The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Indicted congressman falsely ties opponent to terrorism

Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-Calif.) walks past a protester holding a sign for Democratic candidate Ammar Campa-Najjar. (MIKE BLAKE/Reuters)
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“Ammar Campa-Najjar is working to infiltrate Congress. He’s used three different names to hide his family’s ties to terrorism. His grandfather masterminded the Munich Olympic massacre. His father said they deserved to die. ... ‘He is being supported by CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood.’ ‘This is a well-orchestrated plan.’ Ammar Campa-Najjar: A risk we can’t ignore.”

Attack ad from Rep. Duncan Hunter Jr. (R-Calif.), House candidate in California’s 52nd District, Sept. 26, 2018

“He changed his name from Ammar Yasser Najjar to Ammar Campa-Najjar so he sounds Hispanic. ... So his signs could actually say Joseph Campa or, or something. That is how hard, by the way, that the radical Muslims are trying to infiltrate the U.S. government. You had more Islamists run for office this year at the federal level than ever before in U.S. history.”

Recording of Hunter remarks obtained by the Times of San Diego, Sept. 24, 2018

Hunter, who has been indicted on charges of misusing campaign money, still has a shot at reelection and is running an attack ad warning that his opponent, Ammar Campa-Najjar, has terrorist ties and is seeking to “infiltrate Congress.”

Never mind that Campa-Najjar is a Christian born and raised in San Diego. Never mind that his grandfather died years before he was born. Never mind that his father wasn’t around much and that Campa-Najjar was raised by his mother and her Mexican American family. Never mind that Campa-Najjar obtained a security clearance for his past work in the Obama White House and the Labor Department. The Hunter ad ignores those biographical details and paints Campa-Najjar as a threat reared by terrorists.

We gave Hunter Three Pinocchios in a previous fact-check for suggesting that his indictment was a hit job by Democrats. (The U.S. attorney in San Diego, who was appointed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, approved the indictment.)

How do these claims in Hunter’s ad about Campa-Najjar measure up?

The Facts

Hunter’s 30-second ad is not subtle, claiming right off the bat that Campa-Najjar changed his name to “hide his family’s ties to terrorism.” The narrator says Campa-Najjar’s grandfather masterminded the 1972 massacre at the Munich Olympics, in which a Palestinian terrorist group called Black September killed 11 members of the Israeli team and a German police officer. Next, the ad claims that Campa-Najjar’s father once said the Israeli victims “deserved to die.” Then it says the Muslim Brotherhood supports Campa-Najjar and calls him “a risk we can’t ignore.”

Campa-Najjar, who is Palestinian Mexican American, worked at the White House under President Barack Obama beginning in 2013, reviewing the 10 letters Obama would read daily. He later worked at the Labor Department until 2017. Campa-Najjar had a security clearance for those jobs, which required him to pass an FBI background check. (Hunter, a Marine veteran who appears in uniform at the end of the ad, would not be eligible for a security clearance because of his indictment; House Speaker Paul D. Ryan has stripped him of committee assignments.)

Let’s unpack each claim in Hunter’s ad.

‘He’s used three different names to hide his family’s ties to terrorism’

Campa-Najjar was born Ammar Yasser Najjar. He said he changed his last name to Campa-Najjar in honor of his mother’s family, the Campas, who helped raise him. The name change happened years before this House race in California. For example, “Ammar Campa-Najjar” appears on a January 2016 certificate marking his selection as a “Schedule C” appointee at the Labor Department, according to documents Campa-Najjar’s campaign sent. Campa-Najjar, who was estranged from his father for a time while he was growing up, later dropped Yasser as his middle name and replaced it with Joseph.

The claim that Campa-Najjar changed his name to “hide his family’s ties to terrorism” falls flat. “Najjar” is still there in his last name, just as “Ammar” remains his given name. The timing of these changes, well before this campaign began, for us dispel the notion that Campa-Najjar is trying to hide his family’s past from voters.

‘His grandfather masterminded the Munich Olympic massacre’

Campa-Najjar’s grandfather was Muhammad Yusuf al-Najjar, or Abu Yusuf, a senior member of Black September described by Haaretz as “one of the architects of the Munich massacre.” Israeli commandos later killed Yusuf and his wife, among others, in retaliation for the Munich attacks.

Campa-Najjar said in an interview that he never knew his grandfather, who died 16 years before Campa-Najjar was born. He condemned the Munich attacks.

“I denounce those actions,” he said.

A different member of Black September, Mohammed Oudeh, claimed responsibility for the Munich attacks in a 1999 book. The New York Times in a 2010 obituary described Oudeh as “the mastermind of the deadly attack on Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympics.”

