Grover Norquist long has been a conservative hero. President of Americans for Tax Reform (ATR), he has served as informal adviser to former House speaker Newt Gingrich and the current Bush administration and is an influential Republican power and idea broker. Conservative activists, congressional staffers and think-tank analysts gather at his ATR headquarters for weekly "Wednesday Group" meetings.
For years, Norquist has tried to unite conservatives of various spots and stripes in what he calls the "Leave Us Alone Coalition." In an interview that ran in INSIGHT in 1998, he argued that gun owners, homeschoolers, small-business owners and taxpayer groups are "all in [the movement] because on whatever issue brings them to politics they wish to be left alone."
Now some members fear this coalition may be in danger of unraveling because of new groups that Norquist has brought in.
For example, he has stressed the importance of bringing Muslims into the Republican Party, as he did with conservative Jews and blacks. But critics are saying some of the groups he works with that claim to speak for Muslims, and which met with the Bush administration at his recommendation, have an anti-Israel agenda and have expressed sympathy for groups the U.S. State Department calls terrorists.
In 1998, Norquist cofounded the Islamic Institute with Khaled Saffuri, its current president. But in the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks, some members of his group wonder whether, in his zeal to build a coalition on economic and social issues, he overlooked the views of his new Islamic associates on international issues, particularly those pertaining to the Middle East. "Grover's expertise on foreign affairs, which has seldom extended beyond a robust anti-communism, may have failed him in choosing his new coalition partners," says one regular at his Wednesday meetings. "His enemies are using this lapse as an attempt to bring down his highly successful political-coalition building, which has been a thorn in the side of the left." Other conservatives, some of whom are longtime allies, express similar concerns to INSIGHT but ask that their names not be used to criticize their old friend.
Daniel Pipes, an official under President Ronald Reagan at the state and defense departments who now is president of the Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, says: "There's nothing wrong at all with trying to bring Muslims into the Republican Party; there's lots wrong with trying to foist radical fringe elements as natural Republicans."
Liberal publications such as the Boston Phoenix and the New Republic have attempted to link Norquist to alleged terrorism sympathizers such as Abdurahman Alamoudi, former executive director and current board member of the American Muslim Council (AMC). At a rally in Lafayette Park across from the White House in October 2000, Alamoudi expressed support for Hamas and Hezbollah, two Palestinian groups that are classified as terrorist organizations by the State Department. "Hear that, Bill Clinton?" Alamoudi shouted to a cheering crowd in TV film footage broadcast by Fox News. "We are all supporters of Hamas.... I am also a supporter of Hezbollah." Hamas and Hezbollah frequently claim credit for suicide bombings of civilians.
The Phoenix found that Janus-Merritt Strategies, a lobbying firm the paper reported includes Norquist as a principal, received a $20,000 fee from Alamoudi in 2000. Norquist told the conservative news Website CNSNews.com however that "there's no relationship." He says he only worked on tax policy for Janus-Merritt, and a Janus-Merritt official says Norquist was not involved in the firm's lobbying efforts on behalf of Alamoudi.
But INSIGHT since has learned that the very rally in which Alamoudi praised Hamas and Hezbollah was publicized by the Islamic Institute, the ostensibly conservative Muslim group that shares office space with Norquist and that he helped to found. …