WASHINGTON -- When billionaire eccentric and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump called for banning all Muslims from entering the United States of America, he used what appeared to be data backing up the fears his policy was designed to alleviate.
In his announcement, Trump pointed to a Center for Security Policy poll finding that 25 percent of Muslims “agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad” and 51 percent “agreed that Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to Sharia.” The findings of this opt-in online poll, however, had already been widely discredited.
The Center for Security Policy, headed by the neoconservative Reagan-era Department of Defense official Frank Gaffney, is a node in a broad network of groups ginning up Islamophobia with conspiracy theories of a takeover of the federal government by the Muslim Brotherhood and the imposition of Sharia law across the United States. Gaffney had also called for a total ban on Muslim entry into the United States prior to Trump’s endorsement of the policy.
By citing the bogus data from Gaffney’s group, Trump helped shine a light on how the broader Islamophobic network works. Bogus statistics and trumped-up conspiracy theories are touted by mainstream figures to increase alarm and fear about Muslims.
Polls show Islamophobia to be a widely held position among Trump’s voters, and an examination of the funding behind groups stoking the fear shows that a portion of the Republican Party donor class agrees. Donors to the network include mainstream Republican Party donors, major conservative nonprofit trusts and nonprofit donor-advised funds that help conservative donors obscure their contributions to other groups.
Two reports from the liberal Center for American Progress, one released in 2011 and an update in 2015, titled "Fear, Inc.," explained how these groups have operated and exposed their largest donors. The network of groups the report said were involved in the Islamophobia industry included the Center for Security Policy, the Clarion Fund, Middle East Forum, Jihad Watch, the David Horowitz Freedom Center and a handful of others.
Before his death in 2014, Republican mega-donor Richard Mellon Scaife was one of the biggest donors to the network through donations from his charitable foundations. According to CAP’s reports, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, Carthage Foundation and Allegheny Foundation combined to donate nearly $10.5 million to Islamophobic groups from 2001 to 2012, including $3.4 million to the Center for Security Policy. Scaife, the founding funder of the modern American right, also contributed $500,000 to 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s super PAC in 2012.
The Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation is another huge source of money for the Islamophobia network, with $6.5 million in donations from 2001-2012. The foundation, like the Scaife foundations, is a bedrock funder of right-wing causes and the conservative movement. The group’s board includes Washington Post columnist George Will and North Carolina mega-donor Art Pope. It has supplied more than $1 million to the Center for Security Policy.
The largest donors to Islamophobic groups are the related nonprofit donor-advised funds Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust. Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust allow conservatives looking to contribute to their favored causes to put money in a fund and then direct that money at their own discretion. This structure promises that the donor’s contributions will only ever show up on tax forms as coming from Donors Capital Fund or Donors Trust.
More than $27 million in money held in the two funds has gone to Islamophobic groups from 2001-2012, according to CAP’s reports. The largest donation made was a $17 million contribution from a single anonymous donor to the Clarion Fund to pay for the distribution of the the anti-Muslim film "Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against The West" in 2008. Gaffney sits on the board of The Clarion Fund.
It's not clear who is behind that $17 million contribution, but it could be casino billionaire and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. The New York Times reported in 2012 that Adelson was involved in financing the distribution of "Obsession" as a newspaper insert during the 2008 elections. Adelson also reportedly hands out copies of the movie to participants in Taglit Birthright, a program he funds sending American Jews on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel.
In the 2012 election, Adelson and his family contributed more than $100 million to super PACs supporting Republicans. Most Republican candidates have made a pilgrimage to his Vegas hotel to meet with him. Rubio is said to have courted him through weekly phone calls. And every Republican presidential candidate, save Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), attended a Washington, D.C., event hosted by Adelson’s Republican Jewish Coalition on Dec. 3. The next Republican presidential debate is slated to be held at Adelson’s Venetian hotel and casino in Vegas.
Adelson is not the only Republican Party mega-donor who has contributed to Islamophobic groups.
Over the years, major Republican donors, including hedge fund managers Paul Singer and Seth Klarman, financier Roger Hertog and San Francisco Giants owner Charles Johnson have donated to the network. Singer’s family foundation donated $50,000 to the Center for Security Policy in 2003. The Klarman Family Foundation donated $45,000 to the Center for Security Policy between 2007 and 2009, and an additional $50,000 to the Middle East Forum in 2011. Since 2011, the Hertogs' family foundation has contributed $25,000 to the Center for Security Policy, $25,000 to the David Horowitz Freedom House and $20,000 to the Middle East Forum. Johnson’s foundation contributed $5,000 to the David Horowitz Freedom House in 2011.
A major super PAC donor and campaign bundler, Singer announced his support for Sen. Marco Rubio’s (R-Fla.) presidential bid in November. The Boston-based Klarman has contributed $100,000 to the super PAC supporting New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie and $25,000 to former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush’s super PAC. Hertog has spread his money around to super PACs supporting Bush, Rubio, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), former New York Gov. George Pataki and former candidate Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal. Meanwhile, Johnson has donated $1 million to Bush’s super PAC.
Other major Republican donors appeared on a list of 2013 donors to the Center for Security Policy acquired by reporter Eli Clifton. John Templeton, a major conservative Christian donor who passed away in 2015, donated $600,000. Templeton had backed former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum’s 2012 presidential bid and was a generous donor to the Republican Party. Foster Friess, Santorum’s main super PAC money man, chipped in $10,000 to the center. Texas oilman T. Boone Pickens, a major bundler who donated $100,000 to Bush’s super PAC in 2015, contributed $50,000 to the group. New York businessman Ira Rennert, a multimillion-dollar donor to the super PAC that supported Romney, also gave $50,000.
For years, the groups these donors funded have pushed a narrative that Islam is a uniquely violent ideology at war with the West, and that its most radical followers had established themselves at the highest levels of government and influence.
Gaffney's group has claimed that Huma Abedin, an aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and conservative anti-tax activist Grover Norquist were both plants from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood. (The latter assertion regarding Norquist led to Gaffney being blacklisted from the Conservative Political Action Convention.) A number of groups have also called for widespread surveillance of Muslims, the closure of mosques and the application of public pressure to prevent new mosques from opening.
These conspiracies and policies often bubbled up into political discourse with the help of Republican members of Congress like Reps. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) and Peter King (R-N.Y.) and former Reps. Michele Bachmann, Allen West and Sue Myrick. Newt Gingrich also promoted Islamophobia during his 2012 presidential campaign.
Now these groups and their beliefs have broken into the mainstream of Republican Party presidential politics. Not only has Trump endorsed a ban on Muslims' entry to the United States, but both Trump and Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) appeared at an anti-Iran rally co-sponsored by Gaffney's Center for Security Policy in September. And all of the candidates have pushed for some kind of change to the admittance of Syrian refugees to the U.S., including bans on Muslim refugees, a policy promoted earlier in 2015 by Gaffney.
Ken Gude, a senior fellow with the national security team at the Center for American Progress and a co-author of the "Fear, Inc." reports, says that prior to this year it seemed that the Islamophobia movement was largely confined to the fringe of conservative circles.
“Now, we see it breaking out into the mainstream and certainly Trump is the biggest example of it,” Gude said, also citing other public reactions following the Nov. 13 Paris attacks. “I don’t think we can say this is a fringe phenomenon any longer.”