How U.S. Social Conservatives Created Political Unity in Islam Fearmongering

Since the early aftermath of 9/11, popular discourse about Islam by social conservative elite and institutions has been marred by a more vocal segment that conflates Islam with terrorism, erasing all distinction, in what was a distinctly politically incorrect security narrative to the more progressive and prevailing “Islam is peace” frame. One such organization with its roots largely among Evangelicals that advanced this counternarrative was ACT! for America. At one point larger than even the American Israel Political Affairs Committee, the organization’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, was a naturalized U.S. Evangelical with Lebanese Maronite roots, who had been affiliated with Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN).

Speaking at the unofficial Intelligence Summit in Washington, DC, on February 19, 2006, Gabriel said, “America and the West are doomed to failure in this war unless they stand up and identify the real enemy, Islam,”1 and elsewhere characterized “Every practicing Muslim,” as “a radical Muslim.”2

In the area of religious fiction, popular conservative Christian novelists joined this fearmongering. Joel Richardson found a sustained niche audience in the genre of Christian apocalypticism that helped him attain bestselling status with books such as Antichrist: Islam’s Awaited Messiah (Wine Press Publishing, 2006), The Islamic Antichrist: The Shocking Truth About the Nature of the Beast (WND Books, 2009), and—in case you missed the first two—the Mideast Beast: The Case for an Islamic Antichrist (WND Books, 2012).

In the latter part of the post-9/11 decade, this kind of U.S. social conservative security discourse that constructed Islam and its adherents as a threat degenerated into more conspiratorial and paranoid threat narrative. Under this new element of the Green Scare, the threat was no longer an external one, Islam, but an internal one, Islamization. Specifically, the U.S. was now in danger of being toppled by the institutionalization of Islamic law, or sharia, which gradually and stealthily was being imposed upon the nation’s 307 million mostly Christian and secular citizens against their collective will by a virtually invisible population of Muslim-Americans.

The contours of this scare are familiar to any well-read religious or social conservative; it was typified by Conservative U.S. culture warrior David Horowitz’s April 2, 2007 e-mail to his blog’s subscribers, in which he fantastically warned of “the purposeful and systematic dismantling of all aspects of our culture” via the imposition of “Sharia law on the U.S., replacing our law with provisions such as the stoning of adulterous women and cutting off thieves’ hands.”

Of Jewish descent, Horowitz was joined by other Jewish intellectuals known for their advocacy of Israel’s Zionism-aligned occupation and control of Palestine. Dr. Daniel Pipes, of the Middle East Forum, for instance, in 2009 wrote “Islamism 2.0,” portraying moderate European Muslims and even Muslim-Americans as a fifth column. Nonviolent Western Muslims, Pipes said, “threaten civilized life” even more than such violent ones as Osama bin Laden, as they gradually “move the country toward Shari’a.”3 In Pipes’s assessment, the nation’s destruction by its tiny population of half-black, half-immigrant adult Muslims supposedly already had begun, surreptitiously, in a form of lawful Islamism by Muslims groups that would prefer direct violence but must settle for a gradual culture war.

The Green Scare’s Domestic Political Utility

It never fails that any topic of societal importance will eventually become politicized—that is, seized upon by one or more political factions as a platform for politics, or as yet another topic field of opportunity to continue their ongoing cultural struggle against their domestic rivals. And, in the case of the Green Scare, three peculiar features of this popular security discourse suggest that social conservatives had indeed found Islam useful, as yet another opportune platform to carry on their ongoing domestic culture war with the Left broadly.

The Green Scare’s Exclusive Political Place

As the decade wore on, it became clear that it was only elements of the Right who were supportive of the contentious Islam(ization) threat discourse. By this juncture, one’s position on the Islam(ization) threat narrative became a recognized identifier as to which U.S. political party one was affiliated with, reflected by Politico’s headline, “GOP Litmus Test: Sharia Opposition.” Observing this solidarity if not strategy, Sheila Musaji—editor of The American Muslim—wrote that “The GOP has declared war on American Muslims.”4

Typifying this solidarity for the counternarrative among religious conservatives was the Oak Initiative—a coalition of evangelical and Pentecostal clergy founded to be “salt and light” in the time of America’s crisis and “the greatest threat to its continued existence.”

