How an obscure conservative memo reveals the creeping Islamophobic threat to democracy

The following was originally published in Alternet.

The sudden rise of Islamophobia in the United States is alarming while the movement that advances anti-Muslim resentment seems bizarre and filled with eccentric, even dangerous characters. But when viewed in the context of a new, groundbreaking research document by the Center for American Progress and an obscure, decades-old political memorandum by a long-forgotten former Supreme Court Justice, the Islamophobic crusade raging across the country appears perfectly in line with longstanding goals and methods of conservative organizing, and is aimed at much more than demonizing Muslims.

In 1971, former US Supreme Court Justice Lewis Powell submitted a confidential memorandum to his friend, Eugene Sydnor, the chairman of the US Chamber of Commerce, an umbrella group representing American big business. Powell, who was serving on the boards of 11 corporations at the time, warned that America was suffering from a surplus of democratic freedom thanks to the legacy of the New Left and the countercultural revolt of the 1960’s. He declared, “No thoughtful person can question that the American economic system is under broad attack.” Powell warned that “Communists, New Leftists and other revolutionaries” were joining forces with “perfectly respectable elements of society from the college campus, the pulpit, the media, the intellectual and literary journals, the arts and sciences, and from politicians” to bring down American capitalism.

To roll back the surge of democracy that supposedly threatened corporate predominance, Powell urged the Chamber of Commerce to finance the creation of a new political and cultural infrastructure — a “counter-establishment” capable of unraveling the liberal establishment. The infrastructure would consist of pseudo-scholarly journals, “experts” promoted through speakers bureaus, campus pressure groups, publishing houses, lobbyists and partisan idea factories masquerading as think tanks. He wrote that operatives of the network would have to affect a “more aggressive attitude,” leveling relentless personal attacks against the perceived enemies of big business. By the last days of the Nixon administration, Attorney General John Mitchell was boasting that his conservative friends were going to take the country “so far to the right we won’t recognize it.”

Though still obscure, the Powell’ memo is one of the most important documents in recent American history. It was a blueprint for the creation of the American conservative movement, a political contingent that now controls the Republican Party and influences mainstream American opinion in ways Powell could have never imagined. Powell’s vision came to life during the late 1970’s, when neoconservative godfather Irving Kristol and former Treasury Secretary William Simon gathered together a small group of business tycoons concerned willing to lay down millions in seed money necessary to raise up a network of conservative think tanks, talking heads, and magazines capable of flooding the media with right-wing opinions, capturing the courts and taking control of Congress. Chief among the right-wing sugardaddies was Richard Mellon Scaife, a reclusive billionaire from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania who controlled much of the Mellon oil fortune.

Through his various foundations, Mellon Scaife helped finance the creation of the pillars of the conservative movement, from the Federalist Society, which spearheaded the right’s takeover of the federal court system, to the Heritage Foundation, a think tank that functions as the outsourced brain of the congressional Republicans, to the Media Research Center, a right-wing watchdog group that has helped manufacture the concept of “liberal media bias.” The Tea Party, a far-right constellation of pressure groups bankrolled by extraction industry barons like the Koch Brothers, is the latest incarnation of the corporate funded conservative counter-establishment.

Scaife’s name turned up again this month in connection with a familiar cabal of right-wing corporate moneymen financing a small and relatively new political network determined to promote Islamophobia throughout America. According to an authoritative 130-page report by the Center for American Progress, a progressive think tank based in Washington, Scaife and other conservative sugardaddies have pumped $42.6 million between 2001 and 2009 into the Islamophobic network. Most of the money has gone to five figures known for bigoted, extremist views on Muslims, Arabs, and people of color. They are: Daniel Pipes, a neoconservative academic who urged Israel to employ methods of terrorism against Palestinian civilians and “raze Palestinian villages;” Frank Gaffney, a rightist national security wonk who has called the practice of Shariah a form of “sedition;” Robert Spencer, a writer and activist who has said that “everyone knows” most or all terrorists are Muslims; Stephen Emerson, a self-styled terror “expert” who blamed Muslims for the bombing of the Oklahoma City Federal Building, which turned out to have been conducted by a right-wing white nationalist terrorist; and David Yerushalmi, a far-right legal activist who has argued that whites are genetically superior to people of color. Behind these figures lies a cadre of equally vitriolic activists like Pamela Geller and Brigitte Gabriel who hype their work. (Read more about the Islamophobic network in my piece, “The Great Fear.”

