Thursday, July 19, 2012

Michele Bachmann's Islamophobic Witch Hunt

By Garrett FitzGerald

Who missed the spotlight? After a few months without making headlines for shenanigans like claiming to possess the spirit of a serial killer or suggesting the HPV vaccine causes "mental retardation" in teens, Minnesota Representative Michele Bachmann let loose a whole new mess of crazy last week in a bid to remind the world that her unquenchable thirst for attention did not die off along with her presidential ambitions. Rep. Bachmann kicked off her latest furor when - joined by fellow GOP Reps Trent Franks (AZ), Louie Gohmert (TX), Thomas Rooney (FL) and Lynn Westmoreland (GA) - the Minnesota congresswoman sent letters to the inspectors general of five national security agencies demanding an immediate investigation into the "deep penetration" of the federal government by agents of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

That's right, the Muslim Brotherhood, a favorite boogeyman of the cottage industry of conservative Islamophobia, has installed sleeper cells in the upper echelons of the US government. Rep. Bachmann and her colleagues are convinced that, despite decades of brutal state repression under Western-backed regimes like that of former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and a history of public bickering with the leaders of other Islamist groups like Al Qaeda, the Muslim Brotherhood has found the motivation, means, and mettle to exert its influence over the Obama administration by infiltrating federal defense, diplomatic, intelligence, and law-enforcement agencies.

As everybody knows, the first step to catching international agent provocateurs is to publicly broadcast your knowledge of their shady dealings. Not content with notifying the appropriate authorities of her concerns, Rep. Bachmann also released to the press copies of the letters she sent to the five agency heads. And according to these letters and a subsequent interview with conservative radio host Sandy Rios, Rep. Bachmann already has what she thinks is a pretty good idea of who some of the Muslim Brotherhood's sleeper agents might be:
“It appears that there are individuals who are associated with the Muslim Brotherhood who have positions, very sensitive positions, in our Department of Justice, our Department of Homeland Security, potentially even in the National Intelligence Agency.”
She might be playing it mysterious in that except, but in the letters she leaked to the national media, Rep. Bachmann named names. In particular, Rep. Bachmann singled out Huma Abedin, the wife of disgraced former Democratic congressman Anthony Weiner and a current top aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. According to the letters signed by Bachmann and her Republican colleagues,
 “The Departments Deputy, Chief of Staff, Huma Abedin, has three family members – her late father, her mother and her brother – connected to Muslim Brotherhood operatives and /or organizations. Her position affords her routine access to the Secretary and to policy making.”
According to Rep. Bachmann's explanation, Abedin, who is Muslim, is implicated as a possible conspirator because her late father, who has been dead for two decades, founded an organization called the Institute of Muslim Minority Affairs in Saudi Arabia, which Rep. Bachmann maintains "had the quiet but active support of the then-General Secretary of the Muslim World League, Dr. Umar Abdallah Nasif." The Muslim World League, as Rep. Bachmann further explained, has "longtime history of being closely aligned and partnering with the Muslim Brotherhood."
So, if you're keeping track at home, Rep. Bachmann saw fit to include the name of a senior State Department aide with an otherwise sterling reputation in her highly publicized conspiracy theory because that aide, Huma Abedin, has family members who started a scholarly organization allegedly supported by a man who served as the head of an organization with alleged ties to the Muslim Brotherhood. It should be noted that, with this reasoning and in about the same number of steps, it can be inferred with virtual certainty that Abedin's husband Anthony Weiner received intimate policy advice during his time as a congressman from screen actor Kevin Bacon, who our research shows starred in 1991's He Said, She Said with Stanley Anderson, who appeared with former New York City Mayor Ed Koch in City Hall (1996), who appears in 2009's The Promise of New York alongside none other than former congressman Anthony Weiner.
Taken at face value, Rep. Bachmann's seizure on the Muslim Brotherhood as a shadowy puppet master attempting to infiltrate the US government warrants a solid Scooby-Doo double take. In Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood was founded and where it faced some of its most brutal repression, the Brotherhood formally renounced violence years ago. According to Bruce Reidel of the Brookings Institution, this renunciation led to a hemorrhaging of the Brotherhood's most extreme elements to groups like Al Qaeda, who favor direct, violent overthrow of Arab regimes rather than participation in national electoral politics. According to Reidel, this exodus of fringe elements has also made the Muslim Brotherhood a "target of extreme vilification by more radical Islamists," including Al Qaeda’s leaders, Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri, who, though they "started their political lives affiliated with the Brotherhood," have since "denounced it for decades as too soft and a cat’s paw of Mubarak and America." 
The Brotherhood has significantly elevated its political legitimacy recently, with the Brotherhood's increasing influence after the ouster of Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak  leading to the formal reestablishment of direct contact with the US State Department. The subsequent election of Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi to the Egyptian presidency has definitively established the Brotherhood as a legitimate regional political player in a way that militant Islamist groups such as Al Qaeda would and could never hope to emulate.
All that to say, given their own claims to have renounced violence and the fact that having more political capital means having more political capital to lose through half-baked schemes to install sleeper agents in the US government, the Muslim Brotherhood should be pretty far down most people's lists of likely stealth usurpers of US sovereignty.

