On Monday, June 16, the Heritage Foundation and the Benghazi Accountability Coalition held an event to discuss the September 2012 assault on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya. It didn’t go as planned. A member of the audience, Saba Ahmed, attempted to object to the one-sided discussion of Muslims. There were no Muslim Americans on the panel, she pointed out.
One panelist was Brigitte Gabriel, a Lebanese immigrant who runs an organization called Act! For America. She raised her voice and asserted that when it came to Muslims, the “peaceful majority were irrelevant” in the September 11, 2001, attacks. She added, “Most Germans were peaceful, yet the Nazis drove the agenda, and as a result, 60 million died.” (For good measure, she also threw in analogies to Stalin’s Russia, Mao’s China, and WWII-era Japan.) Gabriel ended her remarks by declaring that “political correctness” belongs “in the garbage.”
Gabriel has made some outrageous remarks about Islam in the past. Every “practicing Muslim who believes in the teaching of the Quran cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America,” she once said. And she has claimed that Arabs and Muslims “have no soul. They are dead-set on killing and destruction. And in the name of something they call ‘Allah,’ which is very different from the God we believe.” The New York Times wrote a few years ago that Gabriel “presents a portrait of Islam so thoroughly bent on destruction and domination that it is unrecognizable to those who study or practice the religion.”
But Gabriel is not just a crank. Her group has attracted a following and packs some clout.
“In its 2011 IRS filings, Act! for America included among the organization’s accomplishments a total membership of 175,000 people, 635 chapters, and 40,000 Facebook fans,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations stated in a report last year. “The group also celebrated its role in the passage of anti-Islam bills in Arizona and Tennessee.”
Gabriel has done well for herself, too.
“Ms. Gabriel has given hundreds of lectures, including to the Heritage Foundation and the Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Va.,” The New York Times reported in a 2011 profile. “Her salary from two organizations she founded, American Congress for Truth and ACT! for America, was $178,411 in 2009. And the group’s combined income was $1.6 million."
American Congress for Truth received almost $200,000 in funding from Fairbrook Foundation and the Newton D. & Rochelle F. Becker Foundations and charitable trust between 2001 and 2009, according to a 2011 report by the Center for American Progress. Overall, rightwing foundations gave more than $40 million to anti-Muslim groups over the same time period, according to that report.
Another panelist at the same event heads an even better-funded organization. Frank Gaffney helms an outfit called the Center for Security Policy, which received more than $4 million from major funders in the Center for American Progress report.
Gaffney creates “an increasingly paranoid misrepresentation of the threats posed by Islam in America,” says the report. “The baseless accusations peddled by Gaffney and his think tank echo the tactics of Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s, who claimed that communists had thoroughly infiltrated the federal government of President Dwight D. Eisenhower.”
Gaffney often goes off the deep end in his conspiracy theories. The creation of a new U.S. Missile Defense logo “appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with the Obama campaign logo,” he once said.
Between 2001 and 2012, the Center for Security Policy received almost $1 million from just a single funding source, the Milwaukee-based Bradley Foundation, according to research done by the Center for Media and Democracy’s Jessica Mason.
More broadly, “the Bradley Foundation from 2001 to 2009 provided $5,370,000 in funding to the Islamophobia network,” says the Center for American Progress report. “These funds went to the Middle East Forum ($305,000), the Center for Security Policy ($815,000), and the David Horowitz Freedom Center ($4,250,000).”
Interestingly Gaffney had a relatively nuanced answer in response to Ahmed. But that’s only compared to Brigitte Gabriel. He said that all Muslims were not blameworthy, and that Muslims who “don’t speak Arabic, aren’t imbued with the traditions of the faith as out of Saudi Arabia, for example, they are not necessarily the problem, at least not yet.”
Clare Lopez, a colleague of Gaffney also on the panel, stayed tactfully silent. Perhaps it was best for her that she did. Lopez has claimed in the past that the Muslim Brotherhood has “infiltrated and suborned the U.S. government to actively assist … the mission of its grand jihad.” And recently, ex-Congressman Allen West claimed that Lopez had e-mailed him asserting that by uttering Arabic in the White House, the father of POW Bowe Bergdahl had “claimed it for Islam.”
The moderator of the panel was rightwing talk radio personality Chris Plante. He taunted Ahmed by asking her who was the head of the Muslim peace movement. (Ahmed replied: “I guess that’s me, Sir.”) Last year, Plante claimed that President Obama left out the words “under God” from a reading of the Gettysburg Address, claiming he wouldn’t have done that if “under Allah” was instead the phrase.
And there’s the host of the event: the Heritage Foundation. It has received $5,452,259 between 1998 and 2012 from just the Bradley Foundation. Heritage is, of course, one of the titans of the rightwing scene. Under the leadership of former S.C. Senator James DeMint, the organization has become even more extreme.