The White House has appointed a longtime senior staffer at an anti-Muslim think tank who has been named by National Security Adviser John Bolton as his new chief of staff. Fred Fleitz formerly served as Bolton’s undersecretary of state in the George W. Bush administration. He now joins the Trump administration from the Center for Security Policy, a think tank founded by former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney. The Southern Poverty Law Center designated the organization an anti-Muslim extremist group. We speak with Eric Levitz, associate editor for New York Magazine’s “Daily Intelligencer,” whose recent piece is headlined “Bolton Installs Anti-Muslim Wingnut as NSC Chief of Staff.”
NERMEEN SHAIKH: We turn now to the longtime senior staffer at an anti-Muslim think tank who has been named by National Security Adviser John Bolton as his new chief of staff. Fred Fleitz formerly served as Bolton’s undersecretary of state in the George W. Bush administration. He now joins the Trump administration from the Center for Security Policy, a think tank founded by former Reagan administration official Frank Gaffney. The Southern Poverty Law Center designated the organization an anti-Muslim extremist group, saying its main focus is, quote, “demonizing Islam and Muslims under the guise of national security. Statements from Frank Gaffney and other CSP staffers, along with claims made in CSP publications, have become increasingly conspiratorial in nature, making such claims as Muslims are attempting to overthrow the US government from within, and that Shariah law is trumping the constitution in American courts.”
After last year’s London Bridge terror attack that killed eight people, Fleitz said the failure of British Muslims to assimilate was partially to blame for Islamic radicalism. In an interview on Breitbart News Daily, Fleitz was asked about other religious communities in the United States who have also not assimilated.
FRED FLEITZ: It’s certainly true there are some communities in the United States have not assimilated. I’m not concerned about Amish or Jewish communities. But I will tell you that there are enclaves of Muslim communities in Michigan and Minnesota that concern me. We know that in Minnesota there’s a rising rate of measles because the community has not assimilated into the rest of the community and is not vaccinating their children. This is wrong. This is a big problem. The problem with these Muslim communities is that it is making us susceptible to this radical worldview that wants to destroy modern society, create a global caliphate and impose Sharia law on everyone on Earth.
AMY GOODMAN: Fred Fleitz is also the author of the 2016 book Obamabomb: A Dangerous and Growing National Security Fraud, in which Fleitz wrote, quote, “The most intellectually honest way for a future U.S. president to deal with the nuclear agreement with Iran is to tear it up on his … first day in office.”
Civil rights groups condemned Fleitz’s appointment, and the group Muslim Advocates issued a statement that, quote, “The White House continues to be the nation’s central organizing body for white supremacists.”
For more, we’re joined by Eric Levitz, associate editor for New York Magazine’s “Daily Intelligencer,” whose latest piece is headlined “Bolton Installs Anti-Muslim Wingnut as NSC Chief of Staff.”
Welcome to Democracy Now!, Eric.
ERIC LEVITZ: Yeah, thanks for having me.
AMY GOODMAN: Why don’t you just lay out who Fred Fleitz is, this man that John Bolton has just appointed as his chief of staff?
ERIC LEVITZ: Sure. Well, Fleitz and Bolton go back many decades. So, they actually did a little bit of work together under the first Bush administration, when Fleitz assisted him with intelligence, and then, under the second Bush administration, Fleitz was Bolton’s chief of staff. And in that role, he was kind of known as Bolton’s enforcer. When they got into conflicts with the career staff at the State Department and CIA, Fleitz would fight for Bolton’s point of view.
AMY GOODMAN: And this is when Bolton worked for—worked under George W. Bush.
ERIC LEVITZ: Under George W. Bush, yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And talk about some of the controversies that Fleitz was then and has since been involved with.
ERIC LEVITZ: Sure. Well, in that particular period, one special point of contention was that Bolton wanted to give this speech about Cuba pursuing biological weapons, and he had very belligerent language that he wanted to convey this point in, that put off analysts at the CIA, at the State Department. They did not feel either that intelligence supported what Bolton wanted to say or that it would be diplomatically wise for him to say what he wished to. And the controversy over this got so intense that—and Fleitz was so forceful in advocating Bolton’s view, that one of the career staff, Christian Westermann, in an email that was later disclosed, said that Fleitz was having an effect on his health and well-being and interest in serving in government. And this is, you know, especially relevant given that the Trump administration has these conflicts with the so-called deep state. And bringing in Fleitz suggests that, you know, they’re going to escalate those conflicts.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: And also, in 2011, he insisted against the position of 16 or 17 intelligence agencies, U.S. national security agencies, that Iran was in fact on the cusp of getting a nuclear weapon. And this is especially relevant since he’s said multiple times that Trump should tear up the agreement as soon as he’s in office.
