Courtesy of WallBuildersFormer House Speaker and likely GOP presidential candidate Newt Gingrich commenced his address at an American Family Association event in Iowa today by lavishing praise on a controversial amateur historian who believes that Jesus opposed the minimum wage and that Islamic extremists have literally infiltrated the Justice Department. "I never listen to David Barton without learning a whole lot of new things," Gingrich said, while inviting his audience to read the Texans' writings on the Founding Fathers. "It's amazing how much he knows and how consistently he applies that knowledge."
Barton is the founder of WallBuilders, an Evangelical organization devoted to breaking down the barrier between church and state—which Barton believes to be a work of pure fiction. Although his work has been torn apart by professional historians, Barton has fashioned himself as one of the leading experts on the idea that the United States is a Christian nation and that its development has been aided at key junctures by divine intervention. (He does have an honorary PhD. from Pensacola Christian College.)
So, what exactly can you learn by listening to Barton? For one, Barton subscribes to a conspiracy theory that has taken hold on the far right: that the Muslim Brotherhood has infilitrated the highest levels of American law enforcement and is planning to destroy America from within. On his radio show last week, Barton, referring to a former FBI agent named John Guandolo, said, "John used to be the guy who briefed the FBI on terrorism and radical Islamic terrorism and so many Islamic folks worked their way into the FBI, they got him thrown out. They said he keeps speaking bad about Islam, he keeps saying bad things about radical Islam, you need to get rid of him.'"
He added, "you can understand why [Eric] Holder and others in the FBI wouldn't want Guandolo around there. These are the kind of people they are chasing off because you're starting to see the Muslim Brotherhood actually get in to some of our institutions." (Actually, Guandolo was forced to resign because he slept with a witness in a corruption case involving former Rep. William "Dollar Bill" Jefferson.)
While Barton concedes that Islam is protected by the First Amendment, he has previously argued that the Bill of Rights does not afford protections to polytheistic religions (like Hinduism or Wicca), and that atheists should not be allowed to hold office or testify in court. After Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) became the nation's first Muslim congressman in 2007, Barton declared concerns about the lawmaker's faith "understandable."
In addition to cozying up to aspiring Republican politicians and helping the state of Texas draft its much-maligned textbook standards, Barton has previously spoken at conferences alongside proponents of Christian Identity—a white supremacist ideology with ties to white supremacists—as well as Holocaust deniers and militia leader Bo Gritz. Barton says he did not know about his fellow speakers' beliefs. Perhaps Gingrich would say the same regarding Barton. The possible GOP presidential candidate, who two years ago converted to Catholicism, has been trying hard in recent years to win support among evangelical Christians. Should Gingrich officially enter the 2012 presidential race, it might be useful for voters to know just what he has learned from Barton.
Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.) has previously said that if she ran for president, the "first thing" she'd do at the first debate would be to present her birth certificate. Not that she would have much of a choice, if the state lawmaker she's expected to hire to manage her operations in Iowa has his way. Bachmann, who has all-but announced she's running, is reportedly planning to bring on Iowa state Sen. Kent Sorenson—the author of a recent birther bill—as her political director in the presidential bellwether state.
Introduced in early March, Sorenson's bill, SB 368, would require "birth certificates to be filed with affidavits of candidacy for presidential and vice presidential candidates." The legislation, which died in committee, was one of more than a dozen similar pieces of legislation that have been filed since the start of 2009, arising from the conservative conspiracy theory that President Obama was born in Kenya and is therefore not eligible for office. (The President was born in Hawaii and has released a birth certificate, which you can view here). Sorenson has not commented publicly about the legislation and could not be reached for comment.
But that's not the only conspiratorial view Sorenson shares with his would-be boss. He's also sponsored SF 347, a bill that would designate silver and gold as legal tender in the state of Iowa. The bill, which asserts that Iowa's economic downturn has been "caused in large part" by the use of federal reserve notes as currency instead of precious metals, would more or less return the state to a gold and silver standard. Taxes, for instance, would be calculated in silver and gold coins, rather than standard US dollars. In 2009, Bachmann introduced a bill to prohibit the United States from switching to a global currency, which she fears is imminent.
For Bachmannn, who once declared, "I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax because we need to fight back," it's a good fit. Sorenson is equally combative. As the Iowa Independent notes, Sorenson has previously stated that he was sent to Des Moines by his constituents to "burn this place down. They want me to do battle. And I understand that."
