Beth Van Duyne, a former Texas mayor who stoked hysteria around an Islamic tribunal and has associated with anti-Muslim hate groups, is running for U.S. Congress.
Van Duyne’s public clash with the local tribunal more than four years ago gained her fame among anti-Muslim figures and some right-wing pundits. Two anti-Muslim hate groups, ACT for America and the Center for Security Policy, have honored her with awards.
The tribunal is a faith-based arbiter offering nonbinding resolutions to civil disputes. Similar religious tribunals exist within Christian and Jewish communities in the United States.
On Aug. 5, Van Duyne stepped down as the Fort Worth regional director of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, a post she had held since 2017. She is seeking the Republican nomination for Texas’ 24th Congressional District after Rep. Kenny Marchant announced he wouldn't run for re-election. From 2011 to 2017, Van Duyne was mayor of Irving, Texas, a Dallas suburb.
Van Duyne gained national attention in 2015 when she became fixated on the Islamic tribunal in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.
On Feb. 6, 2015, Van Duyne took to Facebook to state: “Sharia Law Court was NOT approved or enacted by the City of Irving.” She vowed to work to “better understand how this ‘court’ will function,” and added: “Our nation cannot be so overly sensitive in defending other cultures that we stop protecting our own.” The post has since been taken down.
PolitiFact found claims of a “Sharia court” taking root in Texas to be false. Sharia is a set of guiding religious principles, but anti-Muslim hate groups try to twist it into something insidious to sow fear of Islam. The idea that Sharia is gaining a foothold in the United States is a long-running conspiracy theory pushed by anti-Muslim groups.
During a February 2015 interview with Glenn Beck, Van Duyne accused the imams associated with the tribunal of “bypassing American courts.” She did not respond to Hatewatch’s emails asking for comment.
In March 2015, at the behest of Van Duyne, the Irving City Council voted 5-4 to pass a resolution in support of an anti-Sharia bill then making its way through the Texas Legislature. While that anti-Sharia bill in Texas died, a similar law passed in 2017.
Since 2010, more than 200 model anti-Sharia law bills have been introduced in statehouses across more than 40 states. These bills aim to prevent state courts from applying foreign law. Such bills are superfluous because while judges may take foreign law into account, the U.S. Constitution would supersede the application of any foreign law based on religion. As the Brennan Center for Justice notes, “For decades, American courts have applied foreign law as long as it does not violate U.S. public policy.”
At least 10 states have enacted some form of an anti-Sharia-inspired bill. An amendment specifically targeting Sharia law that passed in Oklahoma was overturned by a federal court in 2013 after it was found to be unconstitutional. More neutral language such as “foreign” or “international” law has since been used in recent iterations of these bills, including one that later passed in Oklahoma.
The mastermind behind anti-Sharia bills, David Yerushalmi, admitted the true intention of this legislation to The New York Times in 2011. “If this thing passed in every state without any friction, it would have not served its purpose,” he told the newspaper. “The purpose was heuristic – to get people asking this question, ‘What is Sharia?’ ”
For her efforts, Van Duyne was honored by the national ACT for America organization during its annual conference in Washington in 2016. She was given the group’s National Security Patriot Award. One of ACT’s main goals is to use its chapter network across the country to lobby state lawmakers to introduce anti-Muslim legislation, including anti-Sharia bills.
Van Duyne’s appearance at the ACT event appears to have been facilitated through Michael Flynn, President Donald Trump’s former national security adviser, according to emails that Hatewatch obtained. Flynn previously was an adviser to ACT’s board of directors. A month after Trump’s election, ACT bragged about having a “direct line” to the White House.
On Aug. 11, 2016, Flynn sent an email to Van Duyne titled “Meeting (10 Aug),” stating: “If you can continue to engage with Act For America, I would sincerely appreciate it. I’m cc’ing Roy White [then-head of an ACT chapter in Texas] in case there are any questions you might have and I would ask you to seriously consider joining us this September at out [sic] Annual Convention in WDC…Roy can get you more details…but I am certain, [ACT founder] Brigitte Gabriel would be honored for you to speak.”
The Dallas Morning News reported that Flynn met with Van Duyne on Aug. 10, 2016, before speaking at an event the Dallas chapter of ACT for America organized. During the ACT event, Flynn likened Islam to a “cancer,” the paper reported, and accused it of being “a political ideology” that “hides behind being a religion."
On Aug. 12, 2016, Lisa Piraneo, ACT’s director of government relations, emailed Van Duyne to tell her that she would be “honored with a special award” at the conference.
Van Duyne responded to Piraneo that Aug. 18, writing: “Thank you very much for the invitation and acknowledgement. I am truly honored and humbled. It would be a privilege to attend. Roy White encouraged me to stay for as much of the conference as possible so I'm planning on arriving Monday night and leaving Wednesday late afternoon.”
Roy White led ACT’s San Antonio chapter until he reportedly was fired in 2017 after allegations of hosting an event that would teach participants how to “shut down mosques.” White is involved with two other anti-Muslim hate groups, Truth in Textbooks and the Texas chapter of G416 Patriots. Flynn was also a keynote speaker at ACT’s 2016 conference.
In June 2015, Van Duyne received an award from the Center for Security Policy, a group known for publishing dubious reports about Muslims and Sharia.
That same year, she was a guest on Frank Gaffney’s radio program several times. Gaffney, the founder and executive chairman of the Center for Security Policy, is well-known for engaging in anti-Muslim conspiracy theories.
Speaking with Van Duyne during a June 23, 2015, episode, Gaffney claimed Irving had become “a hotbed, it turns out, of efforts to inculcate inside her city, well, a program that is quite at odds with our Constitution. Its adherents call it Sharia.”
Van Duyne also participated in a Homeland Security Forum in January 2017 sponsored by Texas state Rep. Kyle Biedermann. Her co-panelists included Nonie Darwish and Chris Gaubatz, two figures known for their anti-Muslim rhetoric. Van Duyne used the opportunity to urge lawmakers to investigate the tribunal, according to The Dallas Morning News.
The Dallas County Republican Party and Republican Party of Texas did not return requests for comment.
Photo credit: AP Images/LM Otero