Retired Lt. Gen. Jerry Boykin, a former Army officer who now spends his time spreading Islamophobic propaganda and anti-government conspiracy theories, canceled his plans to speak at West Point last night after a veterans’ group expressed concern about his views. People For has been following Boykin’s career since his retirement from the military, and has caught him on tape expressing some of his most outrageous views, including that Islam “should not be protected under the First Amendment,” that there should be “no mosques in America,” and that President Obama is using his health care reform legislation to create a Hitler-style brownshirt army.
Boykin got into hot water about his scheduled West Point appearance shortly after provoking controversy in Maryland over his appearance at the Ocean City Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast. People For brought Boykin’s history of bigotry to the attention of Ocean City officials and called on them to disinvite Boykin. They didn’t, but the media attention on Boykin's appearance made for an uncomfortable situation for its organizers, and shed light on Boykin’s undeniable extremism.
Using People For’s research and building off the Ocean City controversy, last week the veterans’ group VoteVets called on West Point to revoke its invitation to Boykin, saying “his views are inconsistent with the values of the Army as an institution.VoteVets’ request was quickly joined by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation and dozens of West Point cadets, faculty and alumni.
The New York Times interviewed some of those who were concerned about Boykin’s speech, including a cadet concerned about the message the invitation would send to Muslim cadets, and People For senior fellow Peter Montgomery, who attended the Boykin event in Ocean City:
A fourth-year cadet at West Point, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he feared reprisals for breaking military discipline, said in a telephone interview before the cancellation was announced that “people are definitely talking about it here.”
“They’re inviting someone who’s openly criticizing a religion that is practiced on campus,” he said. “I know Muslim cadets here, and they are great, outstanding citizens, and this ex-general is saying they shouldn’t enjoy the same rights.”
The cadet asked, “Are we supposed to take leadership qualities and experience from this guy, to follow in his footsteps?”
A similar controversy erupted last week, in the days before General Boykin spoke at the mayor’s annual prayer breakfast in Ocean City, Md. The general made no inflammatory statements about Islam, instead describing how prayer had helped him through dangerous military operations.
But Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at People for the American Way, a liberal advocacy group, said the West Point invitation was a mistake. West Point, Mr. Montgomery said, would have given “a platform to someone who is publicly identified with offensive comments about Muslims and about the commander in chief.”
The Baltimore Sun is insisting that the mayor and city councilmen of Ocean City, Maryland end their silence about Jerry Boykin, the keynote speaker at tomorrow’s Mayor’s Prayer Breakfast, whose radical anti-Muslim views have led to an outpouring of protests. As we’ve documented on Right Wing Watch, Boykin has a long history of bigoted and preposterous rhetoric, including accusing President Obama of trying to create a personal “Brownshirt” army, calling on mosques to be banned in the US and demanding that Muslims lose their First Amendment rights. However, the mayor’s office denied that Boykin has said anything controversial “in recent appearances.”
The Sun’s editorial demands the mayor state publicly what he thinks about Boykin’s “repugnant” claims and “paranoid worldview” by “stating that religious bigotry has no place in a family resort town whose economy depends on making people of all races, religions and creeds feel welcome.” “They need to make clear whether they agree with Mr. Boykin’s views,” the Sun writes, “they need to do it immediately and they need to do it publicly”:
For 20 years, the annual Mayor's Prayer Breakfast in Ocean City has been a generally quiet affair. But this year the event's sponsors invited as guest speaker a former high-ranking Pentagon official notorious for his characterization of Muslims as godless idol-worshipers and terrorist fanatics. Ocean City's mayor and council members received hundreds of emails urging them to shun the event, scheduled for this morning, rather than appear to endorse such views. But they need to go further, by clearly stating that religious bigotry has no place in a family resort town whose economy depends on making people of all races, religions and creeds feel welcome.
Army Lt. Gen. William "Jerry" Boykin, who retired in 2007 to become a speaker on the evangelical Christian lecture circuit, is certainly no stranger to controversy. In 2003 he was reprimanded by President George W. Bush for violating numerous Army regulations after he described a 1993 battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia by saying, "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." As president, Mr. Bush had taken great pains to emphasize that the U.S. was at war not with Islam, but with terrorists who had perverted its tenets. General Boykin's comment played right into the hands of enemy propagandists eager to paint America's war against terror as a war against Muslims.