The Islamophobic network has injected its paranoid vision of a Muslim plot to takeover the United States into the mainstream through the established conservative political apparatus, spreading anti-Muslim hysteria through right-wing radio and heavily trafficked websites like Andrew Breitbart’s Big Peace, which boasts Gaffney as a key contributor. This year’s Republican presidential primary campaign became a platform for Islamophobic conspiracy theories and attacks on Muslim-Americans in general, with candidates suggesting on national television that they might demand loyalty oaths for Muslims who want to serve in the federal government. But the Islamophobic crusade has had practical consequences as well. Mosque burnings are becoming a commonplace phenomenon and anti-Muslim attitudes have reached an all-time high among Americans; The most extreme byproduct of Islamophobic campaigning was, of course, the recent terrorist rampage by the Norwegian right-wing activist Anders Behring Breivik, who quoted Robert Spencer, Daniel Pipes and other Islamophobic ideologues scores of times in his manifesto.

While the anti-Muslim crusaders are fairly new to most observers of American politics, they are no more than cogs in a well-honed conservative political operation that functions in the top-down style that Powell envisioned. And like Powell, behind their empty rhetoric of freedom lies a deep seated contempt for democracy. The words of Yerushalmi, the extremist legal activist, expose the real sensibility and goals of his movement: “While our constitutional republic was specifically designed to insulate our national leaders from the masses, democracy has seeped up through the cracks and corroded everything we once deemed sacred about our political order,” Yerushalmi wrote. “Prior to the Civil War, the electorate, essentially white Christian men, had access to local government. It was here, where men shared an intimacy born of family ties, shared religious beliefs, and common cultural signposts, that representative government was meant to touch our daily lives. With the social and cultural revolution which followed the emancipation, man’s relationship to political order was radically nationalized and democratized. Today, there is simply no basis to resist ‘democracy’ and the ‘open society.'”

The cadre of bigots bankrolled by corporate barons to stir fears of Islam may be focused on stigmatizing Muslims, but they are only a part of a much broader movement whose ultimate target is democracy itself.

10 thoughts on “How an obscure conservative memo reveals the creeping Islamophobic threat to democracy

  1. Chayma

    Mellon Scaife funds a number of conservative causes. Of course these right wingers are enemies of democracy. Witness their response to the CAP report, they immediately put into motion their well oiled lying machine calling the report “anti semitic” and wrongly blaming Think Progress.

    Fox News had to retract a statement they made quoting an American Thinker hatchet job on Fear Inc. In a Freudian slip, they blamed Fear Inc. for blaming Jews and Israel, something the report did not do. They then propogated this lie through Horowitz’s Frontpagemag, and Fox news, till Think Progress demanded a retraction.

    I have to add though, that what binds this small group of Islamophopbes is more than just right wing conservative causes. Right wing Zionism, and ties to Israeli extremists plays a large part in their agenda. When David Yerushalmi, the lawyer who lends his support to these Islamophobes is a dual Israeli citizen. His pathetic response, after being confronted with charges of supporting white supremacism was that he is married to a “sefardi” woman. Look at the way, these cranks think.

