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WASHINGTON -- When billionaire eccentric and Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump called for banning all Muslims from entering the United States of America, he used what appeared to be data backing up the fears his policy was designed to alleviate.
In his announcement, Trump pointed to a Center for Security Policy poll finding that 25 percent of Muslims “agreed that violence against Americans here in the United States is justified as a part of the global jihad” and 51 percent “agreed that Muslims in America should have the choice of being governed according to Sharia.” The findings of this opt-in online poll, however, had already been widely discredited.
The Center for Security Policy, headed by the neoconservative Reagan-era Department of Defense official Frank Gaffney, is a node in a broad network of groups ginning up Islamophobia with conspiracy theories of a takeover of the federal government by the Muslim Brotherhood and the imposition of Sharia law across the United States. Gaffney had also called for a total ban on Muslim entry into the United States prior to Trump’s endorsement of the policy.
By citing the bogus data from Gaffney’s group, Trump helped shine a light on how the broader Islamophobic network works. Bogus statistics and trumped-up conspiracy theories are touted by mainstream figures to increase alarm and fear about Muslims.201
Polls show Islamophobia to be a widely held position among Trump’s voters, and an examination of the funding behind groups stoking the fear shows that a portion of the Republican Party donor class agrees. Donors to the network include mainstream Republican Party donors, major conservative nonprofit trusts and nonprofit donor-advised funds that help conservative donors obscure their contributions to other groups.
Two reports from the liberal Center for American Progress, one released in 2011 and an update in 2015, titled "Fear, Inc.," explained how these groups have operated and exposed their largest donors. The network of groups the report said were involved in the Islamophobia industry included the Center for Security Policy, the Clarion Fund, Middle East Forum, Jihad Watch, the David Horowitz Freedom Center and a handful of others.
Before his death in 2014, Republican mega-donor Richard Mellon Scaife was one of the biggest donors to the network through donations from his charitable foundations. According to CAP’s reports, the Sarah Scaife Foundation, Carthage Foundation and Allegheny Foundation combined to donate nearly $10.5 million to Islamophobic groups from 2001 to 2012, including $3.4 million to the Center for Security Policy. Scaife, the founding funder of the modern American right, also contributed $500,000 to 2012 Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s super PAC in 2012.
The Lynde & Harry Bradley Foundation is another huge source of money for the Islamophobia network, with $6.5 million in donations from 2001-2012. The foundation, like the Scaife foundations, is a bedrock funder of right-wing causes and the conservative movement. The group’s board includes Washington Post columnist George Will and North Carolina mega-donor Art Pope. It has supplied more than $1 million to the Center for Security Policy.
The largest donors to Islamophobic groups are the related nonprofit donor-advised funds Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust. Donors Capital Fund and Donors Trust allow conservatives looking to contribute to their favored causes to put money in a fund and then direct that money at their own discretion. This structure promises that the donor’s contributions will only ever show up on tax forms as coming from Donors Capital Fund or Donors Trust.
More than $27 million in money held in the two funds has gone to Islamophobic groups from 2001-2012, according to CAP’s reports. The largest donation made was a $17 million contribution from a single anonymous donor to the Clarion Fund to pay for the distribution of the the anti-Muslim film "Obsession: Radical Islam’s War Against The West" in 2008. Gaffney sits on the board of The Clarion Fund.
It's not clear who is behind that $17 million contribution, but it could be casino billionaire and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson. The New York Times reported in 2012 that Adelson was involved in financing the distribution of "Obsession" as a newspaper insert during the 2008 elections. Adelson also reportedly hands out copies of the movie to participants in Taglit Birthright, a program he funds sending American Jews on an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel.
In the 2012 election, Adelson and his family contributed more than $100 million to super PACs supporting Republicans. Most Republican candidates have made a pilgrimage to his Vegas hotel to meet with him. Rubio is said to have courted him through weekly phone calls. And every Republican presidential candidate, save Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), attended a Washington, D.C., event hosted by Adelson’s Republican Jewish Coalition on Dec. 3. The next Republican presidential debate is slated to be held at Adelson’s Venetian hotel and casino in Vegas.