GOP solidarity on the topic was typified by Republican presidential frontrunner Herman Cain, who in a March 21, 2011 interview with Christianity Today advanced the politically-incorrect or counternarrative on Islam. “Based upon the little knowledge that I have of the Muslim religion,” Cain said, “they have an objective to convert all infidels or kill them.”5 Christianity Today’s interviewer seemed to agree, tacitly affirming Cain’s characterization if Islam, replying only, “Is there anything else you’d like to say?” In another instance, Cain also described the subversive “attempt to gradually ease sharia law and the Muslim faith into our government.”6

Among members of the U.S. Congress, it was similarly only Conservatives who propagated the counternarrative and related sharia conspiracy. When Peter King (R, NY) chaired House Homeland Security Committee hearings in 2011 on Muslim- American radicalization, for instance, it was only the Democrats who were united in their criticism of the hearings and only Republicans defending them. Similarly, it was only Republicans in the group led by Michele Bachmann (R, MN) who wrote letters to government offices alleging that “Muslim Brotherhood operatives” had “penetrated” the U.S. government and even Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s staff.7 And, it was only religious conservatives in the House Capitol Ministries who had either made anti-Muslim statements, supported the Islam(ization) of America conspiracy theory, or supported anti-Muslim groups.8

The counternarrative on Islam(ization) also enjoyed significant solidarity among religious conservative elite. Typifying this solidarity for the counternarrative among religious conservatives was the Oak Initiative—a coalition of evangelical and Pentecostal clergy founded to be “salt and light” in the time of America’s crisis and “the greatest threat to its continued existence.”9 In 2010, the Oak Initiative produced a video featuring former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence, General “Jerry” Boykin. “Those following the dictates of the Quran,” said Boykin, “are under an obligation to destroy our Constitution and replace it with sharia law.”10 General Boykin—a symbol of a contemporary Christian soldier—was in high demand in the latter part of the post-9/11 decade among some evangelical elite for his politically incorrect speech regarding Islam.

James Dobson—well-respected among Evangelicals and Christians broadly, as founder and host of the religious conservative radio show Focus on the Family—hosted Boykin ten times. On the February 17 and 18, 2011, programs, and then again on the January 3 and 4, 2012, programs, Dobson shifted the programming focus on the family and spiritual issues to Boykin’s egregious fear-mongering. On one program, the retired general asserted that the Muslim Brotherhood is currently entering “phase four” of a five-phase plan to take over America. On the program on January 4, 2012, when asked by Dobson, “What do you see in store of us in this tired old world?” Boykin went further: “Let me say I have six grandchildren and three of them are females and I must tell you, I am greatly concerned about the day coming when they will be wearing burqas,” he said, adding, “That’s how serious I consider this threat.”11

Specifically, they linked the conservative movement’s newest foreign enemy, “Islam,” with its older domestic enemy, the Left, in the purported grand conspiracy to Islamize the nation.

Instead of asking the general for empirical evidence to support this security narrative, Dobson, his son, and co-host LuAnne Crane tacitly approved Boykin’s assessments, saying that “we cannot stick our heads in the sand” by pretending that this threat does not exist. Yet, sticking their heads in the sand is what the three Focus on the Family hosts did overnight, between the first and second interviews, and between when the interviews were recorded and when they were broadcast. These Christian radio hosts carefully obscured the fact that the vast majority of Muslim-Americans were “middle class and mostly mainstream,” to quote the title of the extensive Pew Research Center report on them. Religious and other social conservatives could have quickly accessed this and other such reports suggesting that Muslims comprise only between two-tenths to six tenths of one percent of the U.S. adult population, that this populace was growing only slightly, and—most importantly—that a mere four percent of this tiny segment of the overall U.S. populace could be classified as “very conservative.”12