    Top Ten Right-Wing Responses To CAP’s Islamophobia Report: ‘Cowards,’ ‘Straight Out of Mein Kampf,’ ‘A Pile Of Dung’

    By Eli Clifton on Sep 1, 2011
    Unfortunately, that accuracy and thorougness has proven a challenge for many of the Islamophobes mentioned in the report. With no serious factual errors with which to attack the authors, they’ve fallen back on attacking straw men and offering vitriolic, if at times colorful, ad hominem attacks.

    Here’s the top ten list of right-wing responses to “Fear, Inc.”

  2. Chayma

    Meet An Islamophobia Network Funder: The Varet And Rosenwald Family
    By Eli Clifton on Sep 2, 2011
    The Varet family helps fund: Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism ($10,000); Counterterrorism & Security Education and Research Foundation ($15,000); Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum ($2,320,229.33); Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy ($437,000); the Clarion Fund ($25,000); David Horowitz’s Freedom Center ($11,000) and Brigitte Gabriel’s American Congress for Truth ($125,000).

    David Steinmann — also a director at American Securities Management, a trustee for the Anchorage Charitable Fund and president of the William Rosenwald Family Fund, sits as a board member at Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy.

    Nina Rosenwald, co-chair of the board at American Securities Management and a vice-president at the William Rosenwald Family Fund, is: chairwoman of of the board at the Middle East Media and Research Institute (MEMRI); vice president of the Jewish Institute of National Security Affairs (JINSA) and sits on the board of the Hudson Institute. She also serves on the board at the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC); Human Rights in China, the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and served as a delegate at the 1996 Democratic National Convention.

    According to a 2007 New York Jewish Week article, Elizabeth Varet, who chairs the Anchorage Charitable Fund and serves as vice-president at the William Rosenwald Family Fund, gained inspiration for her philanthropy from her father, William Rosenwald, who she says:

  3. Chayma

    Two of the authors of Fear Inc. Eli Clifton and Wajahat Ali, write about their findings below, invaluable for anyone wanting to see the hitherto anonymous donors and supporters of the Islamophobia industry:

    Meet An Islamophobia Network ‘Expert’: Steven Emerson

    By Eli Clifton on Aug 31, 2011

    Meet An Islamophobia Network Donor: The Lynde And Harry Bradley Foundation
    By Eli Clifton on Aug 30, 2011
    As a key funder in the Islamophobia network, the Bradley Foundation contributed $4.25 million to the David Horowitz Freedom Center, $815,000 to Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy and $305,000 to Daniel Pipes’s Middle East Forum.

    When not funding some of the key groups responsible for propagating misinformation about Muslim-Americans, the Bradley Foundation uses its financial resources to promote a militarist foreign policy, most notably through their $1.2 million in support for the Project for the New American Century, a highly influential group which helped promote a neoconservative foreign policy during the Bush administration.

    Meet An Islamophobia Network Funder: Richard Scaife

    By Eli Clifton on Aug 29, 2011
    Richard Scaife and his three Pittsburgh-based foundations — the Sarah Scaife, Carthage, and Allegheny foundations — represent one of the biggest contributors to the Islamophobia network with combined contributions of $7.875 million.


    Fighting the defamation of Muslim Americans
    Wajahat Ali, Friday 26 August 2011
    For the first time, the fear-mongering and hate-preaching of US Islamophobes – and their funding – have been exposed

  4. Henk

    Mr. Blumenthal, you seem to think it’s hip and trendy to ridicule Evangelical Christians and their religious beliefs; you never pass up an opportunity to do so, and yet no one thinks of calling you a bigoted Evangelophobe. However, when it comes to Islam, you go out of your way to depict criticism of this religion as part of a secretive, far-right conspiracy to demonize Islam and Muslims for financial gain or for the benefit of the State of Israel. You never mention the possibility that one could perceive Islam negatively by simply reading the doctrines expressed in the Qur’an and the Hadith. The hypocrisy and double-standards are glaring.

