Former 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.