Moreover, these Christian leaders could have accessed and shared with their national audience other reports that revealed how the population of Muslims in the U.S. (adults and children) is expected to increase insignificantly, from a mere eight-tenths of one percent of the U.S. population in 2010 to only 1.7 percent by 2030.13

From these figures, Dobson and his staff could have calculated that by 2030 only one in every 6,000 Americans—or 0.00017th of the populace—might believe that a woman’s wearing of a burqa is a religious obligation. That is hardly a force that could impose a radically different ideology on us, as Gingrich and other prominent conservative culture warriors had by this point claimed.

Similarly, these well-known social conservatives excluded from view the vast amount of relevant open source literature that would contextualize the threat to the homeland from Muslims. Data are readily available to show that of the 150,000 murders in the U.S. in the post-9/11 decade, only eleven came at the hands of Muslim Americans, and virtually no Muslims were involved in the 1,400,000 violent crimes or almost 100,000 forcible rapes in the U.S. that took place each year.14

The Green Scare’s Dubious Political Timing

Another indication that the Green Scare had become politically useful was its timing. It was after the election of President Barack Obama in 2009, and especially ahead of the mid-term elections in 2010, that the hype over “sharia” or “Islamization” exploded in popular security discourse.

Bypassing the strategic importance of this historic foreign-policy initiative and the opportunity for rational criticism of the new administration’s approach, this central identifying newspaper of the U.S. conservative movement delved into crude, tabloid-like politics.

It was during the run up to the mid-term elections in 2010, for instance, that Republican presidential frontrunner Newt Gingrich, in the conservative commentary Human Events, shifted the threat axis from the strategic crisis in American manufacturing, energy, education, structural deficit, and other critical topics to Islamization via “stealth jihad” by subversive elements among America’s Muslims. In a speech in July, 2010, to his base at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), Gingrich exclaimed, “I believe Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the U.S. and in the world as we know it.”15 Also, during the campaign, Gingrich produced a film with his wife on the existential threat of Islamization, America at Risk: The War With No Name. In it, he warned Americans about unspecified and ambiguous “Radical Islamists” inside America, who were threatening “to impose an extraordinarily different system on us”—to “replace American freedom with Sharia.”16 And, in his bid to unseat President Obama, conservative Catholic Rick Santorum also joined the anti-rational discourse of the Islamization scare, describing “creeping Sharia” as a “huge issue” and “an ‘existential threat to America.’”17

More Obvious Politicization: Linking “Enemies Foreign and Domestic”

U.S. social-conservative speech on the topic of Islam as a security threat also began to function as a platform from which even more direct political struggle could be waged. Specifically, in a kind of neo-McCarthyism, key conservative spokespersons began linking enemies foreign and domestic, to use the phrase in the U.S. Oath of Office to ensnare traitors. Specifically, they linked the conservative movement’s newest foreign enemy, “Islam,” with its older domestic enemy, the Left, in the purported grand conspiracy to Islamize the nation.

The practice had deep roots in U.S. social conservative subculture. When evangelist Billy Graham, for example, talked about Islam in terms of “barbarians beating at our gates from without,” he did not stop there. In that same sentence he went on to link that threat of barbarians without to the “moral termites from within”—a phrase that his audience understood as denoting progressivism broadly.18 This feature was also on display by Pat Robertson in the April 28, 2006, The 700 Club on CBN. Robertson countered the dominant consensus about Islam, saying, “It is not a religion of peace,” he then used that segue to engage the more familiar enemies domestic, “the American left”—as he described them—who needed to “wake up” to the danger that Islam presents.19

