Pompeo and Bolton Appointments Raise Alarm Over Ties to Anti-Islam Groups
Nearly two months after the Boston Marathon bombing, Mike Pompeo, then a congressman from Kansas, took to the floor of the House to denounce American Muslim leaders for what he called their “silence” in response to the heinous terrorist attack.
“Silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts,” Mr. Pompeo said, reading from prepared remarks.
In fact, more than half a dozen American Muslim organizations had issued statements condemning the bombing within hours of the attack. In the days following, Muslim groups organized news conferences, blood drives and prayer vigils. Mr. Pompeo was immediately informed that he was wrong, but did not apologize or respond to Muslim groups stung by his remarks.
Mr. Pompeo, now the C.I.A. director, has been chosen by President Trump to replace Rex Tillerson as secretary of state. He faces what is expected to be a relatively smooth confirmation hearing in the Senate. But an array of voices are raising alarm over what they say is Mr. Pompeo’s record of anti-Muslim remarks and ties to anti-Islam groups. American Muslims, Jews, civil rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and former State Department officials are among those pushing senators on the Foreign Relations Committee to take a closer look.
“My concern is that Mr. Pompeo has left a trail of horrific, inaccurate, bigoted statements and associations vis-à-vis Muslims around the world,” said Shaun Casey, former director of the State Department’s office of religion and global affairs under the Obama administration. Mr. Casey questioned whether Mr. Pompeo, with such a record, could be “a credible representative” for the dozens of Muslim-majority countries he would have to conduct diplomacy with.
Islamic and Jewish groups have raised similar concerns about John R. Bolton, Mr. Trump’s choice for national security adviser and a former ambassador to the United Nations.
Mr. Bolton and Mr. Pompeo both have ties to individuals and groups promoting a worldview that regards Islam not so much as a religion, but as a political ideology that is infiltrating the United States and other Western countries with the goal of imposing Shariah law, the Muslim legal code. These groups believe that the vehicle for this takeover is the Muslim Brotherhood, and they allege that American mosques, civic organizations and leaders and even government officials who are Muslims are suspected of being Muslim Brotherhood operatives.
Mr. Pompeo as a congressman arranged a briefing for one such group called Act for America, or ACT, on Capitol Hill and accepted the group’s National Security Eagle Award in 2016, according to the group’s website. Local ACT chapters have protested the construction of mosques, as well as school textbooks that include information about Islam, and have promoted “anti-Shariah” bills in state legislatures. The founder of ACT, Brigitte Gabriel, has written that “the purest form of Islam” is behind the terrorist attacks: “It’s not radical Islam. It’s what Islam is at its core.”
Mr. Bolton is chairman of the Gatestone Institute, a think tank that regularly features articles on its website promoting the notion that pliant European countries, especially Britain, are submitting to “Islamization” by hostile Muslim migrants.
The C.I.A., on behalf of its director, said in a statement that Mr. Pompeo “has worked extensively and successfully to expand C.I.A.’s partnerships with countries throughout the Muslim world.” The agency said that in doing so, he had “saved countless Muslim lives and added security to the Muslim peoples of those nations.”
When Mr. Pompeo was asked in his confirmation hearing for C.I.A. director last January whether he would discriminate against Muslims, given his past statements, Mr. Pompeo responded that he believed in having a diverse work force at the C.I.A. and in cooperating with Muslim countries that provide intelligence to the United States.
Mr. Bolton, through a spokesman, declined a request for an interview.
At times, Mr. Bolton has seemed to express more nuanced views. In an interview with Herald Radio in 2015, Mr. Bolton said that the proposal by Mr. Trump, at the time a candidate, to ban all Muslims coming into the United States was “certainly completely wrong.”
“That’s just not consistent with our views about America and how we should operate. I think he’s playing on the frustration and the fear that we see out in the country,” Mr. Bolton said. “Our problem is the radicals, the terrorists. It’s not an entire religion. I think we absolutely have to make that clear. Not because I care about what the rest of the world thinks, but because I care what we think about ourselves.”
Both Mr. Pompeo and Mr. Bolton have appeared frequently on the radio show of Frank Gaffney Jr., the president and founder of the Center for Security Policy, a think tank that argues that mosques and Muslims across America are engaged in a “stealth jihad” to “Islamize” the country by taking advantage of American pluralism and democracy.
