This week, the Trump administration made an ironic choice to fill the post of religious freedom adviser at the U.S. Agency for International Development: a man who has stated publicly that he considers Muslims to be followers of a “barbaric cult” and posted articles on social media endorsing the Chinese government’s crackdown on their Uighur Muslim minority. The appointee to the USAID position is Mark Kevin Lloyd, a little-known former tea party activist, the Washington Post reported earlier this week.
As a private citizen, Lloyd had not exactly been shy about sharing his views. Some of the highlights from his social media and past public commentary include allegations that former President Barack Obama was a supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and that Muslims in general were dangerous extremists who needed to be suppressed. It’s not clear, however, what in Lloyd’s background qualifies him as an authority on religious freedom.
“They are picking people who fit a certain profile and who hold certain beliefs and views.”
While his appointment to a role supposedly involving defending religious freedom worldwide may be particularly cynical, Lloyd is far from being the first open Islamophobe to be handed power by the Trump administration. He’s also far from being the most senior one.
Before he became known in the media “the worst secretary of state ever,” Mike Pompeo was close ally to some of the most extreme anti-Muslim activists in the United States and had falsely claimed that American Muslims were silent about condemning terrorism. The Trump-appointed acting director of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Ken Cuccinelli, had also come under fire for praising commentary about Muslims by Brigitte Gabriel, well known as one of America’s most prominent anti-Muslim activists. White House adviser Stephen Miller, former national security adviser John Bolton, and many others who have been part of the administration have held similar views and helped to make them policy under Trump.
American Muslim civil rights activists say that these policy appointments are part of a deliberate strategy of handing people with extreme anti-Muslim beliefs the levers of government power. Rather than an oversight, judging by the Trump administration’s hiring record to date, Lloyd’s flagrant anti-Muslim commentary may have helped recommend him for his new role.
“This isn’t simply about failures of vetting or about the administration not doing a good job researching candidates,” said Wa’el Alzayat, a former State Department official and head of Emgage, an American-Muslim advocacy organization. “They are picking people who fit a certain profile and who hold certain beliefs and views.”
In response to Lloyd’s appointment, Alzayat has been circulating a letter among other civil rights organizations and addressed to USAID Acting Director John Barsa, calling on him to remove Lloyd from the position. The letter notes that Lloyd had shared on social media an article celebrating the Chinese government’s persecution of Uighur Muslims, calling it “particularly abhorrent behavior for someone with a primary responsibility of protecting religious freedoms in our country and world.”
The Trump administration may have to strike a balance between its antipathy to China and its antipathy toward Muslims, in general. As part of the escalating war of words between the two powers, the U.S. has been highlighting Chinese abuses of its Uighur Muslim minority — millions of whom are alleged to have been interned in concentration camps by the Chinese Community Party-led government. This week the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed a resolution sanctioning officials involved in the suppression of Uighur Muslims. More such measures are likely as the rivalry between the two countries intensifies.
Having someone like Lloyd in charge of highlighting Chinese abuses of religious freedom might open the U.S. up to charges of hypocrisy. And, while nothing in the U.S. compares with what is happening in Xinjiang right now, there is still much to be alarmed about.
“It is clear that anti-Muslim bigotry has a home in the Trump administration.”
Under the Trump administration, the notorious “Muslim ban” policy that Trump first promised as a candidate in 2015 has remained in place after being upheld under judicial challenge. Many of the fiercest opponents of Muslims in American life have found a warm welcome in the White House. Trump himself regularly uses his platform as the most powerful elected official on Earth to promote derogatory anti-Muslim conspiracies and make dark insinuations about American Muslim politicians. In many ways, it is a depressing culmination of trends that have been building in U.S. politics for years — even while Muslims appear to be experiencing something of a renaissance in American popular culture.
In a statement about Lloyd’s appointment, Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for the civil rights group Muslim Advocates, called for USAID to reverse his hiring while highlighting the consistent trend of anti-Muslim policymaking by the Trump administration.
“Especially during a global pandemic, it is a cruel joke for USAID, an agency tasked with overseeing foreign aid and development efforts, to name an anti-Muslim bigot as a religious freedom adviser,” Ahussain said in a press release. “As we have seen through the Muslim Ban, the continued employment of anti-Muslim activists like Stephen Miller and Ken Cuccinelli and even President Trump’s own attacks on Muslim elected officials, it is clear that anti-Muslim bigotry has a home in the Trump administration.”