When Donald TrumpDonald TrumpVirginia GOP gubernatorial nominee acknowledges Biden was 'legitimately' elected Biden meets with DACA recipients on immigration reform Overnight Health Care: States begin lifting mask mandates after new CDC guidance | Walmart, Trader Joe's will no longer require customers to wear masks | CDC finds Pfizer, Moderna vaccines 94 percent effective in health workers MORE issued a statement recently calling on the U.S. government to bar Muslims, including U.S. citizens, from entering the United States, the condemnation came swift, as though there was still some line of good taste or ethics Trump had only just crossed. The critics are right, of course: Trump is a narcissist, a fascist, a demagogue with a third-grade vocabulary and a three-year-old’s understanding of the constitution. Which makes him an easy scapegoat for the Islamophobia that’s migrated from the far-right fringe of the political discourse to the mainstream. But Trump is a symptom, not a cause. It’s not enough to condemn Trump when his hateful rhetoric is supported by institutionalized network of professional conspiracy theorists and discredited hacks that have been legitimized by mainstream conservatives.

There’s a direct line that can be traced from the fever dreams of the far right to Trump’s invective.


The Center for Security Policy, which Trump cites in his statement, is a font of Islamophobic paranoia. The center’s founder and president, Frank Gaffney, Jr., sees Muslim plots everywhere, from the Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonDemocrats say it's up to GOP to stop Trump 2024 Hillary Clinton to speak at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders summit More than half of eligible Latinos voted in 2020, setting record MORE aide Huma Abedin and anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist (both of whom Gaffney has accused of being agents of the Muslim Brotherhood) to the logo of the Missile Defense Agency. Along with the most vitriolic anti-Muslim advocates, the Center for Security Policy claims that Muslims are engaged in “civilization jihad,” a coordinated plot to undermine the United States through the gradual infiltration of the U.S. government and institutions and the implementation of Sharia law. The only evidence of this vast conspiracy is a single document, a memo written by a Muslim Brotherhood activist in 1991.

“The civilization jihadists do a better job of blending in and are subverting our culture from within,” a recent Center for Security Policy report states. “They are part of the same enemy [as the Islamic State and other terrorist groups] and even more insidious as they do not proclaim their goals openly.” The report calls on the United States to issue “a Declaration of War” against what it terms the “Global Jihad Movement,” and suggests that the government target Muslims – implicitly including U.S. citizens – with “intelligence operations,” “diplomatic initiatives,” “economic policy,” and “lawfare.” Other proponents of this far-right fringe have proposed stripping Muslim-Americans of their constitutional rights. As documented in the Center for American Progress’ reports on the Islamophobia network in America, a number of these propagandists have asserted that Islam is not a religion, but a “political ideology” and “therefore not protected by the First Amendment.”

The Gatestone Institute – “an international policy council and think tank” with Ambassador John Bolton as its chairman – has been direct in its fear-mongering about “civilization jihad.” Gatestone has repeatedly warned of the influx of refugees in Europe, calling it a “Muslim invasion” of “illegal migrants” that will increase crime, bankrupt governments by exhausting social welfare programs, and undermine European culture. “A project to overwhelm Europe by a huge wave of migration was already described by the Islamic State,” Gatestone’s Guy Millière wrote in October. “It is hard to rule out that the Islamic State plays a role in what is happening.” Another Gatestone report claims that the recent “surge in Germany’s Muslim population represents a demographic shift of epic proportions, one that will change the face of Germany forever.”

This claim, that Muslims are migrating to Europe to reshape Western culture, has been picked up by even the most mainstream conservative publications. When Rep. Steve King (R-Iowa) claimed in a House Judiciary Committee hearing last month that resettling Syrian refugees was “slow-motion cultural suicide in America; slow-motion, a generation behind Europe,” he was building on articles published in National Review and Fox News. The Washington Times called the desperate refugees fleeing the Syrian civil war an “Islamic Trojan Horse” conducting a “‘jihad’ by another name.” The supposed intellectuals at the Weekly Standard have also taken the far-right fringe’s bait.

So it seems a bit disingenuous when Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol and Gatestone chairman John Bolton bemoan Trump’s latest stunt. Just in August, Trump cited Bolton as one of his “go-to” foreign policy experts. Kristol and Bolton, luminaries of conservative foreign policy, have cultivated these fringe narratives and introduced the most palatable strains into the political discourse -- and are now shocked, shocked, to find the frontrunner in their political party espousing virulently anti-Muslim views.

There should be enough indignation for not only Trump’s comments, but those of the rivals he’s drowning out right now. While the other GOP contenders have distanced themselves from Trump’s proposal, within the past three weeks they’ve compared Syrians to “rabid dogs” and E. coli tainted meat, suggested discriminatory religious tests for refugees, and proposed “closing down any place, whether it’s a cafe, a diner, an internet site, any place where radicals are being inspired.”

Islamophobia isn’t a new phenomenon in conservative politics and the Republican Party has weathered bouts of extreme bigotry before. Reps. Michele BachmannMichele Marie BachmannBoehner says he voted for Trump, didn't push back on election claims because he's retired Boehner: Trump 'stepped all over their loyalty' by lying to followers Boehner finally calls it as he sees it MORE (R-Minn.) and Allen West (R-Fla.) aren’t in office anymore, and Grover Norquist still figures prominently in conservative circles despite Gaffney’s fixation. Recent history shows they can do better: President George W. Bush went to great pains to stress that the United States was at war with terrorism, not Islam, and when Mitt Romney’s rivals questioned the loyalties of Muslim-Americans in 2012, he dismissed such accusations out of hand. But three years later, the adults seem to have left the room. All that’s left are schoolyard bullies.

Stuster is a policy analyst at the National Security Network and co-author of the report “Mainstreaming Hate: The Far-Right Fringe Origins of Islamophobic and Anti-Refugee Politics