Bachmann, Gaffney, and the GOP’s Anti-Muslim Culture of Conspiracy
Earlier this month, Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) appeared on the FOX Business show Money Rocks to make the case for depriving the children of immigrants of their 14th Amendment rights. Gohmert claimed that on a recent airplane trip to the Middle East, one of his traveling companions had struck up a conversation with a grandmother who described her family’s involvement in a Hamas plot to send pregnant women to the United States. Gohmert summarized the lesson for viewers this way: “We’re bringing them over here on tourist visas, some illegally, letting them be born here and saying, ‘This is an American citizen. So come back in 20, 25 years when you’re ready to blow us up.’”
It’s a bizarre story. But the fact that he’s prepared to cite it as a basis for American immigration reform supplies some useful context for what happened two weeks later, when Gohmert joined four other Republican members of Congress, including Michele Bachmann, in asking the Department of Defense, the State Department, and other departments to investigate whether the U.S. government is being infiltrated by Muslim extremists.
In particular, the five Republicans singled out Huma Abedin, a long-time aide to Hillary Clinton, in theirletter to the State Department. Abedin, the letter noted, “has three family members—her late father, her mother, and her brother—connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and/or organizations. Her position provides her with routine access to the Secretary and to policy-making.”
In this odd age, partisan hysteria and conspiracy theories have become a common feature of the American political landscape. But the anti-Abedin attack was too much even for fellow Republicans. To his credit, Sen. John McCain publicly declared that the letter constituted “an unwarranted and unfounded attack on an honorable woman, a dedicated American, and a loyal public servant.” (He also debunked its factual claims.) Ed Rollins, Bachmann’s former campaign chief, wrote an op-ed for FOX calling his old boss’ attack on Abedin “extreme,” “dishonest,” and “vicious.”
The backlash against the Bachmann Five reassures us that there is some residual spirit of decency and fair play remaining in Washington politics. Still, many observers are left to wonder at the sheer ludicrousness of the implicit accusation against Abedin. Aside from random airplane encounters with Arab grandmothers, where did the accusers get the idea that some sort of Islamist “stealth jihad” is taking control of Washington from within? And how many other Americans share this belief?
As I discovered during the research for my 2011 book on conspiracy theories,Among The Truthers, such ideas have become quite common on the right-wing side of the American political spectrum. At Tea Party events, I often heard speakers argue—usually on the basis of scattered anecdotes, like the one Gohmert related on FOX—that sharia is taking over the United States; and that the White House itself already has become a fifth column in this insidious campaign.
One large right-wing event that I attended in late 2011—held in Nashville, Tenn., under the auspices of the Sharia Awareness Action Network—was dedicated entirely to this theme. The controversy over the Bachmann Five prompted me to revisit my notes and recordings from that day. As it turns out, one of the keynote speakers was the very activist whose 2010 book, Sharia: The Threat to America, has become the de facto bible for Bachmann and like-minded neo-McCarthyites: Washington activist Frank Gaffney.
The conference, entitled “The Constitution or Sharia: Preserving Freedom,” took place at the Cornerstone Church in suburban Nashville, a mega-church with a history of hyperpatriotic stunts. (In honor of July 4, 2010, dirt had been spread over the floor of the church sanctuary, and a professional rodeo with live bulls was held—followed by an indoor fireworks display and then a sermon called “No More Bull.”) Not all the speakers at the conference were religious Christians, but the entire event had a decidedly Evangelical tone to it. “We’ve got to put on the whole armor of God because we are in a spiritual battle for the soul of our country,” declared Bishop E. W. Jackson in a blistering invocation. “I don’t care whether you’re talking about Wall Street Occupiers or White House Occupiers, we’ve got to do the same thing for all of them … We’re going to win this battle because the favor of God is on the United States of America. This country is not an accident. This country is a providential nation ordained by almighty God.”
Tags: Government, Hamas, Huma Abedin, Law, Louie Gohmert, Middle East, Muslim Brotherhood, United States