Graham’s Muslim Brotherhood Conspiracy Theory Not New

At Mother Jones, David Corn writes that Franklin Graham’s conspiracy theory that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the U.S. government is “new.” It’s not new — Graham certainly didn’t invent it — and that’s important not just because what Corn writes isn’t accurate. It’s essential to understand the interaction between evangelical powerbrokers, who were once thought to direct the conversation, and the right-wing echo chamber in which evangelicals are now often the echoers, rather than the directors.

Corn:

In an interview last week with Newsmax.com, a conservative website (that pushes the Obama-was-born-in-Kenya conspiracy theory), Franklin Graham, an evangelist like his father, Billy Graham, claimed that the fundamentalist Islamic political group has burrowed into the Obama administration and is shaping US foreign policy. Sounding a bit like Glenn Beck, Graham explained:

The Muslim Brotherhood is very strong and active in our country. It’s infiltrated every level of our government. Right now we have many of these people that are advising the US military and State Department on how to respond in the Middle East, and it’s like asking a fox, like a farmer asking a fox, “How do I protect my henhouse from foxes?” We’ve brought in Muslims to tell us how to make policy toward Muslim countries. And many of these people we’ve brought in, I’m afraid, are under the Muslim Brotherhood.

Graham was sounding a lot like Beck and other right-wing talking heads because they have already put forth that very conspiracy theory, and repeated it at virtually every opportunity. As I reported last year, when Fox News and the American Center for Law and Justice were claiming that the Congressional Muslim Staff Association was infiltrated by terrorists, American Conservative Union board member Suhail Khan (who has long been the target of right-wing conspiracy theories about the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrating not just the government, but the conservative movement), told me:

“since 9/11 there have been a couple of individuals that have been spending a lot of money to cull through tapes and videos of conferences and TV programs and the Internet to look for information that is critical of Muslims and Muslim-Americans getting involved in public policy. They compile that into a guilt-by-association Powerpoint and then shop it to reporters.” These individuals include, said Khan, Frank Gaffney, who issues baseless warnings to members of Congress about “creeping shari’ah;” Paul Sperry, co-author of the book Muslim Mafia, which claimed that the Council on American Islamic Relations had infiltrated Capitol Hill by placing interns as spies; Kenneth Timmerman, a conservative writer and activist;  Pamela Geller, the blogger who spurred much of the anti-Park51 fervor; and Robert Spencer, who runs the website Jihad Watch; and Steve Emerson, whose profits from a cottage industry of peddling fear of Islam were exposed last month by the Tennessean’s religion reporter Bob Smietana.

Indeed, during the controversy over the Park51 community center last summer, Gaffney appeared on Beck’s radio program and called “Muslim Brotherhood front groups” Obama’s “go-to people.” After the Egypt uprisings, these conspiracy theories quickly morphed into claims that Obama — long portrayed as the Manchurian Muslim candidate — was in league with the Muslim Brotherhood as the puppeteer of the rebellion there.

As I reported in January, four days into the Egyptian uprising, WorldNetDaily’s Aaron Klein was claiming that Nobel Laureate and pro-democracy dissident Mohamed ElBaradei “is an ally of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Obama administration has been working with him to coordinate the protests in Egypt.” (emphasis added). In my long piece about the shari’ah conspiracy theory industry earlier this month, I noted:

ACT!, along with several conservative websites, has promoted the conspiracy theory that Obama has “quietly” appointed people with Brotherhood ties to top positions in his administration in order to orchestrate uprisings in the Muslim world. According to this theory, American leftists are in cahoots with the Brotherhood through a “consortium of left-wing organizations, Islamic groups, labor unions, and Obama-friendly corporations which would organize and fund a ‘youth movement’ in certain areas around the Middle East which would then take to the streets in protest against current governments.”

In fact, the conspiracy theory actually dates back to the 2008 election, when “ex-terrorist” Walid Shoebat claimed on G. Gordon Liddy’s radio show that the Muslim Brotherhood supported then-candidate Obama, who Shoebat claimed was Muslim.

As I explain in more detail in the shari’ah conspiracy piece, the right’s flimsy Muslim Brotherhood theory — that virtually all American Muslim organizations are Brotherhood front groups — dates back to the 2007 Holy Land Foundation trial. Obama’s campaign, and the false claim that he is a Muslim, fueled the further conspiracy that he was “in league” with the Brotherhood and these supposed Brotherhood fronts. From that piece:

It’s surely no accident, then, that President Obama (depicted on the right as a crypto-socialist and crypto-Muslim) is seen as being in league with this imaginary threat. At the Capitol Visitors Center event, David Yerushalmi, general counsel for the CSP—who has called for banning Muslims from America and written that whites are genetically superior to blacks—portrayed President Obama as an emissary to this world of secret codes and seditious intent, and his much-lauded religious freedom speech in Cairo as evidence of that. . . .

[National Review contributor Andrew] McCarthy, author of the books The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America and How Obama Embraces Islam’s Sharia Agenda, links both President Obama and the American left to this supposed plot, claiming that they share collectivist goals. He told Andrew Breitbart’s Big Journalism in 2010 that “Islamists” and “leftists” share totalitarian goals, “totalitarian in the sense that they want to control every aspect of the individual’s life, and [are] virulently opposed to capitalism and individual liberty,” adding that “even though they [Obama and Saudi King Abdullah] part company on the details of what they would transform it into, they both need to topple American constitutional republicanism in order to install their utopias.” . . . .

McCarthy, who endeavors to portray every relationship as insidious, referred to ISNA as “the most important Islamist organization in the United States” at CPAC, adding: “in 2009, ISNA had its annual convention. Do you know who the keynote speaker was? [White House advisor] Valerie Jarrett.” The crowd sniggered knowingly.

Corn correctly points out that Graham has a history of anti-Muslim rhetoric. That’s precisely what makes him a willing repository of the conspiracy theories propagated by a host of right wing media, think tanks, and other propaganda outfits that seek not only to demean Islam, demonize (and in some cases, criminalize) its adherents. He brings the prejudice; they provide the fuel for him to pretend his prejudice protects America from enemies. But Graham didn’t invent this — his comments only provide religious cover for the paranoid rantings of those pseudo-experts on Islam.

Sarah Posner, author of God’s Profits: Faith, Fraud, and the Republican Crusade for Values Voters, covers politics and religion. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Atlantic, The American ProspectThe NationSalon, and other publications. Follow her on TwitterRSS feed Email