General Boykin extremist views also got him into trouble when the Army discovered he was giving unauthorized speeches at evangelical church functions while serving as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and war-fighting. Yet that didn't stop him from later suggesting that Muslims didn't deserve protection under the First Amendment's freedom of religion clause because "those following the dictates of the Koran have an obligation to destroy our constitution and replace it with Sharia law." He once even accused President Obama of setting up a "Hitler-style" militia to force socialism on America, whatever that means.
It should have been obvious to the organizers of the prayer breakfast that Mr. Boykin's appearance in Ocean City would be source of contention. Though the event has no official connection to the town and the mayor's presence there is purely ceremonial, it cannot have escaped the event's sponsors that the mere fact they had invited such a controversial figure would reflect poorly on the town. That's not only because Mr. Boykin's views are repugnant but because his high-profile presence among Ocean City's officials virtually guaranteed they would be called on to repudiate his ideas, lest they give the impression they agree with his paranoid world-view.
Make no mistake: This is not an issue of freedom of speech or of any of the constitution's protections for religious expression that Mr. Boykin seems so eager to deny to those who don't share his own Christian faith. Mr. Boykin has every right to say whatever outrageously offensive and hateful things about Muslims pop into his head, and the private organizers of an Ocean City prayer breakfast have the right to invite him to speak. Likewise, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan and the town council can attend the breakfast if they so choose. What they cannot do, however, is pretend that their presence there won't reflect badly on them and the resort town they lead. They need to make clear whether they agree with Mr. Boykin's views, they need to do it immediately and they need to do it publicly.
With Jerry Boykin set to keynote the Mayor’s Prayer breakfast in Ocean City, Maryland on Thursday, pressure is increasing on city officials to drop the controversial speaker. Boykin routinely spouts extremist views, including calling for the U.S. to ban mosques and strip Muslims of their First Amendment rights. People For the American Way sent a letter to members of the city council and mayor Rick Meehan asking them to rescind Boykin’s invitation, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Auburn Theological Seminary, the Unitarian Universalist Association’s Standing on the Side of Love campaign and Faith in Public Life have also raised questions about Boykin’s appearance.
The mayor has so far stood by Boykin, absurdly claiming that “Boykin has not said anything controversial in his recent public appearances.” Boykin, however, recently maintained that the Council of Foreign Relations and George Soros are creating a global Marxist government. He has also claimed that President Obama is using the health care reform law to build a Marxist dictatorship with a personal “Brownshirt” army. Boykin himself bragged, “I am intolerant,” and demanded Christians “go on the offensive” against Islam.
ABC Baltimore covered the controversy surrounding Boykin last night, including Boykin’s record of religious bigotry:
The Baltimore Sun also looked into Boykin’s appearance, noting that he was reprimanded during the Bush administration for making speeches in uniform in which he claimed that the U.S. military is involved in a religious war against Islam:
Michael Keegan, president of People for the American Way, said his group wants the mayor to refuse to attend to the event, or to force the organizer to revoke Boykin's invitation. More than 700 people have emailed Meehan and town officials since Monday through a tool on its website to protest the gathering, according to the group, which says its mission is to advocate for equality, free speech and freedom of religion.
"Ocean City works hard to maintain its reputation as a family-friendly destination open to all-comers," Keegan said in a statement. "An official endorsement of Jerry Boykin would send the wrong message about what the city stands for."
Boykin did not respond to requests for an interview. He travels the country for speaking engagements and was near Charleston, S.C., earlier this month to introduce GOP presidential contender Rick Santorum aboard the U.S.S. Yorktown.
Boykin was rebuked by President George W. Bush in 2003 after Boykin publicly described a U.S. Army battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia in 1993, saying: "I knew my God was bigger than his. I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol." He also gave unauthorized speeches at evangelical church functions while serving as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence and war-fighting. The Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations has said Boykin has a "long, shameful history of extreme and bigoted views."
Meehan did not respond to a request for an interview. Spokeswoman Abbott said the mayor was tied up in budget meetings Tuesday.
Meehan is hopeful that Boykin's remarks will be respectful, Abbott said.
"We have been assured that remarks made will not be divisive or inflammatory remarks," she said. "He wants to allow the speaker to have his say, and we have been given no indication that the topic will be anything but inspirational."
The breakfast's organizer, Bruce Spangler, did not return a call for comment. Spangler, however, told The Dispatch newspaper in Ocean City earlier this month that he was excited about Boykin's appearance, calling Boykin an expert on Islamic history and saying his "testimony" would be too exciting to miss.
"This country was founded on biblical values, and we are getting away from that," Spangler told The Dispatch.