By the tenth anniversary of 9/11, this practice of linking enemies foreign and domestic had become commonplace among many of the more rightist conservative cultural warriors. In March, 2011, popular Fox News Channel host Glenn Beck linked his domestic enemies to his newest foreign enemy, warning that America and other Western states are “being divvied up” by the “uber left” and the “Islamicists.”20 In a June, 2011, event hosted by ACT! for America’s Brigitte Gabriel, Erick Stakelbeck—the CBN’s “terrorism analyst”—explained that “[t]he Left sees Islam as an ally and Western Civilization and the Judeo-Christian tradition is the enemy” and “They (Islam and the Left) have a shared hatred for this country.”21

Key religious conservative political elite followed suit. In his 2011 speech at the AEI, for instance, Gingrich began by advancing the Islamization of America scare. “Stealth jihadis,” he said, “use political, cultural, societal, religious, intellectual tools… to replace Western civilization with a radical imposition of Shariah.” Then, linking enemies foreign and domestic, he added, “The left’s refusal to tell the truth about the Islamist threat is a natural parallel to the 70-year pattern of left-wing intellectuals refusing to tell the truth about communism and the Soviet Union.”22 At Christian Zionist leader John Hagee’s Cornerstone Church in San Antonio, Texas, Gingrich spoke in highly euphemistic terms that his religious conservative audience understood well in terms of the ongoing culture war, “convinced that if we do not decisively win the struggle over the nature of America,” that the nation will be “a secular atheist country, potentially one dominated by radical Islamists and with no understanding of what it once meant to be an American.”23

During her run for president, in an interview on conservative radio’s popular The Mike Gallagher Show, founder of the House Tea Party caucus, Michele Bachmann (R, MN), found political utility in framing a conspiracy between the infiltrating foreign enemy and the traitorous, disloyal domestic ones. “It seems like there is this common cause that is occurring with the left and with radical Islam” she said, adding, “It’s frightening to think how the left in this country… is throwing in with common cause with these radical elements of Islamic extremism.”24

Politicization of Islam by the U.S. Social-Conservative Movement’s Apparatus of Power

The political utility of the Green Scare to the broader U.S. Conservative movement’s apparatus of power was also evident. This strategy of politicization of Islam can be seen even in the movement’s central identifying institutions, such as its flagship commentaries, newspapers, and publishing houses.

Conservative Commentaries

On the day after President Obama’s June 4, 2009, address from Cairo to Muslims worldwide to quell the “war on Islam” master grievance narrative that had become dominant in Muslim communities worldwide,25 the conservative commentary magazine, The National Review, published “Making Believe: Obama’s Speech Was Deep in Fable, Short on Fact.” The article antagonized the conservative movement’s enemies—foreign and domestic, religious and political, specifically Islam and the Left—describing the speech as “warmed-over leftist dogma sprinkled with a fictional accounting of Islam and its history.”26

Conservative Newspapers

Also, after Obama’s aforementioned speech in Cairo to the world’s Muslim communities, another iconic U.S. conservative institution, The Washington Times, carried this nonsequitur headline on June 9, 2009: “America’s First Muslim President? Obama Aligns with the Policies of Shariah-Adherents.” Bypassing the strategic importance of this historic foreign-policy initiative and the opportunity for rational criticism of the new administration’s approach, this central identifying newspaper of the U.S. conservative movement delved into crude, tabloid-like politics. “There is mounting evidence that the president not only identifies with Muslims, but actually may still be one himself,” the article stated.27 The editors had not made a mistake; Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.—the author—was the newspaper’s signature security expert, having published some 1,300 of his articles over a twenty-five-year period.28

The Green Scare over Islam and Islamization that emerged among the more entrepreneurial segment of U.S. social and religious conservatives in the U.S. in the latter part of the post-9/11 decade was not merely about protecting the nation from the threat of Islam, and nor was it motivated purely by genuine fear of Islam and its adherents.

