by Eli Clifton
This article was first published by the The Nation and was reprinted here with permission. Copyright The Nation.
Donald Trump is not known for his political tact, but time and again he has proven that the normal rules simply don’t apply to him. Yet the president-elect will be pressing his luck if he goes through with his rumored plan to nominate former ambassador to the United Nations John Bolton as deputy secretary of state.
While Bolton has a well-earned reputation for extreme hawkishness—he is unapologetic about his support for the invasion of Iraq and advocated starting a war with Iran as recently as last year—less attention has been paid to his warm relationship with anti-Muslim advocates Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, whose organization, the American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), has been widely condemned by civil -liberties and anti-discrimination groups for its efforts to demonize Muslims and the Islamic religion. The Anti-Defamation League describes AFDI as “consistently vilifying the Islamic faith under the guise of fighting radical Islam,” and promoting a “conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda.” The Southern Poverty Law Center highlights Geller’s “assertions that President Obama is the ‘love child’ of Malcolm X and that he was ‘involved with a crack whore.’” She is, the SPLC observes, “probably the best known—and the most unhinged—anti-Muslim ideologue in the United States.”
Meanwhile, says the SPLC:
Spencer has complained of ‘Shariah enclaves’ and predicted that they will grow across America; referred to Barack Obama as ‘the first Muslim president’; claimed that Islam ‘mandates warfare against unbelievers’ and said that ‘traditional Islam is not moderate or peaceful’; and even suggested that the media may be getting money to depict Muslims in a positive light.
Over the past five years, Geller and Spencer have mounted legal campaigns to force public buses across the country to run AFDI advertisements, including one claiming “Islamic Jew-hatred: It’s in the Quran,” and calling for an end to “all aid to Islamic countries.”
Geller and Spencer’s anti-Muslim track record didn’t deter Bolton from enjoying a warm public relationship with the duo after his departure from government service in 2006. Bolton has been interviewed multiple times on camera by Geller since 2009 and he strongly endorsed her and Spencer’s 2010 book, The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America.
Bolton even wrote the foreword for the book, concluding:
This book carries forward the ongoing and increasingly widespread critique of Barack Obama as our first post-American president. What it recounts is disturbing, and its broader implications are more disturbing still. Most Americans believe they elect a president who will vigorously represent their global interest, rather than electing a Platonic guardian who defends them only when they comport with his grander visions of a just world. Foreign leaders, whether friend or foe, expect the same. If, by contrast, Obama continues to behave as a post-American president, our adversaries will know exactly what to do.
That “critique” and “what it recounts” are a series of unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about Barack Obama and sweeping anti-Muslim statements.
Geller and Spencer promoted the theory that Obama was an undercover Muslim, writing:
Obama went to extraordinary measures to obfuscate his Muslim background. The more proof that bloggers like me produced, the more we were marginalized. So secretive was Obama that he refused to release his long-form birth certificate, his school records, his thesis, his school records, his passport on which he traveled as a teen… the list itself was a looming red flag.
They came to the defense of “birtherism,” a movement adopted and encouraged by Donald Trump, which spread the theory that Obama was not a natural-born US citizen.
The Obama propagandists deliberately coined the pejorative tag of “birther” to sound similar to “truther.” This, of course, was a terrible smear. Truthers are conspiracy theorists who actually believe that Bush and members of his administration were the real perpetrators of the September 11 Islamic attacks on America. The birthers, on the other hand, simply wanted Obama to release his long-form birth certificate.
Geller and Spencer repeated the baseless claim that Obama held Indonesian citizenship.
Among the many records [Obama] has sealed and never allowed to see the light of day are the infamous long form of his Hawaii birth certificate; the Indonesian passport he had as a dual citizen of that country and the United States.
Obama is accused of “blaming America for 9/11” and pursuing “pro-Islamic and anti-Israel policies,” part of a litany of charges suggesting that Obama is fundamentally seeking to undermine the United States and is un-American.
Much of Geller and Spencer’s worldview relies on their embrace of a conspiratorial definition of Sharia, Islamic canonical law, which they broadly define as
a complex and comprehensive unity that traditional Muslims believe to be the unalterable law of Allah. To open the door to one aspect of it is only to open the door to the rest—which inevitably will result in the institutionalized subjugation of women and non-Muslims, and the extinguishing of freedom of speech and freedom of conscience.
They later warn, “Transformational issues facing this nation and the world at large—the world at war, creeping Sharia, the perversion of the rights of free men—hang in the balance during the Obama administration as never before.”
Bolton has a long history of making enemies on both sides of the aisle. Unable to get a Senate confirmation for Bolton as UN ambassador, President George W. Bush ultimately gave him a recess appointment.
During his failed confirmation hearing, Bolton’s track record as undersecretary of state, specifically his meeting with Israeli intelligence officials without seeking “country clearance” from the State Department, came under fire. As a diplomat, he was known for showing contempt for the United Nations and striking hard-line positions as a hawkish unilateralist.
Should Trump go forward with nominating Bolton for deputy secretary of state, Bolton’s track record as a diplomat, as well as his cozy ties to hate-group leaders during the Obama administration, will likely emerge as areas of concern during the confirmation process.