U.S. Senator John McCain made a national splash during the 2008 presidential campaign when, during a campaign town hall, he refuted a woman who said then-Senator Barack Obama was “an Arab.”
The man chosen to fill the remainder of the term for McCain, who was laid to rest Saturday at the U.S. Naval Academy, has no such track record.
Arizona Governor Doug Ducey on Tuesday tapped former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl, a Republican with a history of anti-Arab and anti-Muslim rhetoric and actions.
Kyl hosted a screening of “Fitna,” a film which shows verses of the Quran with “graphic footage of atrocities committed by radical Muslims,” and invited the film’s creator, the far-right Dutch lawmaker Geert Wilders, to the U.S. Capitol in 2009.
Britain banned Wilders earlier that year out of concern that his anti-Muslim views would incite violence.
In 2011, Kyl questioned the need for the U.S. Senate to hold a hearing on the civil rights of American Muslims.
“I'm a bit perplexed by the focus” of the hearing, Kyl said, in light of the fact that most religious hate crimes in the United States are committed against Jews.
“The point is, all bigotry is to be condemned,” Kyl said. “Selective indignation is not helpful.”
In 2010 he appeared on Secure Freedom Radio with Frank Gaffney, a public mouthpiece for the hate group the Center for Security Policy (CSP), known for conspiracy theories and anti-Muslim rhetoric. In his remarks, Kyl criticized Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan for her comments about Harvard’s Islamic Finance Project, which studies ways to allow Muslims to borrow money without violating religious prohibitions, while she served as dean of the university’s law school.
“It is a short step from the whole Sharia financing concept into deeper reliance on Sharia law, which would be antithetical to everything we in the West and, specifically, in the United States, believe in,” Kyl said. “But the idea of getting people knowledgeable about Sharia finance has gained some support from the bankers who’ve never shied away from making money.”
Kyl, along with then-U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, presented John Guandolo — a disgraced ex-FBI agent turned anti-Muslim activist — with the “Defender of the Homeland” Award on behalf of CSP in 2007.
Guandolo was dismissed from the FBI for a number of ethical breaches and bizarre conduct that included admitting to having affairs with female FBI agents and a confidential source he was assigned to protect during the corruption case of former U.S. Representative William Jefferson of Louisiana. Guandolo also solicited that witness for a $75,000 donation for an anti-terrorism group. Since his departure, Guandolo has devoted himself to a rabid brand of anti-Muslim activism. He works closely with some of the most powerful and influential anti-Muslim groups in the U.S. and has hurled a flurry of accusations against government officials he says have ties to terrorist organizations.
Kyl, who previously served in the U.S. Senate from 1995-2013, recently took on a request from Facebook to examine concerns about alleged liberal bias on Facebook, internally and on its services. Kyl and a team from his law firm will get feedback directly from conservative groups and advise Facebook on the best way to work with these groups in the future.
The review, and Kyl’s acceptance of the request, comes after the United Nations issued a report concluding that Facebook is being used as a tool to spread hate and that the company has been slow to respond and tamp down or eliminate hate speech on the platform.
“The role of social media is significant. Facebook has been a useful instrument for those seeking to spread hate, in a context where for most users Facebook is the Internet,” the report’s authors wrote.
Kyl will serve until an election is held in 2020. Whoever wins that election will serve until 2022, when McCain’s term would have ended.
Swathi Shanmugasundaram contributed reporting.
Photo credit AP Images/Ross D. Franklin