Inside the Smear of a Muslim ‘Infiltration’ of Obama’s White House

As the Islamophobic disinformation campaigns weaponized against Barack Obama during his presidency gained wider acceptance in right-wing circles, it was further deployed against Muslim officials outside of the White House as well.

One prime example is the “Muslim Brotherhood” smear used against a group of Muslim men, claiming that they had “infiltrated” Obama’s administration:

Some iterations of the campaign contained language similar to the claim:

At least six American Islamist activists who work closely with the Obama administration are Muslim Brotherhood operatives who enjoy strong influence over U.S. policy, according to the Investigative Project on Terrorism [IPT] and the Center for Security Policy [CSP] in Washington.

While both groups sound “official” in name, they are really right-wing fronts; as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) reported, the latter group has built its brand on this type of disinformation:

Since around 2010, CSP’s main focus has been on demonizing Islam and Muslims under the guise of national security. Statements from Frank Gaffney and other CSP staffers, along with claims made in CSP publications, have become increasingly conspiratorial in nature, making such claims as Muslims are attempting to overthrow the U.S. government from within, and that Sharia law is trumping the constitution in American courts.

For its part, the IPT attracted attention in December 2021, when the civil advocacy group the the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) discovered that its chapter in Columbus, Ohio had been infiltrated by IPT operatives.

“It is dangerous,” the chapter’s community affairs director Whitney Siddiqi said at the time. “We know that Islamophobia has been on the rise over the past two decades and when you are spreading hate against Muslims it is not simply something you’re just posting or saying to someone, that has a direct impact on our lives.”

In April 2022 New York state Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter to IPT and its founder, Steve Emerson, warning them to stop similar activities in her state. She said in a statement:

Let me be clear: We will not bow to hate, we will not enable bias, and we will not empower Islamophobia. I urge DOJ to stand with us and use its considerable power to protect Muslim communities throughout New York and across the nation. Our constitution protects the rights of all communities to live without harassment or intimidation; we will remain vigilant in the protection of these rights.

In that light, the smears against the six men — Arif Alikhan; Mohamed Elibiary; Imam Mohamed Magid; Eboo Patel; Rashad Hussain; and Salam al-Marayati — were allowed to spread despite being unsubstantiated beyond the familiar dogwhistles. Alikhan was also targeted in a chain email seizing on his faith:

Obama and Janet Napolitano appointed Arif Alikhan, a devout Muslim, as Assistant Secretary for Policy Development. DHS Secretary Janet Napolitano swore-in Kareem Shora, a devout Muslim, who was born in Damascus, Syria, as ADC National Executive Director as a member of the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC).

NOTE: Has anyone ever heard a new government official being identified as a devout Catholic, a devout Jew or a devout Protestant…?
Just wondering.

Devout Muslims being appointed to critical Homeland Security positions? Doesn’t this make you feel safer already?? That should make our home land much safer, huh!?

As of February 2023:

  • Arikhan, who worked in the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), is president of the security consultant company TacLogix.
  • Elibiary describes himself on Twitter as an investor and a “center-right Republican so hated by FarRight.”
  • In July 2022, U.S. President Joe Biden appointed Magid to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom.
  • Patel, who was part of the Advisory Council on Faith-Based Neighborhood Partnerships initiated by the Obama administration, is founder and president of the advocacy group Interfaith America.
  • Hussain works for the U.S. State Department as part of the Office of International Religious Freedom.
  • al-Marayati, who was appointed to a U.S. delegation to Portland in 2012, works with his own advocacy group, the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

To date there is still no evidence of a Muslim Brotherhood “infiltration” in the Biden administration; but anti-Muslim rhetoric continues to be weaponized by right-wing U.S. lawmmakers, as evidenced by the expulsion of Rep. Ilhan Omar from the House Foreign Affairs Committee on February 2 2023.

Update 2/2/2023, 4:30 p.m. PST: This article has been revamped and updated. You can review the original here. — ag