But Michele Bachmann isn't most people, and her obsession with the Muslim Brotherhood should come as no surprise given that Rep. Bachmann cites as her evidence a report by inveterate Islamophobe and card-carrying wackaloon Frank Gaffney. The suggestion that the Muslim Brotherhood is secretly pulling strings at the federal level is just the latest in a long line of Frank Gaffney's conspiracy theory fever dreams. Gaffney has previously accused groups as diverse as the Obama administration, the Center for American Progress, and even last year's Conservative Political Action Conference of having been infiltrated by the Muslim Brotherhood's fiendishly clever operatives.

Gaffney has also long maintained that President Obama was at one time, and may still be, a secret Muslim, as evidenced by his expanded diplomatic outreach to the Muslim world, and proven once and for all by the introduction of a new logo for the US Missile Defense Agency, which Gaffney claims depicts the synthesis of the Muslim star and crescent with President Obama's campaign logo.

As you can see, Frank Gaffney is a very serious man.

Rep. Bachmann's call for an investigation in the Muslim Brotherhood's clandestine activities have elicited some harsh words from some of her colleagues in Washington, and they are not all coming from the opposite side of the aisle. 

The first response to Rep. Bachmann's witch hunt from within the halls of Congress came from Democratic Representative Keith Ellison, also from Minnesota, who quickly released a statement that not only challenged Bachmann to produce "credible, substantial evidence," (read: not based on the "research" of Frank Gaffney) but also chastised his fellow Representative from the Land of Lakes for using the national media to air her concerns rather than revealing her sources and information discreetly to the proper authorities.

In response to Rep. Ellison's request for evidence, Rep. Bachmann released a 16-page letter defending her accusations against Ms. Abedin and other named in her original submissions to the five federal agencies. Salon notes that, despite repeatedly citing Gaffney by name in the opening paragraphs in each of the letters she provided to the inspectors general, Rep. Bachmann omits Gaffney from her follow-up letter entirely, citing instead the work of Steven Emerson and his Investigative Project on Terrorism, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center characterizes as another key player in the “the Anti-Muslim inner circle” of cottage industry of Islamophobic fear-mongering.

Rep. Ellison was quick to denounce Bachmann's follow-up, appearing on CNN's AC360 program with Anderson Cooper to discuss Rep. Bachmann's allegations. In language that harkened back to his stringent criticism of Rep. Peter King's (R-NY) Islamophobic congressional hearings on "Islamic radicalization" in the US, Rep. Ellison compared Bachmann's public airing of names to the infamous Red Scare show trials of Sen. Joseph McCarthy.  In his final estimation, Rep. Ellison explained to Cooper that, even with the addition of her supplemental 16-page letter, Rep. Bachmann has still offered no credible evidence to support her claims, or to justify dragging the names of innocent Americans through the mud.

