Mike Pompeo's Allies on the Anti-Muslim Right

The new secretary of state nominee hasn’t merely consorted with anti-Muslim bigots. He has echoed their arguments.

Mike Pompeo listens to testimonies before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in 2013.
Mike Pompeo listens to testimonies before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence in 2013. (Charles Dharapak / AP)

Updated 3:45pm EST

Try this simple experiment. Take Mike Pompeo’s statements about Muslims, and his alliances with anti-Muslim bigots. Then imagine that he had made similar statements about Jews, and forged similar ties to anti-Semites. Then imagine the reaction if he were nominated for secretary of state.

If the analogy appears farfetched, it’s only because, in the President Trump era, anti-Muslim bigotry is so pervasive that many of us have trouble recognizing it as bigotry at all.

Pompeo has a record of making dangerously misleading statements about Muslims. In 2013, he used the Boston Marathon bombing to imply that many American Muslim leaders and organizations secretly support violence against their country. From the House floor, he claimed that the “silence in the face of extremism coming from the best-funded Islamic advocacy organizations and many mosques across America is absolutely deafening. It casts doubt upon the commitment to peace among adherents of the Muslim faith.” This “silence,” Pompeo alleged, “has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts” of terrorism. In fact, however, several major Muslim organizations had weighed in within hours of the attack to condemn it.

Pompeo has also suggested that Muslims throughout the country are part of a secret Muslim Brotherhood plot. “There are organizations and networks here in the United States tied to radical Islam in deep and fundamental ways,” he said on a radio show in 2015, in a line of reasoning that sounds reminiscent of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. “They’re not just in places like Libya and Syria and Iraq, but in places like Coldwater, Kansas, and small towns all throughout America.” In Congress, Pompeo sponsored legislation to designate the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organization. If passed, the law could be used to allege that America’s most prominent Muslim organizations are abetting terrorism, and should thus be shut down.

Pompeo is closely allied to prominent anti-Muslim figures like Frank Gaffney and Brigitte Gabriel. Pompeo appeared on Gaffney’s radio show at least 24 times between 2013 and 2016. In 2015, he participated in the Defeat Jihad summit of The Center for Security Policy, Gaffney’s organization. And in 2014, 2015, and 2016 Pompeo spoke at the annual conference of ACT for America, Gabriel’s organization, in the final year winning its National Security Eagle Award. When Pompeo was named CIA Director, Gabriel called him “a steadfast ally of ours.”

These two allies, Gaffney and Gabriel, are to American Muslims what David Duke and Louis Farrakhan are to American Jews. Duke believes that American Jews—at least those who support Israel—are not loyal to the United States. “I’m against Jews or anybody else,” he declared in 2016, “that puts the interest of some of other place, another country, over our own country.” Farrakhan believes in a Jewish conspiracy to control the United States government. “The Jews have control over those agencies of government,” he asserted last month. “When you want something in this world, the Jew holds the door.”

Gaffney and Gabriel believe something similar about American Muslims. They believe that many American Muslims (not all—like Duke, who says “there’s a lot of great Jews,” they offer caveats) are disloyal. Why? Not because they’re loyal to a foreign country but because they are loyal to Islam itself, which, according to Gaffney and Gabriel, does not permit allegiance to any non-Muslim government. (In earlier periods in American history, anti-Catholic bigots similarly argued that loyalty to the pope superseded loyalty to the Constitution.)

Gabriel declared in 2007 that “a practicing Muslim who believes the word of the Quran to be the word of Allah, who abides by Islam, who goes to mosque and prays every Friday, who prays five times a day—this practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Quran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America.” After Khizr Khan brandished a copy of the Constitution at the 2016 Democratic Convention, Gabriel insisted that he was lying. “Waving the Constitution is a misrepresentation,” she said, “when one’s religion teaches that it and any other man-made law, for that matter, are to be removed and superseded by the Quran.”

Gaffney and Gabriel don’t consider Muslim disloyalty a passive, theoretical problem. Just as Farrakhan and Duke believe that many American Jews are part of an active conspiracy to undermine the United States, Gaffney and Gabriel believe the same thing about American Muslims. At the center of this conspiracy stands the Muslim Brotherhood, which supposedly controls most American Muslim organizations and mosques, and seeks to replace the Constitution with sharia law. The Muslim Brotherhood was born in Egypt in 1928 with the goal of spreading Islam around the world and recreating an Islamic Caliphate, though what exactly that means differs among the Brotherhood’s many loosely affiliated branches in different countries.

In 2010, Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy issued a report alleging that “nearly every major Muslim organization in the United States is actually controlled by the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] or a derivative organization. Consequently, most of the Muslim American groups of any prominence in America are now known to be, as a matter of fact, hostile to the United States and its Constitution.” The report claimed that, “The Brotherhood has succeeded in penetrating our educational, legal and political systems, as well as top levels of government, intelligence, the media, and U.S. military, virtually paralyzing our ability to plan or respond effectively.” In other words, Muslims secretly control the United States government.

Gaffney’s theory that American Muslim leaders are secretly at war with the U.S. is the notion he employs when he argues across the country that local communities should be able to prevent the construction of mosques (as growing numbers have done in recent years). “Over eighty percent of U.S. mosques have been shown to be sharia-adherent and promoting jihad,” declared a 2015 Center for Security Policy Report. “They are incubators of, at best, subversion and, at worst, violence and should be treated accordingly.” Thus, when Pompeo claimed that American Muslim leaders are “potentially complicit” in terrorist acts, he was helping Gaffney build a case for denying American Muslims their First Amendment rights.

When asked this week about Pompeo’s elevation to secretary of state, Gaffney replied, “I’m a big fan of Mike Pompeo’s. I think he is a splendid choice.” Imagine if David Duke had said that about a secretary of state nominee who had won an award from an anti-Semitic organization and had a history of slandering Jews. Would the Senate confirm such a nominee? Of course not. Then how, in good conscience, can it confirm Mike Pompeo?