The Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Southern Poverty Law Center have plenty of opponents on the right, but the leftist civil rights groups appear to hold some sway with the Trump Organization’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Florida.
Less than two weeks after the leftist groups pressured Mar-a-Lago to cancel a booking for an ACT for America gala featuring conservative pundit Michelle Malkin, the resort has come under pressure to scrap the annual banquet of the Center for Security Policy, another conservative national security organization listed by the SPLC as a “hate group.”
“The Trump Organization made the right decision to cancel a previous event hosted by an anti-Muslim hate group, and we call them to do so again,” said CAIR government affairs director Robert McCaw, adding that President Trump “should not profit from a group that makes its money by demonizing an entire faith.”
Pushing back was Center for Security Policy President Fred Fleitz, a former Trump administration national security official who slammed the “anti-Muslim” label as “completely inaccurate.”
“Look, Muslim Americans are an important part of our society,” Mr. Fleitz said. “They’re doctors and lawyers, friends and neighbors, and we’re lucky to have them. They shouldn’t be discriminated against, or subject to any type of violence, or denied any rights, and that’s something I feel very strongly about.”
He said the center’s priorities include promoting its work in defense of Israel and opposing anti-Semitism “from the far left and far right.”
“We do a lot of things — Korea, China, the Iran nuclear program, cybersecurity,” Mr. Fleitz said. “And we have talked about radical Islam, and that’s just too politically incorrect for the left. They go after anybody who talks about this.”
Mr. Fleitz, who served last year as chief of staff to then-National Security Adviser John R. Bolton, said the Nov. 23 banquet is still scheduled for Mar-a-Lago.
Mr. Trump no longer runs the Trump Organization — his sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump took over after the 2016 presidential election — but the episode illustrates how Trump properties such as Mar-a-Lago and Trump National Doral have been pulled into the political fray by the right and left and even the president.
Mr. Trump late Saturday reversed his plans to hold the Group of Seven economic summit at Trump National Doral in Doral, Florida, after outcry over profiting from a federal contract. He fumed that it would have been “the best G-7 ever.”
Mar-a-Lago offered no explanation for the cancellation of the Nov. 7 ACT for America gala but told CNN, “This event will absolutely not be taking place at Mar-a-Lago.” The Washington Times has reached out to the resort for comment.
Ms. Malkin blasted CAIR and the SPLC for seeking to “silence & eliminate political opponents by redefining criticism of their agenda & tactics as ‘hate.’”
“There is a chilling ‘cancel culture’ being waged on patriotic journalists & activists—and apparently not even Mar A Lago is a safe space,” she tweeted.
‘Radical left smear machine’
The Trump venue canceled the gala amid a longtime feud between CAIR and ACT for America. CAIR has accused the conservative group of “Islamophobia,” which ACT denies, while ACT has blasted CAIR as a “terrorist organization,” which CAIR denies.
Despite the cancellation, Brigitte Gabriel, founder and chairman of ACT for America, said her organization would “continue to stand with President Trump and support his fight for the soul of our country.”
“The radical left smear machine like the SPLC, CAIR and the fake news media will lie, twist the truth, and take words out of context in order to destroy those with whom they disagree,” Ms. Gabriel said in an Oct. 7 statement. “While we are disappointed with the Trump Organization attorneys, we do not blame President Trump or the Trump family.”
CAIR and the SPLC cited Ms. Gabriel’s statement at a 2007 anti-terrorism training event at the Defense Department’s Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia, where she said that a “practicing Muslim who believes in the teachings of the Koran cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States.”
“This is a group that has been associated with Islamophobia in the worst form for many years and has also been associated with white supremacists and racist groups,” CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper said in an Oct. 5 statement.
In an Oct. 14 interview with PJ Media, Ms. Gabriel said the 2007 quote was part of a longer exchange that referred to any Muslim who “adheres to the same ideology that al Qaeda … follows.”
ACT for America grassroots director Thomas Hern said the group condemns “white supremacy in all forms.”
The call to cancel the Center for Security Policy event focused on founder Frank Gaffney. In a Thursday press release, CAIR said the center was “headed by notorious Islamophobe Frank Gaffney,” prompting Mr. Fleitz to point out that he heads the group. Mr. Gaffney serves as executive chairman.
“Frank Gaffney’s not the president. I’m the president. And CAIR knows that. I’ve fought with CAIR for years. CAIR doesn’t want to talk about that. This is a lie, this statement,” Mr. Fleitz said.
The Center for Security Policy and ACT for America are listed as “hate groups” by the SPLC, a designation decried on the right as a tactic to discredit leading conservative groups by lumping them with racist outfits such as the Ku Klux Klan.
The SPLC has faced heavy criticism for its aggressive fundraising, lavish headquarters and offshore accounts, as well as accusations of racial discrimination against its leadership. Co-founder Morris Dees was fired in March amid sexual harassment allegations, which he denies, and President Richard Cohen resigned two weeks later.
Meanwhile, CAIR plans to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a Nov. 9 gala featuring two controversial figures: Rep. Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Democrat, whose first term in Congress has been marred by allegations of anti-Semitism, and activist Linda Sarsour, who famously hugged convicted Palestinian terrorist Rasmea Odeh at a farewell event shortly before she was deported in 2017.
The CAIR event won’t be at a Trump property, but rather the Grand Hyatt Washington in the District of Columbia.
⦁ Tom Howell Jr. contributed to this story.