In Mother Jones, Stephan Salisbury argues that anti-Muslim race-baiting – popular among the Tea Party Right in 2010 – isn’t actually an effective tactic for winning elections. He looks at some of the most prominent congressional and gubernatorial candidates to hop on the anti-“Ground Zero Mosque” bandwagon and finds that most of them didn’t score enough political points to actually win their elections.
While prominent Muslim-bashers like Rep. Renee Ellmers and Rep. Allen West won seats in Congress, Salisbury points out, many others – including New York gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, Tennessee’s Ron Ramsey and Lou Ann Zelinick and Nevada’s Sharron Angle – couldn’t scare up enough Islamophobia to catapult them into elected office.
Of course, it’s encouraging that anti-Muslim scare tactics aren’t powerful enough to win general elections, or even Republican primaries, on their own. But looked at another way, Salisbury’s data is incredibly depressing. The kind of Islamophobic fear-mongering that was so pervasive in the 2010 elections is a variety of ugliness that had, until very recently, existed on the fringiest fringe of the Right. But, in 2010 that ugliness spread from fringe crusaders like Pamela Geller to long-shot Tea Party candidates looking to make a name for themselves to prominent figures on the American Right. The fight over the so-called “Ground Zero Mosque” brought dangerous anti-Muslim rhetoric into the mainstream – and many of those who repeated it were considered not fringe characters but serious contenders for office.
These outspoken anti-Muslim congressional and gubernatorial candidates, even the unsuccessful ones, helped create the echo chamber that made baseless Islamophobia the standard in Republican politics and the right-wing media.
Yes, it’s good news that the base that’s motivated by Islamophobic attacks is relatively small. But it’s stunning that those attacks are accepted in mainstream political discourse at all.
Last September, in the heat of the mis-named “Ground Zero Mosque” controversy and the hubbub over Terry Jones’ first, aborted, Koran-building spectacle, People For’s Michael Keegan warned of the “careful mainstreaming of Islamophobia” in American life:
Some anti-Park51 crusaders, even Sarah Palin, denounced Jones' dangerous publicity stunt. But the fact is that his actions would attract little attention, and do little harm, if they weren't taking place in the context of widespread and loud Islamophobia encouraged and implicitly condoned by prominent political leaders. Leaders such as Palin could pretend to be tolerant by denouncing Jones' clear extremism, while all the while continuing to push subtler, more pervasive strains of Islamophobia. The suggestion, made by Palin, John Boehner, and by Jones himself that the Koran-burning event and the building of the Islamic Community Center had some moral equivalence is treacherous indeed, implying that somehow the practice of Islam is itself an offensive act. It's this sort of insidious notion -- passed off as a legitimate argument -- that creates the growing level of distrust of Muslims in our society.
The outcry against the Park51 Islamic community center in lower Manhattan set the tone for what has become virulent and widespread anti-Islam sentiment among many leaders on the Right, which has led to an increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes. In March, the Southern Poverty Law Center reported that one-fifth of all anti-Muslim hate crimes since Sept. 11, 2001 had occurred in the ten months since the Park51 controversy had erupted.
The mainstreaming of anti-Muslim rhetoric has also contributed to a rash of attacks on American mosques. The ACLU is now compiling data on mosque attacks in an interactive map – they have so far chronicled incidents in 21 states:
The Washington Post today reports on the work some Japanese American groups are doing to support American Muslims, who are increasingly the objects of widespread fear and suspicion because of their faith. These groups see echoes of the persecution Japanese Americans faced during World War II in the scapegoating and vilification of American Muslims, exemplified by the congressional hearings Rep. Peter King is beginning this week:
Spurred by memories of the World War II-era roundup and internment of 110,000 of their own people, Japanese Americans - especially those on the West Coast - have been among the most vocal and passionate supporters of embattled Muslims. They've rallied public support against hate crimes at mosques, signed on to legal briefs opposing the government's indefinite detention of Muslims, organized cross-cultural trips to the Manzanar internment camp memorial near the Sierra Nevada mountains in California, and held "Bridging Communities" workshops in Islamic schools and on college campuses.
Last week, Rep. Michael M. Honda (D-Calif.), who as a child spent several wartime years living behind barbed wire at Camp Amache in southeastern Colorado, denounced King's hearings as "something similarly sinister."
"Rep. King's intent seems clear: To cast suspicion upon all Muslim Americans and to stoke the fires of anti-Muslim prejudice and Islamophobia," Honda wrote in an op-ed published by the San Francisco Chronicle.
