Texas Republican Sen. Ted Cruz elevated fringe anti-Muslim conspiracy theories to the level of a U.S. Senate hearing on Tuesday, inviting a panelist who said that leading Muslim American civil rights organizations are infiltrated by terrorists and that the Obama administration is covering it up.
The hearing, titled “Willful Blindness: Consequences of Agency Efforts To Deemphasize Radical Islam in Combating Terrorism,” was designed to let Cruz criticize the administration’s refusal to use the term “radical Islamic terrorism” and the removal of the world “jihadist” from FBI training documents.
Chris Gaubatz, who Cruz invited to testify, accused prominent Muslim-American charities of being front groups for Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood, and said that “the global Islamic movement” had infiltrated the FBI and Department of Homeland Security. Gaubatz’s comments drew no scorn or correction from Republican lawmakers.
Gaubatz is a staffer at Understanding the Threat, a nonprofit organization founded by former FBI agent John Guandolo. Guandolo is known for his bizarre claims and erratic behavior, including stating that CIA Director John Brennan is a secret Muslim convert. Like many others on the ultra far right, Guandolo claims that “the most prominent Islamic organizations in the United States are all controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood,” the pan-Arab Islamist movement whose Egyptian branch briefly took power in Egypt before being deposed by a coup.
Gaubatz said he had worked as an undercover agitator at the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a mainstream Muslim group that advocates against Islamophobia and for civil liberties. He claimed that Hamas, the Islamist faction that rules the Gaza Strip, was “doing business as CAIR,” “coordinating with Bin Laden and his associates,” and had local “Hamas chapter offices” “conspiring to influence Congress.” Gaubatz also accused both the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the largest organization of American Muslims, and the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), a prominent Muslim rights advocacy group, of being front groups for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Gaubatz’s testimony seemed to be built entirely out of anti-Islamic conspiracy theories, but no Republican member of Congress condemned his remarks. Gaubatz went on to say that the FBI and DHS had been infiltrated by pro-Hamas jihadists — based on the fact that the FBI and Department of Homeland Security had “recruitment and outreach booths” at a 2008 ISNA conference. He also noted that two Muslim members of Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Andre Carson, D.-Ind, spoke “at the Muslim Brotherhood event.”
As for the FBI’s wording choices, in 2011, Wired revealed that FBI training documents referred to “Mainstream Muslims” as “violent” and “radical,” called the Muslim Prophet Muhammad a “cult leader,” and labeled Islamic acts of charity a “funding mechanism for combat.” Later that year, the FBI director announced a “comprehensive review” of its training materials that relate to religion – something Cruz called a “purge” motivated by “political correctness.”
Ironically, the Obama administration’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program has itself been assailed for targeting Muslim Americans while ignoring non-Muslim variations of extremism. Others question the effectiveness of the program, warning that it over-simplifies a complex problem. Last year, one Air Force Research Laboratory re-issued a paper that warned that wearing a hijab, a Muslim head covering, can contribute to “passive terrorism.”
Blanket surveillance aimed at American Muslims or targeting mosques where no reasonable suspicion exists has a poor track record. The New York Police Department’s “Demographic Unit” targeted and spied on thousands of Muslim New Yorkers for several years, and didn’t generate a single terrorism lead.
Cruz ended the event on Tuesday by taking offense at the analogy drawn by some Democrats between the Ku Klux Klan and Christianity, on one side, and terrorist organizations that invoke Islam, on the other.
“Several of my colleagues on the Democratic side of the aisle made invocations of the Ku Klux Klan, and drew the analogy of blaming the Klan on Christians to addressing directly and candidly the threat of jihadism and radical Islamic terrorism,” he said.
“I would hope that all of us on both sides of the aisles could agree that the Ku Klux Klan is evil and bigoted and has no place in civilized society, and I would note that the suggestion that that could somehow be extended to the Christian faith, Dr. Martin Luther King and many of the civil rights pioneers were Christian ministers!”
The fact that Cruz was vindicating the analogy rather than refuting it was apparently lost on the Texas Senator.