcoming executive order excluding refugees from Muslim majority countries, is almost certainly going be challenged in court as a violation of religious freedom.
The American Civil Liberties Union responded to the forthcoming order yesterday, urging Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) to cancel the pending committee vote on the confirmation of Trump’s pick for attorney general, Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL). The ACLU called on Grassley to hold a second hearing at which “the Senate should vigorously question the role of Senator Sessions in developing [Trump’s executive orders] and proposals and his plans to implement and execute them.”
Gaffney’s formation of what appears to be an Astroturf interfaith group, which seems to exist exclusively to promote CSP’s anti-Muslim agenda to the new president and his supporters, seems like an odd strategy. But the group has gotten positive write ups, with no mention of Gaffney’s involvement, in right-wing publications, including: ConservativeHQ, Religion News Service, National Religious Broadcasters, and the Christian Broadcasting Network.
Gaffney even reported on the group, while failing to acknowledge his own role in their formation, in a column for Family Security Matters titled “Courageous Christian and Jewish clerics announce ‘Faith Leaders for America.’” He wrote:
I wanted to share with you a most extraordinary experience I had today. At the National Press Club in Washington, nine courageous Christian and Jewish clerics announced the formation of a new group, Faith Leaders for America. The mission they have undertaken, together with more than sixty-five other influential clergy of different faiths and denominations, is to promote and protect our constitutional freedoms increasingly under assault—in this country, as well as overseas—from adherents to the totalitarian Islamic doctrine known as Sharia.
Gaffney’s efforts to influence Trump would be hard to take seriously—he once claimed that the Missile Defense Agency logo “appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with the Obama campaign logo”—if he had not already played a significant role in influencing Trump’s policy positions.
Over a year ago, Trump cited a CSP-sponsored poll that allegedly showed that “25% of [American Muslims] agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad” and 51% “agreed that Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to Shariah.”
The poll was an online opt-in survey of 600 Muslim, a fact that CSP had not initially disclosed. The American Association for Public Opinion Research, which sets ethical standards for pollsters denounces opt-in surveys as misleading and inaccurate. “The pollster has no idea who is responding to the question,” it warned, noting that such surveys lack a “‘grounded statistical tie’ to the population. As a result, estimates from self-selected volunteers are subject to unknown error that cannot be measured.”
Trump referenced the poll to justify his campaign’s commitment to a “complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on.”
Yesterday, Trump took the first steps to fulfill that campaign promise.