Mr. Bolton has occasionally nodded along to some of Mr. Gaffney’s falsehoods. When Huma Abedin, an American Muslim who was a close aide to Hillary Clinton, was wrongly accused of being a secret member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mr. Bolton told Mr. Gaffney’s radio show that he did not see any problem with raising the question, even though a host of senators had denounced it.
On another show in 2015, Mr. Gaffney said that President Barack Obama displayed “kind of an affinity for, if not the violent beheading and crucifixions and slaying of Christians and all that, but at least for the cause for which these guys are engaged in such activities.”
Mr. Pompeo agreed, saying, “Frank, every place you stare at the president’s policies and statements, you see what you just described.”
Mr. Gaffney went on to ask Mr. Pompeo whether he had concerns about Representative André Carson, a Democrat of Indiana who is Muslim, and who served on the House Intelligence Committee. Mr. Carson has “deep personal ties to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and organizations,” Mr. Gaffney asserted, an accusation that is unfounded.
Mr. Pompeo sidestepped the question about his colleague, but said, “There are organizations and networks here in the United States tied to radical Islam in deep and fundamental ways.”
He warned: “The efforts to expand the caliphate are not limited to the physical geography of the Middle East or other places where there are large Muslim majorities.”
The idea that American Muslims are a subversive fifth column is rejected by mainstream experts. Muslims make up less than 1 percent of the American population and many of those who are immigrants came to the United States to escape authoritarian Muslim countries; imposing Shariah law is not on their agenda. American Muslim leaders have denounced the Islamic State, which has threatened them with death.
Wa’el N. Alzayat, who was a Middle East expert at the State Department and senior policy adviser to Samantha Power, the former United Nations ambassador, said of Mr. Pompeo’s comments, “Imagine if this stuff had been said about Jews, or African-Americans or Chinese-Americans. And yet, we’re living with an administration that is actually rewarding people with racist views or racist associations with some of the highest positions in our government.”
Mr. Bolton, a fierce critic of Mr. Obama, wrote the foreword to a 2013 book by Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer, “The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America.” Ms. Geller has said that the only moderate Muslims are secular Muslims, and that allowing Muslims to pray in public schools or workplaces would lead to the “mosque-ing” of America. She led the fight against a mosque near the site of the World Trade Center.
Six liberal Jewish organizations last week issued a statement warning that the appointment of Mr. Bolton was “dangerous.” Among their objections: “This willingness to support anti-Muslim bigotry violates fundamental Jewish and democratic values of tolerance, equality and respect.”
As national security adviser, Mr. Bolton does not need to be confirmed by the Senate.
Many analysts predicted that Mr. Bolton and Mr. Pompeo would push to have the State Department declare the Muslim Brotherhood to be a foreign terrorist organization. The designation would mean that any individuals or organizations accused of association could be subject to investigations, seizure of assets, and other legal actions.
As a congressman, Mr. Pompeo co-sponsored legislation to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization. When he became the C.I.A. director, analysts at the agency warned that such a designation would be ill-advised, Politico reported. But there was still enthusiasm for such action. Mr. Bolton said on Mr. Gaffney’s radio program last July, “Why doesn’t the United States get on with the business of declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization?”
Arsalan Suleman, the acting special envoy to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation during the Obama administration, said that designating the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist association would be misguided, because the group had morphed into different forms in various countries. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood was outlawed by President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi after he took power from a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated president. In Jordan, the group still participates in electoral politics.
American Muslim leaders and policy analysts say that such a move could be used to target Muslim groups and nonprofits — even those that work to protect civil rights and the victims of hate crimes. Anti-Islam groups like ACT for America and the Center for Security Policy characterize many of the largest American Muslim organizations as “fronts” for the Muslim Brotherhood. But most mainstream experts on American Muslims say that any such connections are so tenuous or old as to be irrelevant, and that the effort to classify them as terrorist affiliates amounts to modern-day McCarthyism.
“This is just another way of demonizing a broad swath of American Muslims,” said Faiza Patel, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Program of the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law.