Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions will soon face Senate confirmation hearings for his nomination to be attorney general. Thirty years after he was rejected for a federal judgeship because of a history of alleged racist statements and hostility to civil rights groups, the Senate will again have a chance to review Sessions’ record. That review should include Sessions’ close associations with advocacy groups that are hostile to civil rights and that promote anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment.
David Horowitz Freedom Center
In 2014, Sessions received the “Annie Taylor Award” from the David Horowitz Freedom Center at the Center’s annual “Restoration Weekend” retreat in Florida. He was presented with the award by his then-aide Stephen Miller, who later left to work on the Trump campaign and is now set to serve as a senior White House aide in the new administration. Receiving the award, Sessions told Horowitz: “I’ve seen some great people receive this, David, and it’s a special treat and pleasure for me because you know how much I admire you as we battle for, I think, for right and justice and law and American people’s legitimate interests and expectations from their government.”
Previous recipients of the award, which is named after a schoolteacher who survived a trip over Niagara Falls in a barrel, included anti-Muslim activist Pamela Geller and the late anti-feminist firebrand Phyllis Schlafly. Subsequent recipients have included extremist sheriff David Clarke and, last year, Milo Yiannopoulos, the conservative provocateur who through his job at Breitbart News has promoted the racism and misogyny of the white nationalist Alt-Right.
In addition to accepting the award in 2014, Sessions spoke at three additional David Horowitz Freedom Center events in 2008, 2010 and 2013. In those three years, his campaign committee reported paying a total of $5,498 in conference fees to the Freedom Center. The Southern Poverty Law Center reports that Sessions also attended a Restoration Weekend event in 2003.
In his speech to the Freedom Center’s 2013 West Coast Retreat, Sessions thanked Horowitz for his “profound contribution to the conservative movement,” praised his work and said that he’d passed around some of Horowitz’s writings to his fellow senators.
Sessions’ ongoing connection with Horowitz is troubling, to say the least. Horowitz is a California-based activist who publishes the conservative FrontPage magazine and runs the David Horowitz Freedom Center. He also provides a platform for anti-Muslim activist Robert Spencer’s Jihad Watch website.
Horowitz uses these platforms to promote anti-Muslim bigotry; he has claimed that “all Muslim associations are fronts for the Muslim Brotherhood” and promoted smears against Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin.
Just a few months before Sessions accepted an award from Horowitz in 2014, Horowitz called Nancy Pelosi a “Jew-hating bitch” on Twitter. Earlier this year, Horowitz lashed out at anti-Trump conservative Bill Kristol in a Breitbart article that labeled Kristol a “renegade Jew.”
Horowitz has for years criticized civil rights leaders and lashed out against what he calls “black racism,” notably in his 1999 book “Hating Whitey.” Horowitz hasn’t let up on that refrain, for instance saying in a radio interview last year that President Obama is “racist” because he won’t recognize that it was “white Christian males” who ended slavery. Just a few weeks ago, Horowitz told a radio interviewer that the “racism in this country that is the real problem is black racism” and “certainly not white people.”
Just last week, the David Horowitz Freedom Center named Trump strategist Steve Bannon, infamous for his embrace of the white nationalist Alt-Right, as its “Man of the Year.”
Center for Security Policy
In 2015, Sessions accepted the “Keeper of the Flame” award from the Center for Security Policy, the group run by anti-Muslim conspiracy theorist Frank Gaffney, saying that the Center “fights for America every day.”
As Brian wrote in November:
Gaffney sees an Islamist plot to take over the country practically everywhere, believing that U2 lead singer Bono is a tool of Islamists; Tim Kaine is involved with the Muslim Brotherhood; left-wing groups, immigration services and Black Lives Matter have aligned with “Islamic supremacists”; criminal justice reform is an effort to advance “jihad”; Twitter is advancing Sharia law; and a Missile Defense Agency logo is evidence of “official U.S. submission to Islam.”
He was instrumental in launching a witch hunt against Muslim staffers in the Obama administration, particularly Hillary Clinton aide Huma Abedin. He referred to Abedin as an “enemy inside the wire” who “was brilliantly placed to run Islamist influence operations” in government.
Gaffney also believes that there is an Islamist attempt to seize control of the conservative movement, alleging that conservative activists like Grover Norquist and Suhail Khan are agents of the Muslim Brotherhood; blasting Sen. John McCain and then-House Speaker John Boehner for “parroting the Muslim Brotherhood line”; calling former GOP Sen. Chuck Hagel an Iranian secret agent; smearing an aide to Tennessee’s Republican governor because she is Muslim; and accusing Christie of “misprision of treason” because he appointed a Muslim lawyer to be a judge.
