POLITICO is reporting today that President-elect Donald Trump will likely nominate Senator Jeff Sessions (R-AL) for attorney general and Rep. Mike Pompeo (R-KS) to be director of the CIA. Both men have public track records of Islamophobia combined with misinformation at a level that should disqualify both from serving.
In a 2013 House floor speech, Pompeo claimed that American Muslim leaders were “potentially complicit” in domestic terrorist attacks. Pompeo went on:
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. Instead of responding, silence has made these Islamic leaders across America potentially complicit in these acts, and more importantly still, in those that may well follow.
For his part, Sessions has been an outspoken hardliner on the need to restrict immigration from Arab or Muslim-majority countries. In the wake of the tragic ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks in Brussels earlier this year, Sessions issued a statement in which he said, in part:
It cannot be the policy of the United States that millions of foreign nationals are able to demand permanent entry into this country as refugees or asylees, particularly when our law enforcement and intelligence communities cannot adequately screen these individuals for security risks. There must be limits. We know many terrorists have used and will use this process, and every other available method, to gain entry into our country. Indeed, at least 14 individuals admitted to the United States as refugees have been implicated in terrorism in the last year alone.
Sessions’ claims about the terrorism risk posed by immigrants are unhinged from reality.
In September 2016, my Cato colleague and immigration specialist Alex Nowrasteh published a comprehensive report analyzing this very question. His key findings:
Including those murdered in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (9/11), the chance of an American perishing in a terrorist attack on U.S. soil that was committed by a foreigner over the 41-year period studied here is 1 in 3.6 million per year. The hazard posed by foreigners who entered on different visa categories varies considerably. For instance, the chance of an American being murdered in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion per year while the chance of being murdered in an attack committed by an illegal immigrant is an astronomical 1 in 10.9 billion per year. By contrast, the chance of being murdered by a tourist on a B visa, the most common tourist visa, is 1 in 3.9 million per year…The annual chance of being murdered by somebody other than a foreign-born terrorist was 252.9 times greater than the chance of dying in a terrorist attack committed by a foreign-born terrorist. (emphasis added)
Without question, if you lose a loved one or friend to a terrorist attack, it will seem like the greatest threat America faces. The reality is that you, a family member, or coworker are far more likely to be a victim of traditional crime than a victim of an ISIS-inspired plot.
Trump, Bannon, Sessions, Pompeo, former DIA Director (and Trump National Security Adviser designee) Mike Flynn, and Trump transition team adviser and long-time Islamophobe Frank Gaffney are poised to further derange our counterterrorism policy. By increasing the demonization and stigmatization of Arab or Muslim immigrants, they will legitimize the ISIS narrative that America is at war with Islam as a whole—giving public relations oxygen to Salafist-oriented terrorist organizations from Africa to Southeast Asia, facilitating their recruitment efforts globally.
Even more ominously, if Trump picks similar Islamophobes to lead the Department of Homeland Security and fill out sub-cabinet positions with the Department of Justice, Arab- and Muslim-Americans will see still more of their tax dollars go to potentially fund the persecution of them and their families. Some key positions in DHS—namely the Chief Privacy and Civil Liberties Officer and the head of DHS’s Office of Community Partnerships (the department’s “countering violent extremism” office)—do not require Senate confirmation. Some of Gaffney’s acolytes have already been floated as possible Trump national security team members in slots that the Senate will have no say over. The implications are truly chilling.
We may still be early in the transition process, but Trump’s is well on its way to becoming America’s first Islamophobia administration.