It was evident that this conservative newspaper’s editorial position was to politicize the security events or topics that it selects for news. Each item of “news” selected for commentary began only to inform the audience on the topic, when it shifted to its more politically-performative function—to delegitimize Obama, his administration, the Democratic Party, or the broader more progressive “establishment.” This strategy was always reflected in the titles. For example, Gaffney’s article on the eleventh anniversary of 9/11 was titled “Islamists’ Tipping Point: Obama Impotence Signals Opportunity for Shariah.”29 And, prior to the mid-term elections, the same strategy of security politics was in play, with articles promoting the Islamization or sharia scare, including “Courting Shariah: Kagan Supported Islam at Harvard but Not the U.S. Military” (June 21, 2010),30 and “Obama’s ‘Teachable’ Shariah Moment” (August 17, 2010).31

The same strategy of security politics was enacted by all of The Washington Times’s organic security intellectuals. On the ninth anniversary of 9/11, the newspaper ran the article by three of its other security experts, R. James Woolsey, Andrew C. McCarthy, and Harry E. Soyster, titled “Second Opinion Needed on Sharia: Our Political Establishment Wears Blinders and Ignores the Threat” (September 14, 2010).32 Its other security expert, Daniel Pipes, followed suit, publishing such politically performative articles as “‘Rushdie Rules’ Reach Florida: Obama Endorses Privileged Status for Islam” (September 20, 2010),33 “Obama: ‘I Have Never Been a Muslim’” (September 7, 2012),34 “Obama: My Muslim Faith” (September 11, 2012),35 and so on.

Conservative Publishing Houses

The two main conservative publishing houses were also advancing this anti-Islam discourse as a platform for cultural politics. Regnery Publishing, for example, has been a central, identifying conservative institution since its early post-World War II productions, publishing such important works as Russell Kirk’s The Conservative Mind (1953), engaging the dominant progressive culture with every form of politically incorrect books. To facilitate this mode of cultural struggle, Regnery even developed its trademarked “The Politically Incorrect Guide” series, with titles sure to please the conservative audience, such as The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam (and the Crusades) (2005), by the aforementioned Catholic security expert, Robert Spencer. Finding this conservative realm of politically incorrect truth useful, Regnery in 2007 published another of his books, The Truth about Muhammad: Founder of the World’s Most Intolerant Religion. The book was politically useful in its performance of pure negation of liberal thought. Specifically, in that all of the history of Muhammad that the farther Left and former Catholic nun, Karen Armstrong, had excluded from her recent work on the faith’s founder, the farther Right and Catholic deacon, Spencer, used exclusively for his text. In this politically incorrect, anti-Islam genre, Regnery also published Spencer’s Religion of Peace? Why Christianity Is and Islam Isn’t (2007) and his The Complete Infidel’s Guide to the Koran (2009); conservative commentator Michelle Malkin’s In Defense of Internment [of Muslim-Americans] (2004); CBN’s Erik Stakelbeck’s The [Muslim-American] Terrorist Next Door (2011); and so on.

Regnery also engaged in the more explicit strategy within cultural struggle of linking enemies foreign and domestic, with such titles as Unholy Alliance: Radical Islam and the American Left (2006), by Spencer’s boss and well-known culture warrior, David Horowitz.

In that same strategy of action within cultural politics, the other prominent conservative publisher, Encounter Books, in 2010 alone published two politically useful books by conservative security commentator Andrew McCarthy: How Obama Embraces Islam’s Sharia Agenda and The Grand Jihad: How Islam and the Left Sabotage America. Encounter’s jacket for the second book noted how the global jihad movement “has found the ideal partner in President Barack Obama, whose Islamist sympathies run deep.”