Via ThinkProgress:
COOPER: You asked for a full accounting of the evidence these members of Congress were using to make their claims. You got a 16- page letter back. Does their evidence hold up?

ELLISON: No, it’s 16 pages worth of nothing. It’s 16 pages worth of repeated false allegations. Just regurgitated nonsense. And, you know, it doesn’t — 16 pages doesn’t take nothing and turn it into something. It’s still nothing…

COOPER: Have you seen any evidence of “deep penetration” — that was the words that Congressman Bachmann used — “deep penetration” by the Muslim Brotherhood into the security apparatus of the United States?

ELLISON: No, it’s not true. It doesn’t exist. It’s a phantom.
As intimated above, not all of the criticism of Rep. Bachmann's antics have come from congressional Democrats.

Arizona Senator John McCain also vigorously denounced Bachmann's "sinister accusations"against Ms. Abedin, insisting "These attacks...have no logic, no basis and no merit. And they need to stop now."

Senator McCain took to the Senate floor to launch an impassioned defense of Ms. Abedin:
 "I have every confidence in Huma's loyalty to our country, and everyone else should as well. All Americans owe Huma a debt of gratitude for her many years of superior public service. I hope these ugly and unfortunate attacks on her can be immediately brought to an end and put behind us before any further damage is done to a woman, an American, of genuine patriotism and love of country...Huma represents what is best about America: the daughter of immigrants, who has risen to the highest levels of our government on the basis of her substantial personal merit and her abiding commitment to the American ideals that she embodies so fully."
To Sen. McCain's credit he did not limit his response to a rebuttal of Rep. Bachmann's allegations against Ms. Abedin, but went on to suggest that there are deeper, more fundamental values at stake. Via the Huffington Post:
"Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we still aspire to be ... When anyone, not least a member of Congress, launches specious and degrading attacks against fellow Americans on the basis of nothing more than fear of who they are and ignorance of what they stand for, it defames the spirit of our nation, and we all grow poorer because of it."
If only Senator McCain held these same opinions regarding immigration policy!

As of this morning, the House leadership and other GOP big-shots have also signaled an apparent unwillingness to go along with Rep. Bachmann's farce. House Speaker Boehner (R-OH)  indicated Thursday morning that though he had not seen Rep. Bachmann's letters, "accusations like this being thrown around are pretty dangerous." GOP Senators Marco Rubio of Florida, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, and Scott Brown of Massachusetts also joined the rising tide of Republicans speaking out against Bachmann's allegations,  with Sen. Rubio stating in an interview that he does not "share the feelings that are in that letter," and Sens. Graham and Brown going even further, calling Rep. Bachmann's shenanigans "ridiculous, really off-base, inappropriate" and "out-of-line," with Sen. Brown adding, "This kind of rhetoric has no place in our public discourse."
It remains to be seen how much further Rep. Bachmann will attempt to run with her specious allegations. By my count, by responding to Rep. Ellison's appearance on Anderson Cooper's program, Rep. Bachmann has now tripled-down on these outrageous claims. 

Since Mitt Romney became the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, the race for the White House has been mercifully free of this type of Islamophbia, especially considering the readiness with which former GOP contenders - including Rep. Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Rick Perry - were willing to chase that least tolerant common denominator in order to rally their base. As more and more members of the GOP establishment move to distance themselves from Rep. Bachmann's witch hunt, it is tempting to believe that, more the moment at least, Islamophobia has exhausted its political efficacy. But as long as individuals like Michele Bachmann and her co-conspirators remain in positions of power, there remains a very real threat that the politics of ignorance and division will continue to find willing champions in Washington.

Image: Michele Bachmann photo via the Flickr photostream of Gage Skidmore.

1 comment:

  1. So crazy! And this woman actually led the GOP primary for a minute!