Last November, in the heat of the debate over the Park51 Islamic community center in lower Manhattan (aka the “Ground Zero Mosque”), former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens spoke [pdf] about the parallel between the prejudice Japanese Americans faced during World War II the demonization that American Muslims are facing today. Stevens, a WWII veteran, recalled a visit to Pearl Harbor in 1994, when he spotted a group of Japanese tourists and had to fight his first reaction, which was that “those people really don’t belong here”:
But then, after a period of reflection, some of those New Yorkers may have had second thoughts, just as I did at the Arizona. The Japanese tourists were not responsible for what some of their countrymen did decades ago; the Muslims planning to build the mosque are not responsible for what an entirely different group of Muslims did on 9/11. Indeed, terrorists like those who killed over 3, 000 Americans -including Catholics , Jews , Protestants, atheists and some of the 600 ,000 Muslims who live in New York -have also killed many more Muslims who disagree with their radical views in other parts of the world. Many of the Muslims who pray in New York mosques may well have come to America to escape the intolerance of radicals like those who dominate the Taliban. Descendants of pilgrims who came to America in the 17th century to escape religious persecutions -as well as those who thereafter joined the American political experiment that those people of faith helped launch -should understand why American Muslims should enjoy the freedom to build their places of worship wherever permitted by local zoning laws.
Our Constitution protects everyone of us from being found guilty of wrongdoing based on the conduct of our associates. Guilt by association is unfair. The monument teaches us that it is also profoundly unwise to draw inferences based on a person's membership in any association or group without first learning something about the group. Its message is a powerful reminder of the fact that ignorance -that is to say, fear of the unknown -is the source of most invidious prejudice.
Speaking of officially-sanctioned Islamophobia, GOP Rep. Peter King is having a hard time finding Muslim Americans, or any experts at all, to testify in his planned hearings about the “radicalization” of American Muslims. According to the American Prospect’s Adam Serwer, the one witness that King has managed to nail down for the hearings—which are scheduled to start next week—is a man on the advisory board of a group that seeks to “educate” law enforcement officers in the field of stereotyping Muslims. Beyond that, King hasn’t had much luck finding Muslim Americans to jump on his anti-Islam bandwagon:
Now, King has already removed two witnesses from his hearings for being controversial. The first, AEI Scholar Ayaan Hirsi Ali, has suggested amending the U.S. Constitution to give fewer rights to Muslims. The other, Walid Phares, (who is also on the Clarion Fund advisory board) is a Lebanese Christian who was removed after CAIR accused him of ties to Christian militias implicated in civilian massacres in Lebanon.
These witnesses may have been "controversial," but I suspect part of the reason they were removed is that King may have not realized when he chose them that neither of them identify as Muslims. After the Investigative Project's Steve Emerson wrote King an angry letter saying he felt rejected by King's decision not to call him as a witness, King emphasized that "the lead witnesses would be Muslims who believe their community is being radicalized." Hirsi Ali was raised a Muslim but is an atheist, and Phares is a Christian.
As it stands, King has one witness, tied to the industry of Islamophobic distortion that is undermining the war of ideas against al-Qaeda by relaying misinformation to law enforcement. There just isn't a very deep bench of Muslims willing to testify before Congress that most Muslims are enemies of the state.
As PFAW’s Michael Keegan wrote last month, the problem with King’s proposed hearings is that they seem to be aimed not at dealing with the facts about domestic terrorism, but at further exploring falsehoods and misinformation that have lead to widespread resentment of American Muslims:
Rep. King, in his highly public hearings, intends to explore the "radicalization" of American Muslims and what he sees as a lack of cooperation between Muslim communities and law enforcement. Before he starts, King should look at what the experts say. The nation's top law enforcement official, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, recently said that "the cooperation of Muslim and Arab-American communities has been absolutely essential in identifying, and preventing, terrorist threats."
The actions of a handful of violent extremists don't represent the beliefs of an entire faith community. In fact, National Counterterrorism Center Director Michael Leiter, in earlier testimony before Rep. King and the Homeland Security Committee, said that the prevalence of violent extremists in American Muslim communities was "tiny…a minute percentage of the [U.S. Muslim] population."
Local law enforcement officials agree. This month, Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, who oversees one of the largest law enforcement operations in the country, in one of the nation's largest American Muslim population centers, said he hadn't seen any evidence of the lack of cooperation that King claims exists: "Muslim Americans in the county of Los Angeles have been overwhelmingly astounded by terrorist attacks--like everyone else--and overwhelmingly concerned about a non-repeat performance of that kind, and are willing to get involved and help."