ERIC LEVITZ: Yeah, and Fleitz has spent a lot of the past couple years—he has a column in the National Review, and almost every single column is about, you know, “Trump, please get around to killing this deal now.” You know, so he’s very intensely anti-Iran. He really—he shares all the pillars of John Bolton’s worldview on foreign policy.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go to John Bolton speaking on Fox News in 2015.
GRETCHEN CARLSON: Ambassador, you’ve written an op-ed today in The New York Times. And here’s the headline—it’s an eye catcher: “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran.” What do you mean?
JOHN BOLTON: Well, the negotiations, whether they lead to an agreement or not, are not going to stop Iran from getting nuclear weapons. They are so far advanced now, the concessions they’ve made are so trivial and easily reversible, that the deal actually legitimizes Iran’s existing nuclear program. So, my conclusion is not a happy one, but given that if Iran gets nuclear weapons, so will Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Turkey and maybe others, that just as Israel twice before has struck nuclear weapons programs in the hands of hostile states, I am afraid, given the circumstances, that’s the only real option open to us now.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: So that’s John Bolton speaking in 2015, saying that Iran should be bombed.
ERIC LEVITZ: Yeah. And, you know, he shares that opinion with, I believe, Mike Pompeo. The new secretary of state has voiced similar views. And we can be confident that Fleitz is no less reluctant to use military force against Iran or any other American adversary.
AMY GOODMAN: Fleitz, you also write, until he was just tapped, is senior vice president of Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy, an Islamophobic think tank. Talk about the things he has called for during that time, I mean, or what the think tank has called for.
ERIC LEVITZ: Yeah. So, you know, like Bolton, Bolton also actually entered government from the Gatestone Institute, which is also an anti-Muslim think tank. And both of them are less flamboyantly Islamophobic than the institutions they were working for, but they’ve been happy to collect paychecks from them. And the Center for Security Policy, its core belief is that Islam is not a religion; it should not be protected by the First Amendment because it is actually a totalitarian political ideology. And they are sort of self-identified neo-McCarthyite. They want—they believe that the—so, they believe that about 80 percent of mosques in the U.S. and all prominent American Muslim organizations are front groups for the Muslim Brotherhood, an international Islamist organization that wants to take over the United States. And it’s very—the analogy is drawn directly from Soviet communism.
AMY GOODMAN: And they believe that the Muslim Brotherhood has infiltrated the highest levels of U.S. government.
ERIC LEVITZ: Correct, and we need a new House Un-American Activities Committee to suss out the Muslim Brotherhood infiltrators. They’ve talked about that less now that Trump is in office. But when the Obama administration was in power, it was really imperative to get the Muslim Brotherhood out of there.
AMY GOODMAN: Calling for an investigation of the Islamist fifth column in this country.
ERIC LEVITZ: Correct.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Gaffney, the head of this organization, was once banned from CPAC, the Conservative Political Action Conference. And, in fact, it was John Bolton who intervened and had that ban lifted on Gaffney. Can you explain what happened?
ERIC LEVITZ: Correct, yeah. Sort of, again, like the McCarthyites, eventually they started shooting at targets that mattered even to their own coalition. So, in, I believe, 2011, Gaffney accused both a Muslim conservative member of the American Conservative Union and Grover Norquist of being abettors of the Muslim Brotherhood takeover, ostensibly because Norquist’s wife is Palestinian-American. I’m not sure that there was any other basis beyond that. And the reaction was to informally pass this resolution that Gaffney was not allowed to speak at CPAC. In 2016, after Trump’s campaign really sort of changed the way that the conservative movement thought about the bounds of acceptability on Islamophobia and anti-Muslim bias, Bolton personally intervened, according to reports from The Atlantic, to have Gaffney’s ban from CPAC lifted. And Gaffney has spoken at the last, I think, three Conservative Political Action Conferences.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s go back to June 2013, two months after the Boston Marathon bombing. Then-Congressmember Mike Pompeo erroneously claimed Muslim groups had not condemned the attack.
REP. MIKE POMPEO: It’s been just under two months since the attacks in Boston, and in those intervening weeks, the silence of Muslim leaders has been deafening. … When the most devastating terrorist attacks on America in the last 20 years come overwhelmingly from people of a single faith and are performed in the name of that faith, a special obligation falls on those that are the leaders of that faith. Silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts. … If a religion claims to be one of peace, Mr. Speaker, its leaders must reject violence that is perpetrated in its name.