The Green Scare over Islam and Islamization that emerged among the more entrepreneurial segment of U.S. social and religious conservatives in the U.S. in the latter part of the post-9/11 decade was not merely about protecting the nation from the threat of Islam, and nor was it motivated purely by genuine fear of Islam and its adherents. Instead, judging from the features of this discourse as constructed by social conservative political and religious elite on the one hand, and the movement’s central identifying institutions on the other, it seems evident that yet another motivating factor was always present: politics. Specifically, the more politically-active segment of the social conservatives embellished the threat from America’s largely half-immigrant, half-black Muslim community and their broader faith tradition in order to create another opportune platform to advance their longstanding cultural struggle against their traditional domestic political rivals—the Democrats and the Left more broadly.36


1Syndicated News, “Islam’s March Against the West,” Assyrian International News Agency, February 2, 2006.
2Clark Hoyt, “A Radical Islamophobe?” New York Times Magazine (August 21, 2008); available at
3Daniel Pipes, “Islamism 2.0.,” Jerusalem Post, November 25, 2009; available at
4Sheila Musaji, “The GOP Has Declared War on American Muslims,” The American Muslim, updated December 8, 2015; available at
5Trevor Persaud, “Q&A: Herman Cain on Faith, Calling, and Presidential Aspirations,” Christianity Today (March 21, 2011), available at
6Amy Sullivan, “The Sharia Myth Sweeps America,” USA Today, June 14, 2011; available at
7Alex Kane, “Top 5 Islam-Bashing Republicans to Watch in 2013,” AlterNet, December 29, 2012; available at
8Sheila Musaji, “Is Congressional Christian Brotherhood Group behind GOP Islamophobia?” The American Muslim, July 20, 2012; available at
9Oak Initiative, “Our Purpose,” n.d.; available at
10Kyle Mantyla, “Boykin: Islam ‘Should Not Be Protected under the First Amendment,’” RightWingWatch, December 6, 2010; available at
11Jerry Boykin, “The Threat of Islamic Terrorism II,” Dr. James Dobson’s Family Talk, February 18, 2012; available at
12Pew Research Center, Muslim-Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream, Washington, DC, May 22, 2007; available at
13Pew Research Center, The Future of the Global Muslim Population: Projections for 2010 to 2030 (Washington, DC, January, 2011), p. 137; available at
14Charles Kurzman, “Muslim American Terrorism since 9/11: An Accounting,” Triangle Center on Terrorism and National Security, Chapel Hill, NC, February 2, 2011; available at
15Scott Shane, “In Islamic Law, Gingrich Sees a Mortal Threat to U.S.,” New York Times, December 21, 2011; available at
16Newt Gingrich and Callista Gingrich, “America at Risk: The War with No Name,” Human Events, September 8, 2010; available at
17Juana Summers, “GOP Litmus Test: Sharia Opposition,” Politico, May 10, 2011; available at
18William Chafe, The Unfinished Journey: America since World War II (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), pp. 26–27.
19Media Matters, “Robertson Labeled Islam a “Bloody, Brutal Type of Religion,” May 1, 2006; available at
20Jack Mirkinson, “Glenn Beck Stands by Egypt Caliphate Conspiracy Theory: ‘I’m Not Wrong,’” Huffington Post, February 4, 2011; see
21Julie Ingersoll, “‘The Left’ and Islamists to Bring Down Judeo-Christian America,” Religion Dispatches (RD) Magazine, July 11, 2011; available at
22Shane, “In Islamic Law.”
23Kyle Mantyla, “Video: Gingrich with Hagee, Warning U.S. becoming ‘Secular Atheist Country Dominated by Radical Islamists,’” Right Wing Watch, April 25, 2011; available at
24MN Progressive Project, “Bachmann: Left in Common Cause with Islamic Extremism,” June 5, 2010; available at
25Pew Research Center, Muslim-Western Tensions Persist, Washington, DC, July 21, 2011; available at
26Andrew C. McCarthy, “Making Believe: Obama’s Speech Was Deep in Fable, Short on Fact,” National Review, June 5, 2009; see
27See, “Frank Gaffney’s Weekly Column Comes to Breitbart,” Big Peace, February 25, 2014; available at
36All statements of fact, analysis, or opinion herein are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the National Intelligence University or any other component of the U.S. government.