Mike Pompeo, the former Kansas lawmaker and CIA director President Trump unveiled Tuesday as his pick to run the State Department, has long worried Muslims and human rights groups for his sweeping statements about Islam.
There have been rumors for months that Trump would do what he did Tuesday — fire Rex Tillerson and replace him with Pompeo — and Muslim leaders and their allies have expressed concern about Pompeo’s singling out of and suspicious posture toward Muslim Americans. Pompeo has been honored by and has appeared with U.S. advocacy groups that have criticized Islam.
After the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013, Pompeo — then a member of Congress — falsely accused American Muslim organizations of not condemning terrorism. Despite a steady stream of such condemnations since the Sept. 11 attacks — including many in the hours after the Boston attacks — Pompeo accused American Muslims of being “potentially complicit.” On the House floor, weeks after the Boston attacks, he said condemnations hadn’t been sufficient. “It casts doubt on the commitment to peace by adherents of the Muslim faith.”
Trump went further during his presidential campaign, repeatedly accusing American Muslims of knowing about terrorists in their midst.
As a lawmaker, Pompeo co-sponsored a bill to ban the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egypt-based Islamist organization that conspiracy theorists on America’s far right have accused of plotting to infiltrate the government. Washington Post Muslim and Arab affairs reporter Abigail Hauslohner reported last year:
“Lawmakers have for years introduced such legislation, though previous administrations — as well as counterterrorism analysts and political scientists who study the Brotherhood — have not viewed the group, which has held elected political offices across the Middle East, as a threat, preferring to engage it diplomatically.
“Muslim advocacy groups and Middle East experts have warned that adding the Brotherhood to a terrorist list would set a dangerous precedent — by appearing to target a group for its ideology, rather than its actions — and could easily be used to go after American Muslim organizations and individuals. President-elect Donald Trump, his supporters say, sees things differently.”
Advocates for American Muslims, a very small population experiencing a wave of criticism, were alarmed right after the 2016 election about the pick not only of Pompeo but also of Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn as national security adviser. Flynn, who served briefly under Trump and pleaded guilty in December to lying to the FBI about contacts with the Russian government during Trump’s transition, has repeatedly referred to Islam as a “cancer,” claimed that a “fear of Muslims is rational” and warned — despite a lack of evidence — that Sharia or Islamic law is spreading throughout the United States, The Post’s Joby Warrick and Hauslohner reported in 2016.
In other, earlier, forums, Pompeo sought to create distinctions:
In a 2015 speech to the Republican Pachyderm Club in Kansas, then-Rep. Pompeo told a group about a Middle East trip from which he’d just returned:
“You don’t find many Thomas Jeffersons over there,” The Wichita Eagle quoted Pompeo as saying. “Once you accept that … the line needs to be drawn between those who are on the side of extremism and those who are fighting against them, of whatever faith we may find them.”
The story noted Pompeo had just voted in favor of a bill to pause the flow of refugees fleeing the Islamic State. The bill said people had to be certified “no security threat” — a standard President Barack Obama called impossible. In that GOP talk, Pompeo said Obama was right, but that he — Pompeo — just wanted to find the highest possible standard.
Tillerson as secretary of state seemed to work at tempering the sweeping statements Trump made about Islam as a candidate. A year ago, after the president visited Saudi Arabia, Tillerson told reporters traveling on Air Force One that he hoped Trump’s views on Islam “are going to continue to evolve.”
“Nothing helps you learn and understand people better than coming to their homes, where they live and seeing them face to face, seeing their families, and seeing their communities,” Tillerson was quoted as saying by USA Today. “We all share the same wants and desires for ourselves and our people, and our families.
“We want our children to grow up without fear. That’s such a strongly held view around the world, certainly among the Muslim world certainly among the non-Muslim world.”
Amid rumors Pompeo was being considered as a Tillerson replacement, the Atlantic in November noted the CIA director’s alliances with anti-Muslim activists including Brigitte Gabriel and Frank Gaffney.
“Gabriel, who has said a ‘practicing Muslim, who believes in the teachings of the Koran, cannot be a loyal citizen to the United States of America,’ runs ACT for America, an organization that scours textbooks in an effort to eliminate references that equate Islam with Judaism and Christianity, and urges its members to protest the sale of halal food. In 2016, Pompeo won ACT’s ‘highest honor,’ the National Security Eagle Award. Gabriel has called him a ‘steadfast ally’,” the Atlantic reported.
“Pompeo is also a steadfast ally of Frank Gaffney, President of the Center for Security Policy, who has argued that adherence to Islamic law—far from being protected by the First Amendment—should be considered ‘an impermissible act of sedition, which has to be prosecuted.’ Pompeo spoke at the Center for Security Policy’s ‘Defeat Jihad’ summit in 2015. And as a member of Congress, he appeared on Gaffney’s radio show over 20 times,” the Atlantic reported.
When Pompeo was picked after the election to lead the CIA, Post national security reporter Greg Miller said the then-U.S. representative “has no meaningful experience in espionage issues beyond his relatively brief stint as a member of the House Intelligence Committee. But he has earned a reputation as a serious student of national security issues who finished first in his class at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, served as a cavalry officer in the Army and earned a law degree from Harvard.”