Republican presidential candidate and former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney campaigns at Van Dyck park in Fairfax, Virginia, Thursday, September 13, 2012. (AP Photo/Charles Dharapak)
On the opening night of the Republican National Convention, the cameras caught former UN ambassador John Bolton in the Romney family box, chatting amiably with Romney’s son Tagg. Shortly before the convention, Bolton, an unpaid foreign policy advisor to Romney, rushed to the defense of Congresswoman Michele Bachmann, whose attempts to tie Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin to the Muslim Brotherhood were widely denounced, even by Republicans like John McCain. Several weeks before the convention, Romney met in Denver with former Army lieutenant general Jerry Boykin, who was rebuked by President Bush in 2003 for his anti-Muslim, Crusade-like statements while still in uniform and subsequently found by the Pentagon Inspector General to have violated three internal rules when he delivered these speeches without clarifying that he was speaking in his private capacity. Boykin’s war cry of “no mosques in America” and rejection of First Amendment rights for statements in support of Islam led to his withdrawal as a West Point speaker this year, after protests by Iraq and Afghanistan vet groups. Boykin recently became executive vice president of the Family Research Council, a measure of how Islamophobia has become an integral part of the hard-right agenda.
The Romney campaign’s foreign policy team of advisers is flooded with neocons from the Bush era, including Robert Joseph, the National Security Council official who, as Ari Berman reported in The Nation, inserted the famous “sixteen words” in Bush’s State of the Union address in 2003 claiming that Iraq tried to buy enriched uranium from Niger. Romney’s top national security adviser since 2007 is Cofer Black, the former Blackwater executive and CIA official who ran the “extraordinary rendition” torture program. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire Super PAC donor for Romney, says “all the terrorists are Islamists,” Gingrich’s declaration that the Palestinians are “an invented people.”
This is the context surrounding Romney’s most recent expedition into Middle East policy. A Washington Post editorial echoed by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews pointedly raised the question of why Romney failed to condemn the fourteen-minute trailer, “Innocence of Muslims,” during his Wednesday press conference, though it ostensibly triggered the embassy attacks in Egypt and elsewhere. His campaign later issued a muted criticism of “the reported message of the movie.” Finally, this morning, he said the “whole film is a terrible idea,” and that “making it, promoting it, showing it, is disrespectful to people of other faiths,” a statement it took him four days after the furor began to make.
The fact is that the film emerged from the same Islamophobic circles that celebrate Bolton and Boykin, and are now backing Romney. The 2011 permit to make the movie was granted to Media for Christ, a nonprofit that shares space with The Way TV, and both are headed by an Egyptian Christian named Joseph Nassralla Abdelmasih.
Nassralla was a celebrated speaker at the September 11, 2010, and September 11, 2011, rallies in New York to oppose the Park51 Islamic center (the so-called “Ground Zero mosque”) that were organized by renowned anti-Muslim bloggers Pam Geller and Robert Spencer, who even the Anti-Defamation League has accused of “promoting a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda under the pretext of fighting radical Islam.” Bolton delivered a ten-minute videotaped address at the 2010 rally, introduced by Geller as her candidate for president in 2012. Nassralla declared that they would build the mosque “on my dead body,” derided the Koran as “not holy” and raised over his head a picture of the bloody corpse of a Coptic Christian friend of his who he said was killed by Muslims, telling the audience “you don’t have to be like this.”
Spencer introduced Nassralla at the rally as a prized thumb in the eye of the media, since Keith Olbermann and others had made much of the fact that Nassralla and an associate had been mistaken as Muslims at the Geller/Spencer group’s June rally and nearly assaulted, escorted out by the NYPD. “I’m a Christian,” a sweating Nassralla was reported to have yelled in his defense, though he was shoved and his camera was knocked out of his hand. Shortly after the incident, Nassralla confirmed the news accounts of this episode to Rightwing News, but he later toned it all down and became a Geller/Spencer property at rallies. Nassralla was even scheduled to be a speaker at the first national conference on Sharia law in Nashville last year, where Geller, too, was scheduled to be the top headliner but cancelled after a hotel there refused to host it. David French, the head of Evangelicals for Mitt, was a speaker at the same conference.
Bolton, who has campaigned repeatedly with Romney, is so close to Geller and Spencer that he wrote the foreword to their 2010 book, The Post-American Presidency: The Obama Administration’s War on America, and has done several interviews with Geller, cozily discussing Middle East policy in couch videos. Geller, for her part, praised Romney’s meeting with “war hero” Boykin as “a sign that [Romney] will pursue a realistic and patriotic policy of resisting global jihad and Islamic supremacism.” Geller, who says she “loves” Paul Ryan, contends that “the campaign is clearly defined” between “Anti-American vs. pro-American.” Morris Sadek, another Coptic Christian, whose Arabic blog about the trailer is widely seen as having generated Egyptian interest in it, also appeared at Geller/Spencer rallies, and is associated with Nassralla.
Between the Geller/Spencer rallies in June and September 2010, Mitt Romney joined their campaign against the Manhattan Islamic center, issuing a statement opposing it in part because of “the potential for extremists to use the mosque for global recruiting and propaganda,” almost precisely what Boykin and Bolton were saying at the time. The Romney position on the mosque controversy, derided in a Boston Globe editorial as directly contrary to his Mormon speech in the 2008 campaign, now appears inconsistent with his ongoing commentary on the embassy attacks. He became a fulsome backer of filmmaker rights at his press conference, declaring “we will also defend our constitutional right of speech and assembly and religion.”
In addition to Media for Christ (also called M4C on its videos of Nassralla’s musical solos), Nassralla runs The Way TV, which features a weekly show hosted by Steve Klein, who has admitted his involvement with the film in press interviews. Spokespersons for Nassralla organizations have denied involvement and he is said to be in hiding.
Research assistance provided by Jacob Anderson, Nadia Prupis, Stephanie Rogan and Catherine Thompson.