    One does not need to read the works of Robert Spencer, Pamela Geller, Daniel Pipes, Brigitte Gabriel or Steve Emerson to conclude that Islam is an inherently violent and supremacist religion. The sacred texts of Islam speak for themselves, and their contents are not peaceful, tolerant or enlightened. You can engage in ad hominem attacks and name-calling and label critics of Islam as bigots, fear-mongers, pseudo-scholars, Islamophobes and far-right. That is not hard to do at all. But you cannot actually refute the substance of what they say about Islam. I am sure that Robert Spencer, for instance, would happily accept a challenge on your part to debate him on whether Islam is or is not an inherently violent and supremacist religion. But you would never do such a thing because you know the facts are not on your side and you would get humiliated in such a debate.

  5. Real Jew

    Big shocker here. Zionist Jews are using their wealth and power to demonize Arabs/muslims. Just take a look at Hollywood and how it portrays Arabs vs how Jews are depicted. Arabs and Muslims are typically uneducated violent cab drivers while Jews are usually the heroes or victims. It ain’t a coincidence.

  6. vr

    “The sacred texts of Islam speak for themselves, and their contents are not peaceful, tolerant or enlightened.”

    That is funny Henk, for a moment there I thought you were talking about the “bible”…lol Sorry, could not resist.

  7. Chayma


    am sure that Robert Spencer, for instance, would happily accept a challenge on your part to debate him on whether Islam is or is not an inherently violent and supremacist religion.

    Your stupid ignorant comments won’t wash here. Robert Spencer is no scholar,even his former alma mater , has riduculed him as saying he has no knowledge about Islam. How does this make you look? Like a prejudiced stupid bigot. A serious threat would have proper backing, not fake people leading the ignorant. The people influenced by Spencer are the ignorant underclass.

    America is unique amongst developed nations in that it has a large ignorant underclass.

    Spencer has REFUSED every knowledgeable expert to discuss Islam. This website for example, shows his lies and deceptions, and includes those scholars he is REFUSING to debate. Why should Max challenge Spencer? He is not an expert in Muslim jurisprudence as Spencer claims to be!

    Robert Spencer Watch

    But you would never do such a thing because you know the facts are not on your side and you would get humiliated in such a debate.

    Anybody make sense out of this? How about we ask Henk to debate a Rabbi on the Torah? How about Henk debate the Pope on Catholicism? Unless Henk has been schooled in either of these two religions by the scholars of these two religions, he would be humiliated in such a debate.

    Does Henk not have the ability to think? Does he go to visit a dentist when he has an headache? I hope not. I hope he visits a doctor.

    Evangelical Christians and their religious beliefs; you never pass up an opportunity to do so, and yet no one thinks of calling you a bigoted Evangelophobe.

    Again your stupididy at work.

    American Muslims on the whole are a wealthy well educated minority. They benefit the country. The people behind the Islamophobia push don’t want them to acheive any kind of success or power.By the way, the the rabble rousing Islamophobes have policies that go against what the US or international community supports. The far right Zionist agenda is not the agenda of the US. These people oppose peace. They are the other side of the coin, when you mentioned the Muslim violent groups.

    You are hypocritical to only look at threat from side. The threat is there from both sides. Did you know that all of the people mentioned in the CAP want to expand upon Israeli territory? They cannot do this without a credible threat for which they pay a lot of money to manufacture.
    Are you OK with this for example?

    Evangelical right wing during Bush’s time supported the Iraq war because they thought it would lead to Jesus landing in Israel. With hindsight, that decision has destroyed America. The Iraq war is the reason the US is in the debt it’s in now. Evangelilical right wing, is also the most ignorant and low income of the US populace. Most of the tea party crowd are right wing Evangelicals. The left wing (younger crowd) drfited towards Obama and the left.

    There is clear proof that religious influence of the right wing Evangelism is DETRIMENTAL to the USA. The blur the lines between the constituion and religion.

