Back in “the day” as some are wont to describe the Sixties and Seventies, the AFL-CIO set up and funded an outfit called “Group Research” which even before Hillary Clinton arrived on the scene to blame all her troubles on a “Vast Right-Wing Conspiracy” purported to be able to demonstrate that just about every Republican was in some way connected to and perhaps controlled by the John Birch Society.
Group Research operatives drew up spider webs of connections that “proved” to the unwary that a secret Birch conspiracy actually existed, included virtually everyone they didn’t like, and threatened the very foundations of the American republic. It is no exaggeration to say that if a Republican was reckless enough to eat at a diner at which the short order cook had a sister who was married to a Bircher, Group Researcher’s researchers would make the connection to him and list him as part of the Birch conspiracy.
Over on the other side of town, some of J. Edgar Hoover’s more imaginative hangers-on were making similar connections between liberals and Gus Hall’s little band of Marxist-Leninists. Wisconsin’s Joe McCarthy was long gone by then, but some on both sides of the ideological fence found guilt-by-association even at a long distance an effective way of demonizing their opponents.
There are always a few in our midst just paranoid enough to believe in the validity of such connections. One of today’s leading conspiracy buffs is Frank Gaffney, founder and president of the Center for Security Policy who has managed to convince himself that anyone with whom he disagrees is not just wrong but an agent of one conspiracy or another.
In an earlier incarnation, the man did yeoman’s work as a Reagan-era defense appointee popularizing and fighting for missile defense and regularly appeared in these pages, but when he sought an even better Pentagon job under Mr. Reagan’s successor and lost out to someone else, he convinced himself that he was blocked by Soviet agents within our own government.
He really went off after 9/11 though, convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood and its paid agents within the United States were in virtual control of President George W. Bush’s foreign policy by virtue of the Bush White House’s friendship with Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform. Most who knew Mr. Norquist saw him as a limited government advocate of tax reduction, but Mr. Gaffney was not fooled; he just “knew” Mr. Norquist was and is a closet jihadist bent upon delivering the west into the hands of our Middle Eastern enemies.
The dispute began over office space and got worse. Mr. Norquist’s decades-long history of voter outreach to all kinds of minority groups included a very successful effort to get American Muslims to vote Republican in 2000. After 9/11, Mr. Gaffney concluded that those efforts and the fact that Mr. Norquist was married to an American of Palestinian descent who attended the same high school he did in Massachusetts added up to conclusive evidence of Mr. Norquist’s involvement in the jihadist conspiracy to bring down America.
To convince others of this, he put together a book that would have made the boys and girls at Group Research proud and tried to convince fellow conservatives and mainstream reporters that he had the goods on Mr. Norquist. Most of those he briefed dismissed the charges out of hand as preposterous. Mr. Gaffney’s conspiracy theory has been denounced in writing by the man who led the War Against Terror, Michael Chertoff, Mr. Bush’s Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security. Mr. Gaffney was also disinvited or condemned by numerous conservative groups that actually investigated the charges and concluded that they might be best described as wacky.
Later, he wrote approvingly of rumors that President Obama was born not in the United States, but in Kenya and began claiming that the new president was working consciously to impose Sharia law on the people of the United States and claimed that Democrats in Congress were acting as if they were taking lessons from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Never one to give up, however, Mr. Gaffney doubled down, claiming he had personally seen Mr. Norquist going to a meeting with known terrorists and their burka-wearing female accomplices even though in fact Mr. Norquist was flying back to Washington the morning of the attacks and never even made it to his offices.
In his latest attempt to “get” his longtime enemy, Mr. Gaffney discovered that the by-laws of the National Rifle Association on whose Board Mr. Norquist serves and to which he was recently re-elected, allows members to demand a recall election of members with whom they disagree. Mr. Gaffney, not a voting member himself, immediately set about recruiting some to file papers against Mr. Norquist, the Board appointed a committee as required by the NRA by-laws which investigated the charges as other groups have in the past, found them baseless and has urged its members to reject the recall attempt.
One hopes that is what they will do and that Mr. Gaffney will, like the folks at Group Research, Mr. Hoover’s aides and most conspiracy nuts of yore will vanish into the fever swamps from which he came.
• David A. Keene is Opinion editor at The Washington Times and the former president of the National Rifle Association.