The spinning of
Grover Norquist

By Frank J. Gaffney Jr.

The New Yorker, a house organ of the left, recently published a fawning – yea, fatuous – article about Grover Norquist, a prominent conservative activist who heads Americans for Tax Reform and is one of the movement’s most visible, serial bashers of its leftist partisan foes. What’s going on?

The most benign explanation is that the article is a deserved, if grudging, admission by the left of the effectiveness of the man it calls the right’s “ringleader [who] keeps the conservative movement together.” This proposition is bolstered by a comment made by the author, John Cassidy, in an online interview on the magazine’s website: “The Democrats could do with finding a left-wing version of Norquist. She or he must be out there somewhere.”

An alternative explanation for the New Yorker’s puff piece about Norquist is more sinister. In recent years, the influence he exercises within what he calls center-right circles has proven very valuable to assorted causes embraced by the left – and anathema to the majority of conservatives. In his online interview, author Cassidy also spoke of this agenda: “The Democrats need to do a better job of exploiting the divisions and potential divisions within the Republican coalition.”

And who better to help in exploiting such divisions than the right’s purported “ringleader”? For instance, Norquist champions an extreme libertarian view about illegal immigration – essentially advocating open borders without regard for the associated security, financial or social implications. He makes no secret of his contempt for conservatives like Phyllis Schlafly who rightly disagree. He told the New Yorker, “I think Phyllis’s theory is: Foreigners suck.”

Norquist is also a prominent advocate for the prohibition of the use of secret evidence, a tool U.S. law enforcement authorities have relied upon to deport dangerous aliens without compromising sensitive intelligence sources and methods. His contribution to the left’s campaign against secret evidence – which, but for 9-11 would have resulted in president Bush’s disallowing its utilization in deportation proceedings – earned Norquist an award in 2001 from one of the most radical left-wing organizations in America, the National Coalition for the Protection of Political Freedom.

Norquist has also lent conservative political cover to the left’s effort to undermine the USA Patriot Act. His advocacy and lobbying has helped fracture the movement and encouraged Republican legislators to break with President Bush on re-enacting the most important of his domestic counterterrorism initiatives.

These three agenda items not only have in common that they are at odds with the preponderance of conservative thinking and coincident with the left’s agenda. Even more troubling, they are all priorities for the Islamists who dominate the Arab-American and Muslim-American organizations that are the best organized and most vocal of such groups and that – thanks, usually, to the Saudis – have the deepest pockets.

As the Soviets used to say, “This is not an accident, comrade.” Starting in 1998, Norquist put his considerable political skills in the service of such Islamists as Abdurahman Alamoudi and Sami al-Arian. The former was then the driving force behind the American Muslim Council, or AMC. At the time, Alamoudi’s Council was arguably the pre-eminent Islamist front group in America. (As it happens, Alamoudi was also associated with a number of the two dozen or so other such organizations as well, serving on their boards of directors, as a financier or in other capacities.) The AMC’s success at dissembling its true purposes was underscored when a spokesman for FBI Director Robert Mueller described it in 2002 as the “the most mainstream Muslim group in the United States.”

Al-Arian was a professor of computer sciences at South Florida University. He was also a leader in the Islamist apparatus in America and president of the National Coalition to Protect Political Freedom. Norquist’s 2001 national service award from this group – something he subsequently said he was proud of – is all the more extraordinary in that the NCPPF has served, since its founding in the 1960s by the notorious William Kunstler, as a legal aid society for terrorists of every imaginable affiliation – from the Weather Underground to the IRA to the Shining Path to Basque and Puerto Rican separatists to Hamas and Hezbollah.

Today, both Alamoudi and al-Arian are in jail on terrorism-related charges. Alamoudi is serving a 23-year sentence, having pled guilty to conspiring with Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi to kill the then-crown prince of Saudi Arabia. Last month, the U.S. Treasury Department announced, “The September 2003 arrest of Alamoudi was a severe blow to al-Qaida, as Alamoudi had a close relationship with al-Qaida and had raised money for al-Qaida in the United States.”

For his part, al-Arian was arrested in February 2003 and is now being tried for running the murderous Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist organization from his office in Tampa. According to the Associated Press, federal prosecutors recently showed the court a 1991 video of the professor raising funds for the “active arm” of Islamic Jihad, which he was described as heading. He was shown saying, “Yes to jihad for the sake of God” and declaring that God had made Jews into “monkeys and pigs.”

Norquist has endeavored to explain away his associations with such individuals and their various Islamist organizations. (Alamoudi gave him the seed money and his AMC deputy, Khaled Saffuri, to start a new Republican-oriented influence operation called the Islamic Free Market Institute. Al-Arian collaborated with Saffuri – who with Norquist’s help was designated the Bush 2000 campaign’s “National Adviser on Arab and Muslim Affairs” – and visited the Americans for Tax Reform offices a few months before his arrest.) He maintains these ties are nothing more than his trademark political coalition-building with various constituencies. The New Yorker approvingly characterized this as simply part of “Norquist’s efforts to woo religious and ethnic groups.”

