Since President Trump chose John Bolton as national-security adviser, the media has focused largely on Bolton’s calls for war with North Korea and Iran. And for good reason. But there’s another element of Bolton’s record that’s received less scrutiny but may also illuminate how he’ll approach his new role, and the compromises he may be prepared to make.
In 2016, Bolton played a crucial role in Frank Gaffney’s rehabilitation inside the conservative movement. For close to two decades, Gaffney has been Washington’s most dogged peddler of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories. He’s traveled the country testifying against the construction of mosques, arguing that since Islam is a totalitarian political ideology, not a religion, American Muslims don’t deserve the protections of the First Amendment. Bolton’s intervention on his behalf is particularly intriguing because, in his own writing and remarks, he’s largely avoided anti-Muslim bigotry. But in today’s conservative movement, anti-Muslim activists are a legitimate constituency group, like people who support gun rights or oppose abortion. And Bolton has proved, in this case and others, all too willing to empower them.
Gaffney believes in the existence of a vast, secret network, run by the Muslim Brotherhood, to infiltrate the United States government and replace it with Sharia law. At various times, he’s suggested that figures as mainstream as former CIA Director John Brennan, former Director of National Intelligence Jim Clapper, and former Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano are dupes of—if not active agents in—this plot. And in the late Bush and early Obama years, Gaffney repeatedly insisted that the conspiracy had infiltrated the conservative movement via two men: anti-tax activist Grover Norquist and former Bush administration official Suhail Khan, both board members of the American Conservative Union (ACU). Norquist and Khan, Gaffney claimed in 2011, were running “an influence operation [that] is contributing materially to the defeat of our country, supporting a stealthy effort to bring Shariah here.”