Bannon Welcomed Islamophobes When CPAC Banned Them

by Eli Clifton

President Donald Trump’s senior advisor Stephen Bannon has spent the past two weeks consolidating power in the White House. He helped craft an executive order banning visitors from seven Muslim majority countries and, in an unusual appointment for a political adviser, is now a member of the National Security Council’s principals committee. Bannon’s extreme views—he described the “Judeo-Christian West” as at war with Islam in a 2014 talk at a conference at the Vatican—were covered in a must-read New York Times article on Wednesday, “Trump Pushes Dark View of Islam to Center for U.S. Policy-Making.” But Bannon’s role in promoting the most anti-Muslim and conspiratorial voices on the right goes further than has been previously highlighted.

The Times highlighted that:

Among the most outspoken of those warning about Islam are Pamela Geller, of Stop Islamization of America, Robert Spencer, of Jihad Watch, and Frank Gaffney Jr., of the Center for Security Policy.

All three were hosted by Mr. Bannon on his Breitbart radio program before he became chief executive of the Trump campaign in August. Mr. Gaffney appeared at least 34 times.

Indeed, Geller, Spencer, and Gaffney are some of the most fringe anti-Muslim activists.

In 2010, all three of them played prominent roles in hyping anti-Muslim conspiracy theories to block the construction of an Islamic community center in lower Manhattan, claiming as Geller dubbed it, “the Islamic supremacist mosque at Ground Zero.”

In a 2013 report, the Anti-Defamation League denounced Geller, who claimed that Obama is working to “appease his Islamic overlords.”

“Geller routinely attacks organizations that oppose her agenda and views, often employing inappropriate Holocaust terminology and imagery to deride mainstream Jewish civil rights organizations,” the ADL said. “Geller, who is herself Jewish, frequently uses the terms ‘Nazi,’ ‘Jewicidal’ and ‘neo-kapo’ to demonize these organizations.”

In the Center for American Progress’ 2011 report, Fear, Inc.: The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America, my co-authors and I write:

A prolific blogger, author, and commentator, Spencer is “the principal leader… in the new academic field of Islam bashing,” according to Robert Crane, a former deputy director of the U.S. National Security Council and former adviser to President Nixon. Spencer is the primary driver in promoting the myth that peaceful Islam is nonexistent and that violent extremism is inherent within traditional Islam. “Of course, as I have pointed out many times, traditional Islam itself is not moderate or peaceful,” Spencer said in June this year. “It is the only major world religion with a developed doctrine and tradition of warfare against unbelievers.”

In 2011, David Keene, then-chairman of the American Conservative Union, the organization that sponsors CPAC, told ThinkProgress that Gaffney “has become personal and tiresomely obsessed with his weird belief that anyone who doesn’t agree with him… [must be] dupes of the nation’s enemies.”

Gaffney, whose faulty research Donald Trump cited to justify his Muslim ban, has made a series of outlandish claims about Muslim Brotherhood infiltration of the U.S. government that culminated in his expulsion from the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in 2011. Among those claims, he baselessly accused anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and George W. Bush political appointee Suhail Khan of serving as agents of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Keen banned Gaffney from speaking at CPAC for two years. In 2013, Geller also found herself banned from CPAC, a decision she blamed on “the Grover Norquist/Suhail Khan cabal.”

Although CPAC effectively banned these anti-Muslim extremists, Bannon came to their rescue. The then-executive chairman of Breitbart News Network hastily assembled an event for Gaffney, Geller, and Spencer, among others, to present their anti-Muslim agenda alongside the 2013 CPAC events. Following the panel, Bannon kicked off the question-and-answer section of the event with a leading question, perhaps offering insight into his own worldview. Bannon said:

Let me ask one thing, and I’m trying to be a provocateur here. Why is everything we heard [we heard from this panel] just not the last gasp of a civilization that’s grasping towards military power. That’s just holding on against world demographics. That is just bitter and hate filled and nasty and mean and doesn’t see the world that is in front of us and what the United States is doing. Is that the reason you think you were uninvited [from CPAC]?

Gaffney answered by saying:

The world has never been a more peaceful place, a place in which more people benefited from the opportunity, though not enshrined in their constitutions as it is in ours’, to pursue life liberty and the pursuit of happiness, than when we are powerful. Not because we are waging war against everybody all the time but because we are able to help keep it from breaking out. Far from our last gasp, I hope this is a moment of renaissance.

Geller answered next:

This is the unending and continual battle of the human condition. This is an unending battle. It comes in different costumes. It comes in different cloaks. The essential battle in all of this, through history, is individualism versus collectivism. This is the battle. A hundred years ago it was communism, Stalinism, the National Workers Socialist Party, Nazism, and Islam. There is no unique soul in Islam. This is collectivism. The state versus the individual. That is the essence of this battle and I think we are losing it.

Bannon stood directly to her left, looking on approvingly. Gaffney, seated three seats to Geller’s right, nodded his head in agreement.

Watch it:

Photo: Frank Gaffney and Pamela Geller

Eli Clifton

Eli Clifton reports on money in politics and US foreign policy. He is a co-founder of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft. Eli previously reported for the American Independent News Network, ThinkProgress, and Inter Press Service.