AMY GOODMAN: A day after Congressman Pompeo gave those remarks, the Council on American-Islamic Relations wrote to him demanding an apology. CAIR and a number of other major Muslim organizations had in fact condemned the marathon bombings, many within hours of the attack, and organized blood drives and other relief efforts in Boston. Pompeo never apologized or responded to the letter from CAIR. Of course, Pompeo now the secretary of state. If you can talk about, you know, this era now that we’re talking about? John Bolton comes in. Immediately, Trump pulls out of the Iran nuclear deal, then goes on to cancel the summit with North Korea. You write that in March of this year, Fleitz published a book titled The Coming North Korea Nuclear Nightmare: What Trump Must Do to Reverse Obama’s Strategic Patience.
ERIC LEVITZ: Yeah. So, I mean, I think predictably, it seems like Fleitz and Bolton are on the same page on North Korea. And, you know, Bolton has specifically suggested that negotiations with North Korea are not worth really pursuing, that it’s good that Trump and Kim are meeting personally, because then we can have the highest-possible-level diplomatic effort fail, and proceed to bombing North Korea. And Fleitz’s position seems pretty similar.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, Bolton is, in fact, the third head of the National Security Council under the Trump administration. Could you say a little about his predecessors, in particular, Michael Flynn, and the positions that they’ve taken on Islam and on Muslims in general?
ERIC LEVITZ: Sure, yeah. So, arguably one of the scariest things about the Trump administration when it first took power was the fact that Michael Flynn was in charge of the National Security Council. Flynn was a, you know, intelligence operative for many years, but he took a turn after he left the Obama administration, and he was a rabid, conspiratorial Islamaphobe. He felt that the—he said that the Florida Democratic Party was trying to install Sharia law in the Sunshine State. He suggested that there were billboards lining the southern border of the United States with messages to ISIS telling them where the border was weak so that they could come in. And he brought with him people of a similar frame of mind. And so, the National Security Council, under Flynn, did things such as compose this memo that suggested—that detailed this elaborate conspiracy between establishment Republicans, globalist bankers, Islamists and Marxists to take down President Trump, because they recognized him as an existential right to cultural Marxist memes. So this was the kind of national security policy that was being formulated under Flynn. I mean, they were doing other stuff, but wacky stuff was happening.
H.R. McMaster came in. He’s much more conventionally hawkish. He cleared out the crazies. And now McMaster is gone. Bolton is in, and he’s bringing in—he’s reshaping the National Security Council in his image, and we’re going to get, you know, a more intensely hawkish and more Islamophobic—
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Well, you’ve compared the response that Democratic Congressmember Keith Ellison received for his previous associations with the Nation of Islam, when he was running for DNC chair, and the response that these Islamaphobic—presently Islamophobic figures have received as they’ve been appointed in the Trump administration. So could you talk about that discrepancy?
ERIC LEVITZ: Yeah, sure. I think that this is just really—very well illustrates the fact that we live in a country where bigotry against Muslims is fundamentally seen as acceptable. So, Keith Ellison, when he was running for DNC chair, he was a congressman from Minnesota who had—decades ago, had a relationship with Louis Farrakhan’s organization. In 2006, he had denounced Louis Farrakhan, had denounced anti-Semitism and bigotry, had no relationship with it for a decade. And he had also spent most of the past year campaigning for a Jewish candidate for president. Nonetheless, none of this absolved the fact that he had once had a relationship with an anti-Semite, and he needed to release a statement clarifying that he does not believe in this, and that—it was the subject of controversy. New York Times columnists wrote articles about, you know, are Democrats—do they have their own hateful populism within their tent?
So then you have Bolton and Fleitz. And the strongest defense you can make for either of these men is that they haven’t been as Islamophobic as the organizations that they represent. And yet that didn’t apply in Ellison’s case. And, you know, you have these people who are currently members of anti-Islamic groups, have never denounced the views of those institutions—in fact, defend those institutions very vociferously and have, on occasion, made anti-Islamic remarks themselves. And this was barely a subject of conversation when they were appointed to the administration.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Eric Levitz, we want to thank you for being with us, associate editor for New York Magazine's “Daily Intelligencer.” We'll link to your piece, “Bolton Installs Anti-Muslim Wingnut as NSC Chief of Staff.”
When we come back, we go to Gaza and to Amsterdam to look at the Gaza flotillas, the boats that are challenging Israel’s embargo of Gaza, and what’s happened to them. Stay with us.