In June of 2009, shortly after President Barack Obama wrapped up his visits to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, the Washington Times ran an opinion piece suggesting that the newly inaugurated President might be the first to be a Muslim.
It
starts slowly, saying that Obama might be the “first Muslim president”
in the same sense that Bill Clinton was once dubbed the “first black
president” – which is to say that he’s not Muslim, he’s just sympathetic
to the community. But a few paragraphs later, that conceit evaporates.
“With
Mr Obama’s unbelievably ballyhooed address in Cairo Thursday to what he
calls ‘the Muslim world’,” columnist Frank Gaffney wrote, “there is
mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims,
but actually may still be one himself.” That evidence? Obama referred to
the “Holy Koran.” He said he knew about Islam.

And he used the phrase “peace be upon them” when mentioning
Moses, Jesus and Muhammed. Obama, Gaffney wrote, was engaged in “the
most consequential bait-and-switch since Adolf Hitler duped Neville
Chamberlain over Czechoslovakia at Munich”.
This was not the
beginning of Frank Gaffney’s push to raise questions about the role of
Muslims in the , but it marked a new phase for him and his
organisation, the Center for Security Policy. The group hit a new high
this week, when its highly questionable survey from June became the
centrepiece of ’s proposal this week to ban any Muslims from
entering the country.

Donald Trump's anti-Muslim have been widely condemned but support for him is still strong. Photo / Getty Images
Donald Trump’s anti-Muslim have been widely condemned but support for him is still strong. Photo / Getty Images
CNN’s Chris Cuomo, confronting Trump about the proposal on
Tuesday, told Trump that CNN “wouldn’t even put that poll on the air.
It’s a hack organisation with a guy who was dismissed from the
conservative circles for conspiracy theories. You know that.” (Trump
disagreed.)
Gaffney wasn’t always an anti-Muslim conspiracist and
gadfly. After years of service in Washington, including staffing
senators from both sides of the aisle, he went to work for Ronald
Reagan’s Defence Department. During Reagan’s second term, Gaffney was
named acting assistant secretary of defence after his boss, Richard
Perle, stepped down. Gaffney didn’t get the job, though, and when Frank
Carlucci became secretary in November 1987, Gaffney was “forced out”, as
the Post reported at the time. “By midnight Friday,” Sidney
Blumenthal (of all people) wrote for the paper, “Gaffney’s belongings
were boxed and he was gone. On the spot, Gaffney called a press
conference to express his ‘worries’ about the Reagan administration’s
eagerness for an arms control agreement.”




Out of government service, he founded the Center for
Security Policy as a think tank on foreign policy issues. It provided
Gaffney with a prominent platform to weigh in on political topics.
Within
the past decade, though, he’s mostly made headlines for questionable
and outrageous comments like his suggestion about Obama. During the 2008
election, Gaffney wrote about the “jihadist vote” in another Washington Times
piece, suggesting that there were a large number of Muslims backing
Obama’s candidacy financially and with votes. Oh, and also that Obama
wasn’t born in America. (He reiterated that argument before the 2012
elections.)
Once Obama was in office, Gaffney was one of the main
drivers of the idea that there was a deep-rooted Muslim infiltration of
the Government and that Muslims wanted to create an alternate system of
law in the United States. Gaffney opposed the so-called “Ground Zero
mosque,” a proposed Muslim centre that was to be built near Ground Zero
in Manhattan. After he opposed a Muslim community centre in Tennessee,
the largest paper in that state included Gaffney in a report linking
anti-Muslim rhetoric to big pay cheques.




His insistence that a group called the Muslim Brotherhood
had worked its way into the American political sphere (including in the
person of top Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin) eventually meant
accusing prominent conservative Grover Norquist of ties to Islamic
infiltrators. Gaffney wrote an entire book — published by the Center
for Security Policy — accusing Norquist of links to the groups, which
in 2011 ended up getting Gaffney banned from the high-profile annual
Conservative Political Action Conference.
In another famous
incident from 2010, Gaffney suggested that a logo for a missile defence
group incorporated the Obama logo and an Islamic crescent. It didn’t.
The
Daily Beast credited Gaffney in 2012 with driving the state and federal
push for anti-Sharia laws. When New Jersey Governor Chris Christie
defended his appointment of a Muslim to the state judiciary against
charges that the governor was abetting the implementation of Sharia,
Gaffney suggested on a radio show that Christie might be turning a blind
eye to treason.
The conspiracies aren’t all Obama-centric. On MSNBC’s Hardball
in March 2009, Gaffney argued that Saddam Hussein was behind the
Oklahoma City bombing. Earlier this year, Gaffney hosted a white
supremacist on his radio show to discuss Muslim immigration, later
arguing he didn’t know his guest’s full views. (He did, however, welcome
Jared Taylor as “the author of six books, including White Identity“.) The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate speech, has labeled Gaffney an “extremist”.
It
was Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy that put together the poll,
assessing the attitudes of American Muslims about Sharia law and
violence toward our country. The poll itself has serious methodological
problems, but the organisation and the man who created and paid for that
poll should inspire some scepticism of the results as well.