It’s no wonder that King has been forced to rely on extremists, not experts, to argue his case.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has released a disturbing video of about one hundred anti-Islamic protesters heckling attendees a fundraiser for a Muslim charity last month. The protestors, some with bullhorns, shout at attendees to “go back home,” “no Sharia law,” and “one nation under God, not Allah.” The hecklers were part of a larger group gathered to protest the event, which was treated to speeches by several local Republican elected officials, including U.S. Reps. Gary Miller and Ed Royce. Royce told the crowd that multiculturalism has “paralyzed too many of our fellow citizens”:
The Orange County Register spoke with the organizers of the event, the Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA:
ICNA spokesman Syed Waqas said the protesters "should know the facts. We have no links to any overseas organization. We absolutely denounce violence and terrorism."
He said the group started in Southern California about eight months ago and is trying to raise $350,000 to start social programs such as women's shelters, fighting hunger and homelessness in the area.
Among the activists who worked to spread the word of the protests was Pamela Geller, the anti-Islam activist who was largely responsible for turning a proposed Islamic community center in lower Manhattan into the nationally controversial “Ground Zero Mosque.” Geller has become a leader in the effort to conflate all practicing Muslims with a tiny splinter of extremists—an effort that has born fruit in ludicrous state-level “Sharia law bans” and even in congressional hearings aimed at pinning all Muslims for the actions of a few. (For more on the congressional hearings, read Michael Keegan’s recent op-ed on the “new McCarthysim”).
While some protesters said they objected to previous remarks made by some of the speakers at the fundraiser, the protests instead consisted of hurling blanket anti-Muslim slurs at the people in attendance.
Islamophobia often comes out in subtle ways in mainstream political discourse—take, for instance, Mike Huckabee telling the virulently anti-Islam Bryan Fischer that President Obama’s childhood hears in Indonesia made him fundamentally different from Americans who grew up with “Rotary clubs, not madrassas,” or the opposition of many elected officials to the Geller-branded “Ground Zero Mosque.” These elected officials aren’t out on the streets heckling Muslims—but by condoning Islamophobia, however subtly, they’re helping this kind of outright racism to take hold.
At his news conference today, President Obama was asked “to weigh in on the wisdom of building a mosque a couple of blocks from Ground Zero.” His answer was straightforward and reasoned…and it’s how every political leader should be responding to the overblown, opportunistic ‘Ground Zero mosque’ controversy:
With respect to the mosque in New York, I think I’ve been pretty clear on my position here, and that is, is that this country stands for the proposition that all men and women are created equal; that they have certain inalienable rights — one of those inalienable rights is to practice their religion freely. And what that means is that if you could build a church on a site, you could build a synagogue on a site, if you could build a Hindu temple on a site, then you should be able to build a mosque on the site.
Now, I recognize the extraordinary sensitivities around 9/11. I’ve met with families of 9/11 victims in the past. I can only imagine the continuing pain and anguish and sense of loss that they may go through. And tomorrow we as Americans are going to be joining them in prayer and remembrance. But I go back to what I said earlier: We are not at war against Islam. We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts.
The other reason it’s important for us to remember that is because we’ve got millions of Muslim Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country. They’re going to school with our kids. They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re our coworkers. And when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?
I’ve got Muslims who are fighting in Afghanistan in the uniform of the United States armed services. They’re out there putting their lives on the line for us. And we’ve got to make sure that we are crystal-clear for our sakes and their sakes they are Americans and we honor their service. And part of honoring their service is making sure that they understand that we don’t differentiate between them and us. It’s just us.
And that is a principle that I think is going to be very important for us to sustain. And I think tomorrow is an excellent time for us to reflect on that.
Unfortunately, very few national leaders have had the guts or common sense to say something as simple as, “We are not at war with Islam.”
In the Huffington Post today, People For’s President, Michael Keegan, writes about the destructive consequences of the Right’s persistent and subtle campaign against Islam in America. “The campaign against the Park51 community center,” he writes, “has succeeded in taking strains of extremist Islamophobia and making them mainstream.”
Update: Here's the video of the President's remarks, via PolitiClearNews
In his post, "A clash of civilizations revealed in Newsweek poll," Paul Rosenberg notes:
The notion that Obama "favors the interests of Muslim Americans" is frankly ludicrous. But, then, so was the notion that blacks had too much influence in 1964. Yet, as I noted in a recent diary, that's exactly what a substantial number of people believed, particularly those who were more conservative:
And here are two from Talking Points Memo:
Here are the RESULTS of all the divisive, fear-mongering rhetoric: