When Trump needed the numbers to back his much-lambasted anti-Muslim immigration proposal, he knew who to turn to: long-time conservative activist Frank Gaffney.
- By Eli CliftonEli Clifton is a fellow at The Nation Institute.
If Donald Trump’s goal in proposing a ban on all immigration by Muslims to the United States was intended to garner attention, his roundly pilloried idea — even former Vice President Dick Cheney said it “goes against everything we stand for” — has been a stunning success. But his line of thinking, suggesting that all followers of Islam pose a potential national security threat, isn’t new to the Beltway. In fact, it is part of a movement that has been funded for years by some of the country’s biggest aerospace companies and conservative philanthropic foundations.
In his announcement of his proposal to temporarily end all immigration by Muslims to the United States, Trump cited the work of the Center for Security Policy (CSP), a Washington, D.C.-based think tank headed up by former Reagan-administration defense official Frank Gaffney, which promotes hawkish foreign policy views, particularly in the Middle East; advocates for higher levels of defense spending; and warns about the infiltration of the U.S. government by the Muslim Brotherhood.
Trump’s proposal for discriminating against Muslims largely hinges on a poll conducted by Gaffney’s organization, the Center for Security Policy.
“Most recently, a poll from the Center for Security Policy released data showing ‘25% of [American Muslims] 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 [Islamic law],’” read the Trump campaign press release. But that poll and CSP’s methods are far from scientific. The poll was an online opt-in survey of 600 Muslims, a fact that CSP didn’t disclose until Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative reached out to the pollster, a small Washington firm called the Polling Company/Woman Trend, to understand the methodology.
The very methodology the poll used is dubious. The American Association for Public Opinion Research, a professional organization of pollsters that sets ethical standards for the industry, explains that in opt-in surveys, “the pollster has no idea who is responding to the question,” and warns that these polls do not have a “‘grounded statistical tie’ to the population. As a result, estimates from self-selected volunteers are subject to unknown error that cannot be measured.”
In other words, the whole point of a poll is to get a representative sample of a target population — if a poll consists of a self-selecting minority within a group, it can’t claim to speak to the broader group’s views.
Trump also referenced Pew Research Center polls showing “there is great hatred toward Americans by large segments of the Muslim population.” Pew’s response? “The statement released by Mr. Trump’s campaign does not specify a data point, so we can’t identify the report that he may be referencing,” said James Bell, Pew’s vice president for global strategy, in a statement to Foreign Policy. “Pew Research Center has published a number of reports about Muslims and Islam in the United States and around the world, all of which are available [here].”
But a lack of transparency and faulty methodology are far from the only factors making CSP an odd choice of organizations for Trump to endorse as “highly respected” and turn to for data justifying his extreme immigration policy proposal.
Frank Gaffney has a long history of pushing extreme anti-Muslim views and outright conspiracy theories about President Barack Obama. In a 2008 Washington Times column, Gaffney questioned whether the president “is a natural born citizen of the United States, a prerequisite pursuant to the U.S. Constitution” and, appearing to answer his own question, said that “there is evidence Mr. Obama was born in Kenya rather than, as he claims, Hawaii.”
He has also repeatedly suggested that Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin was a Muslim Brotherhood operative. In a 2010 column for Breitbart.com, he claimed that the Missile Defense Agency logo “appears ominously to reflect a morphing of the Islamic crescent and star with the Obama campaign logo,” part of a “worrying pattern of official U.S. submission to Islam.”
Much like Trump, Gaffney shows little concern for the religious or personal freedoms of Muslims. Gaffney has claimed that Muslims who follow sharia should be prosecuted for sedition. He has also characterized the Islamic community center in lower Manhattan as a “Trojan Horse Mosque.”
Gaffney’s extremist statements led the Anti-Defamation League to describe the CSP as “a neo-conservative think tank that has pioneered the anti-Shariah hysteria by publishing materials regarding the threat of an Islamic takeover of the U.S.”
“Once a respectable Washington insider, Frank Gaffney Jr. is now one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes. Gripped by paranoid fantasies about Muslims destroying the West from within, Gaffney believes that ‘creeping Shariah,’ or Islamic religious law, is a dire threat to American democracy,” the Southern Poverty Law Center wrote of Gaffney. Indeed, Gaffney’s anti-Muslim campaign has even put him at odds with mainstream conservatives. In 2011, he was banned from participating in the Conservative Political Action Conference after accusing two of the event’s organizers — former George W. Bush administration official Suhail Khan and stalwart anti-tax activist Grover Norquist — of being Muslim Brotherhood infiltrators.
And his accusations against Huma Abedin led Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), and then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to condemn Gaffney’s smears.
Until Trump’s announcement yesterday, Gaffney may have been suffering from a lack of mainstream acceptance, but that hasn’t slowed his ability to raise considerable sums of money. CSP raised $3.55 million in 2013 and $2.04 million in 2014.
The list of Gaffney’s group’s most reliable funders features a few surprises. According to donor rolls I acquired and published last year, Gaffney received funding in 2013 from well-known conservative foundations, including $50,000 from the Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation and $175,000 from the Sarah Scaife Foundation. Both have histories of supporting Islamophobia. Gaffney’s funders also include Boeing ($25,000); General Dynamics ($15,000); Lockheed Martin ($15,000); Northrup Grumman ($5,000); Raytheon ($20,000); and General Electric ($5,000).
At the time, Lockheed emphasized to me that it “does not have an ongoing relationship with the Center for Security Policy” and Raytheon said they had “no plans to provide further funding to the organization.”
Most of these companies told me that their contributions went to support a dinner honoring the late chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense Bill Young, but Boeing acknowledged providing “general support” to CSP. (When journalist Steve Clemons asked a Boeing official about its support for Gaffney back in 2008, he replied: “I don’t know — but I can’t possibly believe that that would be the case. That just can’t be true. No way. I’ll check it out right away.” Clemons heard nothing further.)
Gaffney may have established his bona fides with Donald Trump on Sept. 9, when CSP co-sponsored a joint Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Trump rally opposing the Iran nuclear deal. But even before then, Gaffney had embraced Trump’s divisive message on immigration.
In an August blog post titled “Embrace Trump’s Immigration Platform,” Gaffney praised the GOP front-runner for “driving the political establishment crazy” by laying “out a position on immigration reform at odds with the open borders agenda favored by both parties’ leadership and special interests.”
Indeed, one need not look far to draw close parallels between the anti-Muslim policies promoted by Gaffney and the statements emerging from the Trump campaign. A June press release to promote the release of the poll cited in Trump’s statement yesterday pointed to “the necessity for enhanced surveillance of Muslim communities” and called for “careful consideration and urgent debate” about “refugee resettlement, asylum, and other immigration programs that are swelling their numbers and density.”
Following Trump’s announcement, Gaffney defended Trump’s position on Muslim immigration, saying that “suspending their further immigration is just prudent.”
In Washington, organizations with benign names and 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 statuses perform important roles as an echo chamber for public policy debates in the Beltway, often in ways that voters are completely unaware.
Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy is hardly a household name, nor is there much evidence that Gaffney would want it to be, but CSP’s misleading polling on American Muslims is now playing a central role in the national discourse on immigration policy and how to respond to the San Bernardino shooting attack.
Between Trump’s calls for a national registry of Muslims and a ban on Muslim immigration, it appears that through coincidence or outright collaboration, Trump is building an immigration and anti-Muslim policy framework that closely mirrors the statements and proposals advocated by Frank Gaffney and the Center for Security Policy.
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