This line was certainly sufficient to cause first candidate and then President George W. Bush to embrace Islamists recommended by Norquist. Predictably, however, that embrace is now being used by Sami al-Arian’s lawyer, William Moffitt, in his client’s defense. On June 7, the New York Sun reported on Moffitt’s opening statement in the trial as follows:

Mr. al-Arian, who had previously worked primarily with Democrats, reached out to the Republicans through a prominent conservative activist in Washington, Grover Norquist. “Grover Norquist was a confidant in the Bush campaign,” the defense lawyer said. The lobbying led to Mr. Bush’s announcement, during a presidential debate [with Vice President Al Gore], that he opposed the use of secret evidence in immigration proceedings, such as one Mr. al-Arian’s brother-in-law was facing at the time, the defense attorney said.

The idea that Norquist was unaware that he was aiding and abetting Islamists became untenable after I, among others, made known to him (for example, see “Grover Norquist is no Reagan”) that his outreach effort was reaching out not to peaceable, tolerant, pro-American Muslims (which I strongly believe to be the vast majority of that community in this country), but to those who are none of the above – i.e., adherents to an Islamofascist ideology and/or their sympathizers, financiers and apologists.

Norquist’s response to such warnings was reminiscent of the company he has been keeping. As the Islamists and their friends on the radical left reflexively do, he repeatedly refused to address the substance of the complaint and instead endeavored to silence his critics on the right with unfounded ad hominem attacks (he told the New Yorker I was a “despicable racist”) and by banishing them from conservative meetings he organized.

Unfortunately, Norquist’s political-influence operations on behalf of Islamists and his smearing and blackballing of conservatives who have challenged them are but one example of his actions that are properly raising alarms in responsible conservative and official Republican circles. While Norquist frantically tried to “spin” several of these in his multi-month cultivation of the New Yorker reporter, even an untutored reader would find it hard to ignore several glaring problems:

  • To the incredulity and outrage of many of the other participants, Norquist invited George Soros – arguably the most malevolent leftist force in American politics today – to participate in his weekly so-called “Center-Right Coalition” meeting in Washington. (This was one of several such off-the-record meetings to which he also invited the New Yorker reporter.)

    According to the New Yorker’s Cassidy, Norquist explained after the meeting that he had invited Soros in the hopes that the billionaire benefactor of and its ilk would find “common ground” with (read, give money to) “some folks on the right who are serious about civil rights.” Presumably, he had in mind “folks” like him who agree with the Islamist/left agenda on such issues as illegal immigration, secret evidence and the Patriot Act.

  • Norquist has created a Media Freedom Project as a vehicle to oppose conservative efforts to counter the violence and depravity served up by television networks or, as the New Yorker admiringly puts it, to lobby “against censorship of the airwaves.” One of movement’s genuine authorities and leaders on the subject, Brent Bozell, noted correctly that “Mr. Norquist not only doesn’t speak for conservatives on this issue. He has no idea what conservatives believe.”

  • The New Yorker published troubling excerpts of e-mails involving Norquist, Jack Abramoff (a top Washington lobbyist and conservative political operative who was recently indicted on fraud charges and is reportedly the subject of other congressional and criminal investigations), Christian evangelical activist/GOP strategist Ralph Reed and several Indian tribes. The e-mails suggest that Norquist’s Americans for Tax Reform profited by effectively laundering money that Abramoff’s gambling-interested Indian clients were induced to pay the anti-gambling Reed in order to improve their competitive position. (Unmentioned in the article is the fact that afterwards, Abramoff reportedly earned still more money undoing Reed’s handiwork for the benefit of other Indian tribes.)

Despite the damning clarity of Abramoff’s messages, Cassidy uncritically reports that “Norquist claims Abramoff’s e-mails are misleading and inaccurate.” Such claims call to mind Groucho Marx’s hilarious quip: “Who are you going to believe, me or your own eyes?”

Cassidy adds: “So far, there doesn’t appear to be any evidence that Norquist has broken the law.” There is an unsettlingly tenuous quality to “so far” though, in light of a quote the reporter attributes to a “senior Democratic [congressional] staffer”: Sen. John McCain – a man Norquist has personally and repeatedly attacked in public and sabotaged politically – “could be sitting on a treasure trove of [other] e-mails that would do in Grover.”

Even if Norquist avoids the legal difficulties now looming for his close friend and long-time colleague, Jack Abramoff, it is hard to square his conduct with conservative values held dear by the movement – which raises a question that conservatives should ask about the madly spinning Grover Norquist: Should they continue to allow him to portray himself – and to encourage others to legitimate him – as their “ringleader” and uber-strategist/organizer?

This question is especially pertinent in the wake of the New Yorker article. If the left is going to such lengths to build up Norquist as the conservative kingpin, could it be with a view to inflicting maximum damage on the movement when one or the other of his evident policy, apparent ethical and potential legal problems brings him down?

Even if that is not the malign intent of those on the left who are now giving Grover Norquist such rave reviews, conservatives who have chosen to overlook – and, thereby, implicitly to endorse – his behavior stand to suffer if, or rather when, such a predictable meltdown occurs.