This claim in Hunter’s ad is problematic in two ways. Campa-Najjar never knew Yusuf, and although Yusuf is widely reported to have been a key planner behind the Munich attacks, Oudeh appears to be the one who “masterminded” the plot.

‘His father said they deserved to die’

Hunter’s ad attributes this claim to a Sept. 11 broadcast on the right-wing One America News Network. The newscaster says, “Far from condemning the attacks, Najjar’s own father praised the deaths of the Israelis, saying they deserved to die.” But there’s no attribution for this purported statement by Campa-Najjar’s father in the segment.

Yasser Najjar is a former Palestinian Authority official. After his parents' death, he and his siblings were adopted by the king of Morocco, sent to live in Egypt, and Yasser Najjar later moved to San Diego before returning to the Middle East. According to a 1996 Washington Post report, he kept a photograph of his father, Yusuf, on his desk.

On April 10, 1973, when Yasser Najjar was 11 years old, elite Israeli army troops led by Mossad secret police agents broke down his door and killed his father before his eyes in their Beirut apartment. He said he watched his mother gunned down, too, because "she got in the way. She tried to protect my father."
Yasser Najjar, now 34, is a mid-level manager in the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation. Najjar is proud of his father and refuses to accept that killing athletes was more repugnant than the violence of Israeli occupation over the years. But he believes in the unfolding peace with Israel, and he cannot contemplate a return to the old ways.
“He was a different generation,” Najjar said, speaking of his father. “We will never measure up to him and people like him. But the nature of the struggle has changed dramatically. Today it’s a worse struggle: coexistence. It’s like a wife that you don’t love, but you have to stay married. The Palestinian and Israeli people will inevitably work it out, to both their benefits.”

In 2003, NPR described Najjar as “a passionate advocate of peace" after years of hating Israel.

“I can hate the Israelis or Ehud Barak forever, you know, and I’m entitled to," he told NPR. Barak led the Beirut operation that killed Yusuf and his wife, according to a 2002 article in the Chicago Tribune.

“He took everything from me: my mother and my father,” Najjar told NPR. "But at the end, for my children to live, I have to put my hate on the side. If I carry this hatred, my children will kill and end up being killed, and as a father, I don’t want that.”

These nuanced and complex views dating to at least 1996 are far removed from saying the Israeli victims in Munich deserved to die — a remark that we couldn’t find any record of, anyway.

‘He is being supported by CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood. This is a well-orchestrated plan.’

As evidence for these claims, Hunter’s ad relies on the same broadcast on One America News Network. A commentator on that segment said some donations to Campa-Najjar’s campaign could be traced back to CAIR or groups connected to the Muslim Brotherhood. We couldn’t find evidence of this after searching Campa-Najjar’s filings with the Federal Election Commission.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization; it’s barred from supporting, opposing or donating to candidates running for office.

"This video is bigoted, promotes Islamophobia, is factually incorrect and should be immediately taken down,” Eugene W. Fields, a CAIR spokesman, told the Times of San Diego when asked about Hunter’s ad. “Ammar Campa-Najjar is not Muslim; he is a Christian.”

Campa-Najjar said the Muslim Brotherhood would consider him an apostate because of his Christian background.

“It’s become so pervasive and prevalent, and it’s reached the point of absurdity, when a non-Muslim is on the receiving end of Islamophobia,” Campa-Najjar said. In a statement sent by his campaign, Campa-Najjar’s pastor, Mike Meeks of EastLake Church, said: “I have known Ammar since he was 16 when he became part of our youth ministry. Before he left for college he grew up serving our janitorial staff, worship team, and youth ministry where he even gave Sunday Youth group sermons. When he served in federal government, we talked regularly about life and the faith challenges of following Jesus in today’s world.”

It’s worth mentioning that the OANN commentator quoted as saying “this is a well-orchestrated plan" was not referring to Campa-Najjar’s candidacy but to the conspiracy theories that the Justice Department indicted Hunter for political reasons. A selective bit of editing, however, took this quote out of context.

The Hunter campaign did not respond to our inquiry.

The Pinocchio Test

This ad uses naked anti-Muslim bias in an effort to scare Californians into voting for an indicted Republican incumbent.

The Democrat on the receiving end of these attacks isn’t even Muslim. All the claims in the ad are false, misleading or devoid of evidence.

Hunter earns Four Pinocchios.

Four Pinocchios

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Four Pinocchios
“Ammar Campa-Najjar is working to infiltrate Congress. He’s used three different names to hide his family’s ties to terrorism. His grandfather masterminded the Munich Olympic massacre. His father said they deserved to die. ... ‘He is being supported by CAIR and the Muslim Brotherhood.’ ‘This is a well-orchestrated plan.’ Ammar Campa-Najjar: A risk we can’t ignore.”
in an attack ad
Wednesday, September 26, 2018