Magazine article The American Prospect

CPAC: Infiltrated by Radicals? Grover Norquist Takes on the Right's Islamophobic Conspiracy Theorists

Magazine article The American Prospect

CPAC: Infiltrated by Radicals? Grover Norquist Takes on the Right's Islamophobic Conspiracy Theorists

Article excerpt


Call it the theology of Grover Norquist.

"The other side isn't stupid; they're evil," Norquist, chair of Americans for Tax Reform and board member of the American Conservative Union, told a crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February. Norquist's approach to conservatism is inclusive--as long as you want to crush liberals, you're welcome to the party.

This particular party, CPAC, is the ACU's annual gathering of more than l0,000 conservative activists in Washington, D.C. A cross between a comic-book convention and a political conference, CPAC is a place where Ron Paul is treated like Jay-Z, where bow-tied college Republicans rub shoulders with their idols, and where prospective presidential candidates come to persuade the faithful of their Ronald Reagan-like bona fides.

Norquist is perhaps most famous for saying, "I don't want to abolish government. I simply want to reduce it to the size where I can drag it into the bathroom and drown it in the bathtub." The problem is that his fellow conservatives aren't satisfied with just drowning the government--they want to throw gays, Muslims, and immigrants into the bathtub, too.

It was Norquist's willingness to welcome gays and Muslims into conservatism's big tent that got him in trouble at CPAC this year. Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina, the Tea Party's man in the Senate, boycotted the conference over the inclusion of GOProud, a gay Republican group. Other religious-right Republicans followed suit, despite GOProud's relatively moderate approach to the seminal gay-rights issue of same-sex marriage--all it asks is that states not ban the practice. (Members of the John Birch Society were there, too. No one seemed inclined to boycott because of their presence.)

But the gays were soon eclipsed as the most immediate threat when conservatives identified a different bogeyman: the Muslim Brotherhood. Most Americans recently heard of the Brotherhood in the context of Egypt's political upheaval. For years, though, conservatives have told intrigue-filled tales of the Brotherhood's secret "stealth jihad" to subvert the Constitution and implement Taliban-style Islamic law in the United States. The conspiracy theory derives largely from a single document written by a Muslim brother who wanted to enlist mainstream American Muslim organizations in a campaign to establish an Islamic state in the West. Those groups were listed as "unindicted co-conspirators" in a terrorism-financing ease, and despite the fact that they were never convicted of wrongdoing or proved complicit in the scheme outlined in the memo, the Islamophobic right now considers the organizations on the list to be "Muslim Brotherhood front groups."

George W. Bush's declarations that Islam is a "religion of peace" kept the right's Islamophobes in cheek in the years following September 11. But in the Obama era, Republicans have welcomed the fringe into their midst. Norquist's big-tent approach to conservatism implicated him in the conspiracy. Now, Brotherhood agents aren't just operating in the U.S.--CPAC itself has been infiltrated.

Norquist, who is married to a Kuwaiti American woman and helped facilitate Bush's outreach to the American Muslim Community after 9/11, has long been a target of the right's Muslim-haters. He points out that their concerns about religious takeover aren't exactly original. "What's interesting is how little is changed. You read the books from the 1960s about how the Catholic Church is trying to take over the United States," Norquist says, pointing out that Jews were onee associated with communist conspiracies. …

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