President Donald Trump’s pick to be United Nations ambassador once hosted a panel on unfounded conspiracy theories that Islamic fundamentalists are secretly trying to destroy America by changing the country’s institutions and culture and imposing Sharia law.
Heather Nauert, a former host for “Fox and Friends” and the current spokeswoman for the State Department, pushed the theory in a 2009 Fox News hourlong special webcast titled “Terror from Within” that is still available on the network’s website. Nauert fielded input from anti-Muslim activists Frank Gaffney and Robert Spencer, as well as Canadian journalist Tarek Fatah, who is a prominent Muslim critic of aspects of Islam.
Nauert’s role in the program could complicate what is already expected to be a contentious confirmation process to become the US ambassador to the UN, a post Trump nominated her to in December. Nauert has already faced criticism for a 2013 appearance on “Fox and Friends” in which she said that “Sharia law is now changing everything” while covering a story on a YMCA private swim class for Muslim girls that accommodated their religious requirements.
After Trump tapped Nauert to replace Nikki Haley as America’s ambassador to the United Nations, many raised concerns about her lack of policy experience. Some in diplomatic circles wonder how she’ll handle delicate negotiations, questions that are compounded by her past statements on issues of global concern.
In a statement to CNN, State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino defended Nauert’s involvement with the 2009 program but did not address her comments directly.
“TV anchors host debates with guests who hold different, and at times, controversial opinions. That does not mean the moderator agrees with the views expressed. Incidentally, the very same guests she interviewed have appeared on CNN multiple times. Furthermore, Heather repeatedly made clear that she was not maligning any faith; her segment examined taxpayer dollars that went to both churches and mosques,” Palladino said.
In 2009, Nauert introduced the program as exploring “a school of thought that there is a stealthy jihad taking place within the US. And the theory is that some in our country want to destroy our America from within.”
They would achieve this destruction, she continued, “by using our own legal system against us, by undermining our financial system and even taking away our holidays. The fact that we are a PC, politically correct country, well that will only be used against us.”
Nauert later added that the segment was “not intending in any way to malign the Muslim faith” but was looking at “one school of thought” that was “in part based on some things that are happening overseas, some things that are extremely relevant.”
During the episode’s panel discussion, Gaffney and Spencer floated multiple conspiracies related to “stealth jihad.” Gaffney promoted the unfounded Muslim “no-go zones” conspiracy about the existence of areas in the US that he contended were “off limits to the authorities.”
Gaffney and Spencer’s comments echo some claims of their books, which Nauert praised as “quite impressive” in the beginning of the episode while plugging Spencer’s books, “The Truth about Muhammad,” “The Politically Incorrect Guide to Islam” and “Stealth Jihad,” along with Gaffney’s book “War Footing.”
Later in the program, Fatah added he believes that “almost 100% of the mosques” in the United States are controlled by “those who wish to destroy Western civilization.”
While Nauert at times asked clarifying questions and pushed her guests to specify that not all Muslims support extremism or Sharia law, she did little to address the broader theme her guests espoused over an hour: that Islam is a threat to Western civilization.
In one part of the program, Nauert appeared to agree with panelist Fatah that the American taxpayers are “funding their own society’s destruction.”
Fatah said the charitable status of mosques in Canada and the US should be revoked because they discriminate against women.
“The American taxpayers should not be funding their own society’s destruction,” he said.
“Oh, but we are,” Nauert interjected. She then cited the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, which was established by President George W. Bush by executive order in 2001 to help push federal aid to religious charities providing social services.
“Remember what President Bush set up? Everybody remembered this,” she said. “In January 29, 2001, President Bush set up the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives.”
“And part of the idea was if somebody was trying to combat alcoholism that they could go to the church and go to an AA medium, meeting, held through the church,” Nauert added. “But rather somebody could get services through that. What some would argue is that the money that is going to churches and or mosques – well, money’s fungible anyway – that it could be going to groups that it was not intended for.”
CNN found no news reports about money from this program that went to groups it was “not intended for,” as Nauert alleged. Jim Towey, who headed the office under Bush from February 2002 to May 2006, said the charge was false.
“It just never happened,” Towey, now the president of Ave Maria University, told CNN. “In theory I guess it could happen, but the reality is that it didn’t and safeguards were in place to prevent such abuse.”
“I met with several representatives of Islamic groups and they were interested in faith-based groups not being discriminated against, but when it came to actually seeking grants from the government to do social work, they weren’t interested at all,” Towey added. “They were very much like the Southern Baptists in that they did not want to be entangled with government. They were very skeptical of being under the tentacles of government and so it just didn’t happen. Plus, they tended to serve only Muslims, which meant they couldn’t receive federal funds.
“I think what these guys are basically saying is that mosques in America or nonprofits affiliated with them shouldn’t be tax exempt and I don’t see any constitutional basis for that.”