In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court today upheld the White House’s controversial decision to impose limits on travel from several Muslim majority countries. Coverage of the decision will, no doubt, frame the court’s ruling as a major win for the White House and Donald Trump’s ability to deliver on his hardline campaign promises to strengthen border security.
But a lesser-known individual played an outsized role in the Muslim travel ban.
In June 2015, Frank Gaffney, the president of the anti-Muslim group, the Center for Security Policy, commissioned a poll by Kellyanne Conway’s polling firm. The poll found that 51% of Muslims agreed that “Muslims in America should have the choice to being governed according to Shariah.”
Although highly unscientific and unreliable, the poll offered the Trump campaign the closest thing to solid evidence supporting their proposed Muslim travel ban.
Trump latched on to the poll and cited it as the only source to justify his December 7, 2015 statement “on preventing Muslim immigration.” The statement read:
Donald J. Trump is calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on. According to Pew Research, among others, there is great hatred towards Americans by large segments of the Muslim population. Most recently, a poll from the Center for Security Policy released data showing “25% of those polled agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad” and 51% of those polled, “agreed that Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to Shariah.”
It’s unclear to which Pew poll Trump was referring. No existing research by Pew supports the assertion that “there is great hatred towards American by large segments of the Muslim population.”
And there was a serious problem with the Center for Security Policy poll. Kellyanne Conway’s own firm, which conducted the poll, admitted that the poll was statistically unreliable and that Trump was misusing the data. It said:
As this poll was conducted among an online group of opt-in respondents, we did not publish a margin of error or otherwise advise our client that the data were statistically representative of the entire US Muslim population. In addition, Mr. Trump’s premise and policy proposal has no backing in the survey.
But that was exactly the type of message Frank Gaffney, an anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist, has been quick to embrace.
Over the years, Gaffney has made unsubstantiated claims that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin, anti-tax activist Grover Norquist, and former George W. Bush appointee Suhail Khan were part of a vast Muslim Brotherhood plot to infiltrate the U.S. government. His conspiracy theorizing even extended to claims that the Missile Defense Agency logo “appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with the Obama campaign logo.”
Gaffney’s efforts to accuse radical Muslims of infiltrating the U.S. government extend to spreading fear about mosques. A January 2015 Center for Security Policy report claimed“over eighty percent of U.S. mosques have been shown to be shariah-adherent…They are incubators of, at best, subversion and, at worst, violence and should be treated accordingly.” A March 2015 report from the group encouraged “average Americans” to “speak up against the opening of more mosques in your neighborhoods; they are literally the beachheads for the expanding Muslim population as it marks its expanding territory.”
Gaffney and his organization’s claims about a Muslim invasion would be laughable if he weren’t inspiring the ban on travelers from Muslim majority countries and if mainstream groups and companies weren’t supporting his efforts.
After acquiring Gaffney’s 2013 donor rolls, I reported that Gaffney received funding from well-known conservative foundations, including $50,000 from the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation and $175,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation. His funders also included Boeing ($25,000), General Dynamics ($15,000), Lockheed Martin ($15,000), Northrup Grumman ($5,000), Raytheon ($20,000). and General Electric ($5,000).
And, in 2015, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) anti-Iran Deal group, Citizens for a Nuclear Free Iran, contributed $60,000 to the Center for Security Policy.
Indeed, Gaffney and his organization’s history of spreading unsubstantiated conspiracy theories about Muslims has done little to blunt his influence. Last month, Trump’s new national security adviser, John Bolton, announced that Center for Security Policy Vice President for Policy Fred Fleitz would be his new chief of staff.
Fleitz was an author of the group’s 2015 report that called for “shariah-adherent advocacy and practices as legal premises for deportation and stripping of American citizenship.”
The Supreme Court’s decision brings Fleitz’s vision one step closer to reality and further advances the work of Washington’s most prolific anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist.
Frank Gaffney’s bogus poll, effectively disowned by the polling firm that conducted it, has now formed the basis for a Supreme-Court-upheld ban on travelers from certain Muslim majority countries.
Trump’s casual disregard for the truth, coupled with his administration’s white nationalist leanings, and Frank Gaffney’s unusual skill for injecting blatant falsehoods about Muslims and Islam into the political discourse, appear to have come together in a perfect storm.
Following the decision, the ACLU tweeted:
In 1944, the Supreme Court allowed the US government to imprison Japanese Americans solely because of their national origin and ethnicity, based on empty claims of national security. It’s one of the most shameful chapters of US history, and today’s decision now joins it.
It’s easy to see the decision as a shameful throwback to a different era, perhaps an anomaly cooked up by fringe anti-Muslim and white nationalist figures.
But the Muslim ban couldn’t have come into effect without the tacit support of Beltway institutions like AIPAC, conservative foundations like the Bradley and Scaife foundations, and American aerospace companies who all offered Gaffney, the father of the Muslim ban, financial support while he spread falsehoods about Muslims.