Ted Cruz’s presidential campaign is drawing extreme anti-Muslim propagandists into the mainstream of US politics, academics and Muslim civil rights groups are warning.
On Wednesday, Cruz inflamed the debate about so-called “homegrown” terrorism in America in the wake of the Brussels bombings by calling on law enforcement to“patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods”. The remarks came days after the Texas senator announced the appointment of his foreign policy advisory team that included some of the most outspoken Islamophobes of the post-9/11 period.
In the wake of the Paris and Brussels terrorist attacks, much of the debate over terrorism within the US has been dominated by Donald Trump’s promise to ban all Muslims entering the country. The Republican’s proposal to close the borders to Muslims, among several of his other controversial policies, has prompted establishment GOP figures to swing behind Cruz as the “stop-Trump” candidate.
Yet by rushing to Cruz’s aid, the Republican leadership is in danger of embracing a candidate who is even more extreme in his Islamophobic posturing than the current frontrunner. Cruz’s foreign policy team includes people who have called for all mosques to be shut down across America, claimed the country is being subverted by the Muslim Brotherhood and decried all followers of the Islamic faith as jihadists.
“This is more than worrying, it is terrifying,” said Nathan Lean, a specialist in Islamophobia at Georgetown University’s Bridge Institute. “Bringing such views into a presidential campaign inflames the anxieties of ordinary Americans and gives them license to amp up scrutiny and skepticism towards the Muslim community.”
The most prominent anti-Muslim among Cruz’s new set of advisers is Frank Gaffney, whose Washington-based thinktank the Center for Security Policy is listed by the monitoring group the Southern Poverty Law Center as an extremist organization devoted to conspiracy theories. A former defense official under President Reagan, Gaffney has long argued that the Egyptian-based Islamic movement the Muslim Brotherhood is actively undermining American society and government in a stealthy power grab that he calls “civilization jihad”.
Gaffney and his thinktank have gone so far as to accuse Huma Abedin, a top adviser to Hillary Clinton, of being in on the conspiracy. He has also been banned on more than one occasion from attending the annual Conservative Political Action Committee (CPAC) after he claimed two of its board members were Muslim Brotherhood infiltrators.
A pamphlet published last year by the Center for Security Policy encouraged “ordinary Americans” to lobby their political representatives to put a stop to any more Muslim immigration. “Speak up against the opening of more mosques in your neighborhoods; they are literally the beachheads for the expanding Muslim population as it marks its expanding territory,” the thinktank said.
Gaffney’s ideas were not long ago considered to lie on the fringes of political discourse in America. But the Republican presidential debate has brought them steadily into the mainstream.
The first move to embrace Gaffney and bring him into the fold was made by Trump in his call to ban all Muslim immigration last December. In making his provocative announcement, Trump cited a discredited opinion poll published by the Center for Security Policy that claimed, without substantiation, that a quarter of all American Muslims believed that violence against their fellow citizens was justified “as part of global jihad”.
A month later the former neurosurgeon Ben Carson, then still in the Republican race, invoked Gaffney’s theory of “civilization jihad” during a televised presidential debate.
But of all the Republican candidates, Cruz has gone the furthest. By officially appointing Gaffney, along with two other Center for Security Policy staff – Clare Lopez and Fred Fleitz – to his presidential campaign team he has gone some way to legitimizing a set of beliefs that had previously been regarded as cranky or marginal.
In 2013, at a public meeting in New Jersey, Lopez branded all Muslims as jihadists. “When people in bona fide religions follow their doctrines they become better people – but it’s Hindus, Christians and Jews. When Muslims follow their doctrine they become jihadists,” she said.
The Guardian invited the Cruz campaign and Frank Gaffney to comment on criticism of their relationship, but neither responded.
Cruz’s connections to Gaffney can be traced back at least to early 2014, a year after he joined the US senate. In January Cruz attended a Gaffney event called “American security and the Iranian bomb”.
From March 2014 both men attended a series of national security summits held by the right-wing website Breitbart, and last year Cruz spoke in person at an election event organized by Gaffney in South Carolina, and was beamed in by video at similar public meetings in Iowa, New Hampshire and Nevada. The presidential candidate has also been a guest on Gaffney’s radio show, “secure freedom radio”, at least three times: in April 2014, and February and September 2015.
“It’s not surprising that Cruz and Gaffney have become close in the past couple of years,” said Stephen Piggott, senior research analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center. “They have very similar world views in believing that radical Islam is the largest problem that America faces, and that every Muslim is a potential terrorist.”
Gaffney, Lopez and Fleitz are not the only controversial figures among Cruz’s new 23-strong crew of foreign policy advisers. Also on the team is Lt Gen Jerry Boykin, former undersecretary of defense for intelligence in the George W Bush administration.
Since retiring from the military in 2007 Boykin has been outspoken in his anti-Muslim opinions. Like Gaffney, he has touted the conspiracy theory that the American government has been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood and called for the eradication of all mosques in the US.
In 2012 Boykin told the Family Research Council, of which he is now a senior executive, that “by the middle of this century the continent of Europe will be an Islamic continent, and they can’t reverse it, they can’t stop it. It is because they took Jesus out of their societies and it’s been replaced by darkness.”
Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, accused Cruz of “adding fuel to the fire” by elevating the opinions of Boykin, Gaffney and others to the level of trusted advisers. “These are dangerous times. I and my community are worried about the future – about what a Donald Trump or Ted Cruz administration would bring.”
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