As a general rule, nothing that happens in Florida should ever come as a surprise; you should just assume, for instance, that Sunshine State Republicans are freaking out about government-run septic tanks, and that, until proven otherwise, somewhere in Sarasota a police officer is declaring himself a sovereign nation. But ok, this isn't exactly ordinary:
70-year-old John Paul Rogers wants to become the next mayor of Lake Wales, but critics say he could have a tough time bringing the town together because he's a former member of Ku Klux Klan.
Rogers, who is currently a commissioner, spoke with 10 News Tuesday afternoon and says, "I'm not running for the Klan for Grand Dragon." That's because Rogers has already had that title.
"Critics say" Rogers' long association with a racist hate group that has a history of violence reflects poorly on his character and suggests that he might be something less than a stellar ambassador for Lake Wales. But Rogers (above left, in gold), a city commissioner and a Democrat, insists that this is all just a big misunderstanding because really, the United Klans of America wasn't just about race—where'd anyone get that idea? Asked at a recent forum if he'd denounce his past views, "Rogers responded that if being against communism, against drugs, and in favor of states' rights was wrong, then he was wrong." (Here's a photo, via the Lakeland Ledger, of Rogers with his drug-fighting action figure).
Rogers, who dismisses the criticism as "muckraking and character assassination," says that he resigned from the Klan decades ago, thereby making his service a non-issue. But Tampa's WTSP says that he was basically forced out, on account of the fact that the Klan had just lost a $7 million civil suit for their role in the murder of a 19-year-old black man in Mobile, Alabama. Then again, that's muckraking so maybe it doesn't count.
A few weeks back we told you about an extreme new bill proposed in Tennessee that defined Islamic law as prima facie treasonous, and made "material support" for Sharia punishable by 15 years in prison. That's a pretty harsh sentence for a constitutionally protected freedom, to be sure, but that was kind of the point. The bill, drafted by an Arizona-based attorney who'd once called for all Muslim non-citizens to be deported, went beyond warnings about some future invasion of Islamic extremists, and instead took on a core tenet of the religion itself.
In this case, at least, massive public pressure seems to have had an effect. After meeting with Muslim leaders, the bill's co-sponsor, Republican State Sen. Bill Ketron, submitted new language that sort of addresses the problem. From The Tennessean:
The new version removes language that described Shariah—the Islamic legal codes that cover everything from the rules of warfare to prayer and diet—as advocating violence and a threat to the United States and Tennessee constitutions. The change makes clear that peaceful religious practices would not be considered a violation, the bill's sponsors said in a statement.
The Council on American–Islamic Relations had promised to file a lawsuit to block the implementation if the bill became law, but now that the overt religious references have been removed, that becomes a lot less likely. Basically, the bill has been converted into a fairly straightforward law concerning material support for terrorism. Of course, the federal government already has a material support for terrorism law—and a quite expansive one at that—so it's not entirely clear why Tennessee needs its own. Stay tuned next week when the Tennessee state legislature authorizes a no-fly zone over Libya.
Yesterday, the St. Petersburg Timesreported on a new civil case in Tampa, Florida that's become a cause célèbre on the right:
Hillsborough Circuit Judge Richard Nielsen is being attacked by conservative bloggers after he ruled in a lawsuit March 3 that, to resolve one crucial issue in the case, he will consult a different source.
"This case," the judge wrote, "will proceed under Ecclesiastical Islamic Law."
According to some conservatives, this is a troubling sign that the American legal system is under attack from Sharia law (one activist called it a sign of a new "Islamic Tsunami"). Adam Serwer examines the evidence and says that, actually, this is really, really normal:
The judge however, isn't invoking Islamic law because he simply felt like it, he's doing so because this is essentially a contract dispute in which the agreement was drawn up according to sharia...
Where there's a conflict between civil law and the terms of a contract, civil law holds sway. You could not, for example, sell yourself into slavery or force your spouse to sign a contract where they would be subject to abuse. So the notion that the presence of Islamic law in civil arbitration will inevitably lead to sharia replacing the Constitution is nonsense. This kind of case is a sign of America's growing Muslim population, which for many of those complaining is probably the real source of worry.
Right. The argument you tend to hear from conservatives concerns impending implementation of radical forms of Sharia. That is, if we don't act now, at some indeterminate point in the future the bad kind of Sharia—stoning, for instance—will take hold in the United States and we'll be powerless to stop it. Sounds scary. But stories like this one out of Florida, and the ensuing freakout, reveal that to be somewhat disingenuous. Anti-sharia activists think that any sort of Islamic law is a threat to be taken seriously, even if it's something so mundane as a contract dispute between the Islamic Education Center of Tampa and two aggrieved former trustees—and even if it's not much different from Jewish or Christian codes.