On June 11, 2013, not long after the Boston Marathon bombings, a Republican congressman from Kansas took to the floor of the House of Representatives. “It’s been just under two months since the attacks in Boston, and in those intervening weeks, the silence of Muslim leaders has been deafening,” began Mike Pompeo, before going on to claim that “silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts and, more importantly still, those that may well follow.”
Pompeo’s remarks were “false and irresponsible,” as the Council on American Islamic Relations demonstrated at the time. Every major Muslim organization in the United States had put out a statement condemning the horrific terror attacks in Boston within hours of the blasts. Democrat Keith Ellison, one of only two Muslims members of Congress back in 2013, complained to Pompeo on the House floor — but the Republican refused to apologize and doubled down on his smear.
This remarkable and alarming incident, however, appears nowhere in this week’s 8,000-plus-word New Yorker profile of Pompeo, now President Donald Trump’s second secretary of state and “most loyal soldier.” Written by the respected Washington correspondent Susan Glasser and based on “dozens of interviews,” the piece includes, among others, this damning quote from a former U.S. ambassador on the obsequious Pompeo: “He’s like a heat-seeking missile for Trump’s ass.” It also nods to the secretary of state’s old-fashioned racism (“Pompeo ran a nasty race against the Democrat, an Indian-American state legislator named Raj Goyle … [and] tweeted praise for an article calling Goyle a ‘turban topper’”) and his evangelical faith (“Pompeo, an evangelical Christian who keeps an open Bible on his desk”).
Yet, rather disappointingly, it ignores his well-documented bigotry toward Islam and Muslims — in fact, neither word even makes an appearance in the piece. Reading this lengthy profile of Pompeo, you would never guess that he has a long history of what Shaun Casey, former director of the State Department’s Office of Religion and Global Affairs during the Obama administration, has referred to as his “horrific, inaccurate, bigoted statements and associations vis-à-vis Muslims around the world.” You would have no clue that the secretary of state has long-standing ties to the country’s top anti-Muslim bigots and far-right organizations.
Don’t take my word for it. Listen to the bigots themselves. Brigitte Gabriel runs ACT for America, which has been described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as “the largest grassroots anti-Muslim organization in the country.” Gabriel herself has said a practicing Muslim “cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America” and believes Arab Muslims are “a natural threat to civilized people of the world.” She has also bragged about the secretary of state being “a steadfast ally of ours since the day he was elected to Congress.” In 2016, ACT bestowed upon Pompeo its “highest honor,” the National Security Eagle Award.
Pompeo, in turn, has been keen to boost Gabriel and ACT. As researchers from Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative on Islamophobia have observed, in 2016, “Pompeo sponsored the room at the U.S. Capitol for ACT’s ‘Legislative Briefing’ in conjunction with its annual national conference,” and he “spoke at these briefings in 2016, 2015 and 2013.”
Then there’s Frank Gaffney, who runs the Center for Security Policy, which the SPLC calls a hate group and a “conspiracy-oriented mouthpiece for the growing anti-Muslim movement.” Gaffney himself has suggested that former President Barack Obama is a secret Muslim and has accused U.S. mosques and Muslim organizations of mounting a “stealth jihad” against the United States. He has also described Pompeo as “one of the most intelligent men I know in public life.”
Again, the feeling seems to be mutual. According to the Bridge researchers, Pompeo appeared on CSP’s “Secure Freedom Radio” 18 times between 2014 and 2016. He also spoke at a CSP event in 2015, alongside the far-right Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who has called for the eradication of Islam and a ban on the Quran, and the far-right lawyer David Yerushalmi, who has declared that “Muslim civilization is at war with Judeo-Christian civilization” and is the driving force behind the anti-sharia movement in the United States.
Pompeo and Yerushalmi share the same conspiratorial obsession with the Muslim Brotherhood and have both promulgated the (false) claim that mainstream Muslim-American organizations are “fronts” for the Brotherhood. Pompeo even co-sponsored congressional legislation in 2014 and 2015 to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization.
As J.M. Berger, a counterterrorism analyst and author of a book on extremism, told BuzzFeed News in 2016 that the GOP’s obsession with banning the Brotherhood is really about “controlling American Muslims, not with any issue pertaining to the Muslim Brotherhood in any practical or realistic sense.”
But what about the Democrats? And the liberal media? Why doesn’t rising anti-Muslim bigotry bother them in the same way as, say, anti-Semitism, homophobia, or anti-black racism? The appointment of Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton — another card-carrying Islamophobe — was, admittedly, met with a handful of pieces expressing concerns about the duo’s extreme views on Islam and Muslims. But there has been a deafening silence since then.
Why? Shouldn’t every media profile of Pompeo acknowledge how he smeared a minority community on the floor of the House of Representatives? Shouldn’t every news story about the secretary of state’s latest hawkish statement on Iran, for example, note his own deep-seated Islamophobia? Shouldn’t every analysis of his close relationship with the president mention, say, their shared prejudice toward Muslim Americans? Isn’t it a disgrace that 16 Senate Democrats voted to confirm Pompeo as CIA director and six voted for him to be secretary of state?
The pass given to Pompeo by the New Yorker is only the latest glaring — and depressing — example of the way in which, to borrow a line from the British Conservative politician Sayeeda Warsi, Islamophobia still passes “the dinner table test” here in the United States.
In November 2016, when Trump picked Pompeo to head the CIA, my colleague Lee Fang summarized a rather startling speech that he had come across from the then-congressman, at the Summit Church in Wichita, in July 2015:
At an evangelical church in his district that specializes in addressing “Satanism and paranormal activity” — and standing in front of a Christian flag — Pompeo in 2015 spoke of the “struggle against radical Islam, the kind of struggle this country has not faced since its great wars.” He warned that “evil is all around us,” citing reports of terror plots, and cautioned the congregation not to be deterred by those who might call them “Islamophobes or bigots.”
Pompeo need not have been worried. Despite his own shocking track record, he has ascended to one of the most powerful jobs in the U.S. government. Despite his bigoted statements and Islamophobic associations, he continues to be the subject of profiles in the liberal press that make no mention of said bigotry or Islamophobia. As Matt Duss, foreign policy adviser to Sen. Bernie Sanders, tweeted on Monday: “Anti-Muslim bigotry is still something that won’t get you in trouble in DC.”