    America’s Armageddonites Push for More War
    Some fundamentalist evangelicals have moved from forecasting Armageddon to actually trying to bring it about.
    October 22, 2007 |

  8. Chayma


    Inside the Christian Right Dominionist Movement That’s Undermining Democracy
    Chip Berlet Sun Sep 04, 2011

    At the same time, legitimate questions have been raised about whether or not potential Republican presidential nominees Rick Perry, Michelle Bachmann, or Sarah Palin have moved from a generic form of Christian Right Dominionism toward the more totalitarian form know as Dominion Theology.

    Clueless journalists and crafty Christian Right pundits have mocked the idea that Dominionism as a religiously motivated political tendency even exists. Scholars, however, have been writing about Dominionism for over a decade, some using the term directly, and others describing the tendency in other ways. Many articles on Dominionism can be found here on Talk to Action, especially by authors Rachel Tabachnick, Bruce Wilson, Frederick Clarkson.

  9. Chayma


    You accused Max of being anti Evangelical (which he is not, as he only fights the extremists) but these are moderate Evangelicals in the website below, who show how their extremists are a malignancy upon American politics.

    The link I posted above is from an atheist, So your accusations are absurd.

    Armageddon Lobby — trying to hurry up God –Its “Christian” Muscle

    With the collapse of communism (and Nazism before it) mankind’s utopian fantasies have returned to a religious hue. The Armageddonites (and their co-believer extreme fundamentalists in the Muslim and Jewish worlds) are the new dreamers of bringing paradise to earth, just, however, with the need to eliminate much of the human race first. In America we have now this strange alliance, the Israeli Likud settler lobby gets money, guns and political cover. In exchange millions of born again “rapture” evangelicals gain fulfillment, believing that they are helping God to end the world during their lifetimes and thereby will get a quick pass to heaven “without dying” (no judgment day). Oh, and with the death of all Jews (and the rest of the human race) who do not convert to their faith. Their “Heaven” incidentally, is sort of socialist with no inequality and everyone rich. A popular Gaither Singers song describes how one won’t need to cut the grass in Heaven.

    The Book of Revelations in the Bible, upon which they build their scenario, is also very controversial. It was made scripture three centuries after the death of Christ. “Traditionally attributed to St. John, most Biblical scholars now recognize its literary style and its theology has little in common with John’s gospel or his epistles and was likely written after his death. Martin Luther found the vindictive God of Revelations incompatible with the gospels and relegated it to the appendix of his German translation of the New Testament instead of the body of scripture. All the Protestant reformers except Calvin regarded apocalyptic millenialism to be heresy.” See Analysis

    Link Updates Are Below

    Flash White House Assures Christian Armageddonites that Sharon leaving Gaza won’t thwart God’s plans to end the world Biblical Maps Pat Robertson now says this is why God sent him a stroke to kill him.

    Some Fundamentalists Ache for Armageddon The 20 yr old classic warning by Allan C. Brownfeld: Those who pass from forecasting Armageddon to actively promoting it . How it all started–Falwell in Israel

    20 Million Fundamentalists Depend on Israel (its destruction) for Quick Pass to Heaven (no questions asked –no good deeds necessary) by Gary North

  10. Arabi

    “You never mention the possibility that one could perceive Islam negatively by simply reading the doctrines expressed in the Qur’an and the Hadith”

    One can say the same thing about, say, Judaism. Would you like me to post the Dirty little quotes from the Talmud, comparing Gentiles to dogs and Animals?. Or how about, the statements of Christian Pastors, calling Anyone who is not a Christian, a failure in life?….or maybe a couple quotes from Jesus calling Jews the sons of Satan?

    “I am sure that Robert Spencer, for instance, would happily accept a challenge on your part to debate him on whether Islam is or is not an inherently violent and supremacist religion”

    That weasel Robert Spencer has ran away from so many debates, and so many discussions, than I can think of. He still needs to answer for a debate. Until he does so, he has no business debating anyone else.

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