A far-right think tank that has long espoused Islamophobia is set to hold its annual banquet at President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
The Center for Security Policy has been issued a permit for its Freedom Flame Award Dinner, which is scheduled for Saturday, The Washington Post reported. The center’s chief executive, former Trump administration official Fred Fleitz, confirmed the location to HuffPost on Friday.
In recent years, the organization’s founder, Frank Gaffney Jr., has supported calls for a total ban on Muslims entering the U.S. and written a trove of articles alleging that Muslims are attempting to “infiltrate” government institutions.
The Center for Security Policy’s website provides further evidence of its conspiratorial views with fear-mongering content alerting readers to a “civilization jihad” and decrying “Islamist influence in Hollywood.” One 2017 book written for a center reading series claims that “Sharia-supremacists” are working “with leftists to destroy the United States.”
But Fleitz told HuffPost that he disavows Islamophobia.
“Muslims are an important part of American society,” he said. “We’re lucky to have them. I don’t think they should be discriminated against.”
“I condemn that,” he added. “That’s the kind of organization I’m leading.”
Though the center has pushed the false narrative that Barack Obama is Muslim, Fleitz called the former president “a great man,” adding, “I don’t care what his religion is.” (To be clear, Obama’s religion is Christianity.)
Fleitz stressed that his opposition to Obama comes down to his presidency. But he also suggested that Obama may have felt the need to “hide” his religious beliefs while in office, once again harking back to the debunked claim.
After the publication of this article, Fleitz reached out to HuffPost to state, “Obviously I know Obama is a Christian.”
The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the Center for Security Policy event and whether the president is endorsing the group’s rhetoric.
Fleitz would not provide any additional details about the event or its guest list, repeatedly stating that it’s “private.”
According to an informational page on the center’s website, the Freedom Flame Award “recognizes individuals and policymakers who have exemplified the ideals of freedom, democracy, economic opportunity and international strength.”
Past recipients include former national security adviser John Bolton, former CIA Director Jim Woolsey and Fox News opinion host Jeanine Pirro.
This article has been updated with a statement Fleitz made later Friday to HuffPost.