In 2015, when Dylann Roof gunned down nine African-Americans at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, news reports noted that he had been inspired by the Council of Conservative Citizens. Roof was especially outraged by the CCC’s claims — featured prominently on its website — that black murderers and rapists preyed on whites.
Immediately, GOP presidential candidate Ted Cruz announced that he would return $8,500 that CCC president Earl Holt had given to his campaign. Several other prominent Republicans — including White House hopefuls Rand Paul and Rick Santorum — said they would donate money received from Holt to a fund aiding the families of the victims in Charleston. “I abhor the sentiments Mr. Holt has expressed,” Santorum declared. “These statements and sentiments are unacceptable. Period. End of sentence.”
And that raises two questions. Why were these politicians taking money from a racist organization in the first place? And why won’t Mike Pompeo return the award he got from an anti-Islamic one?
I’m talking about Act for America, which claims that Muslims are plotting to impose Sharia here. It wants to ban the construction of mosques and to purge school textbooks of passages that list Islam alongside Christianity and Judaism as leading world religions. In 2007, its founder said that a Muslim who prays five times a day and follows the other teachings of the Koran “cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States.”
In 2016, Act for America presented Pompeo with its National Security Eagle Award.
Pompeo was recently nominated by President Donald Trump as our next Secretary of State, replacing the fired Rex Tillerson. Thus far, most commentary about Pompeo has focused upon his hawkish statements regarding North Korea and Iran. There’s been less discussion of his links to an anti-Islamic group, which raise more fundamental questions about his character and commitments.
Ditto for newly appointed National Security Adviser John Bolton, another foreign-policy hawk with shady domestic connections. Bolton and Pompeo have both appeared on the radio show of Frank Gaffney, who has peddled anti-Islamic conspiracy theories for many years.
On one show, Bolton told Gaffney that he thought it was fair to ask whether Huma Abedin — a close aide to Hillary Clinton — was a member of the Muslim Brotherhood. On another occasion, after Gaffney said that former President Barack Obama had an “affinity” for Islamic terrorists, Pompeo agreed. “Frank, every place you stare at the president’s policies and statements, you see what you just described.”
Of course, neither Pompeo nor Bolton has explicitly embraced anti-Islamic bigotry. They have instead given it a nudge and a wink, hinting at their approval without making it official. And that’s precisely what GOP politicians did with the Council of Conservative Citizens in the years leading up to Dylann Roof’s rampage.
The CCC has roots in the White Citizens Councils, which defended segregation during the civil rights era. It changed its name after that but continued to oppose “all efforts to mix the races,” according to its website. And it also promoted white self-defense against black criminality, the theme that apparently drew Roof’s attention.
None of that stopped prominent Republicans Haley Barbour, Mike Huckabee, and Trent Lott from giving speeches to the organization. In 1997, Lott was was photographed meeting with CCC leaders at his Washington office. When challenged about the group, Lott replied that he wasn’t aware of its views on race. Meanwhile, the CCC continued to feature Lott’s face on its website and to pass resolutions commending him.
Eventually, Lott was forced to issue a statement condemning “the white supremacist and racist views of this group, or any group.” But GOP leaders like Cruz, Rand, and Santorum continued to accept money — and political support — from the CCC right up until Roof’s 2015 attack, which finally rendered it radioactive.
We shouldn’t have to wait for another Dylann Roof before our leaders denounce anti-Muslim hate groups, which are every bit as reprehensible as anti-black ones. At Pompeo’s confirmation hearing, scheduled to begin on Thursday, senators should ask him why he accepted an award from Act for America. They should also ask him if he supports its efforts to stop the building of mosques.
Bolton doesn’t require confirmation by the Senate, but he should be asked similar questions. And if either Pompeo or Bolton refuse to disavow anti-Islamic hate groups, openly and explicitly, we should not allow them to assume their new posts.
These groups — and their bigoted sentiments — are unacceptable. So are any public officials who endorse them. Period. End of sentence.