He proposed establishing a “House Anti-American Activities Committee” to investigate and root out the many secret Islamist agents supposedly working in public affairs.
Gaffney has also dabbled in the racist “birther” myth and welcomed well-known white nationalist Jared Taylor onto his daily radio program. In 2015, when Trump proposed banning all Muslim immigration to the U.S., he cited a deeply flawed Center for Security Policy survey to back up his claims.
In 2015, Sessions trumpeted on his Senate website that he had been chosen as the first recipient of the “Phyllis Schlafly Leadership Award” from Schlafly’s Eagle Forum, calling Schlafly “one of America’s greatest patriots.” Schlafly, in turn, said that Sessions had been a “hero in Congress on many issues” including “battling the leftist attacks on our families, our culture, and our sovereignty.” Earlier that year, Sessions had offered what a conservative outlet called a “touching tribute video” to Schlafly at an awards ceremony at the Conservative Political Action Conference.
Sessions has also been involved with Eagle Forum’s Alabama chapter. He spoke to the group in 2001 and hosted its “fulltime homemaker of the year award” event in 2009. In 2006, his leadership PAC gave the state group $1,000, listed on its FEC filing as a “sponsorship.”
While Schlafly, who died last year, is most famous for her anti-feminist crusades, including the fight to stop the Equal Rights Amendment, in her final years she focused much of her work on anti-immigrant activism, in which she apparently saw Sessions as a kindred spirit.
Schlafly saw restricting immigration as essential to preserving the Republican Party, urging the GOP to focus exclusively on increasing its support among white voters. In one 2013 interview, Schlafly claimed that Latino immigrants “don’t understand” the Bill of Rights and don’t “have any Republican inclinations at all” because “they’re running an illegitimacy rate that’s just about the same as the blacks are.” A 2014 Eagle Forum report argued that “adding to society’s diversity” increases “support for big government” and therefore helps Democrats.
The following year, Schlafly accused Obama of weakening America by bringing in “foreign ideas and diseases and people who don’t believe in self-government” and explained that today’s immigrants are different from the mostly European immigrants of the early 20th century because they don’t share “the same motivation, the same love for America, the same desire to be part of the American culture and dream.” She even opposed some of the most highly skilled of legal immigrants, calling for the banning of foreign players from Major League Baseball.
In one 2015 interview, Schlafly said she hoped one day to see “railroad cars full of illegals going south.”
Schlafly and Eagle Forum have also been involved in anti-Muslim activism, with Schlafly accusing Obama of being “sweet on the Muslims” and reacting to the Boston Marathon bombing by saying it would be “useful to reinstate the House Committee on Un-American Activities.”
Federation for American Immigration Reform, Center for Immigration Studies & NumbersUSA
Sessions has been one of the closest congressional allies of the organized anti-immigrant lobby, which centers around three groups—the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), the Center for Immigration Studies (CIS) and NumbersUSA—that are part of a network founded by John Tanton, an activist who has promoted white nationalist and eugenicist ideas. As we wrote in a report on Tanton’s network:
In 2007, after a bipartisan immigration reform plan fell apart, Sen. Jeff Sessions of Alabama, a leading anti-immigration voice in the Senate, who is now the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on immigration, spoke to a meeting of FAIR’s board of advisors and thanked them for helping to stir up opposition to the bill. In 2013, as Congress was considering another bipartisan immigration compromise, Sessions and three Republican House members joined a CIS teleconference to argue against it. Sessions, Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas and Rep. Steve King of Iowa, the most outspoken anti-immigration member of the House, spoke at a rally organized by a front group of FAIR, and King joined NumbersUSA President Roy Beck on the road.
SPLC notes that in 2012, “Sessions put into the congressional record a ‘congratulations’ to NumbersUSA to mark its 15th anniversary.” In 2008, Sessions received NumbersUSA’s “Defender of the Rule of Law Award.”
These three groups oppose not only rights for undocumented immigrants but, like Sessions, support severely restricting legal immigration. FAIR has laid out a draconian wish list for Trump’s presidency, including eliminating the constitutional guarantee of birthright citizenship and a “self-deportation” agenda of cutting off undocumented immigrants’ access to government. Now, one of their top allies is slated to enforce immigration laws at the Department of Justice.
Breitbart News, which has long been a major force in the conservative media universe, gained a new national profile last year when its chief executive, Stephen Bannon, was recruited to run Trump’s presidential campaign and then landed a top advisory role in the president-elect’s White House.
Bannon boasted shortly before joining Trump’s campaign that his website was “the platform for the Alt-Right,” an internet-based band of white nationalists, misogynists and anti-Semites. Indeed, under Bannon’s leadership, Breitbart created a subject tag for the term “Black Crime” and published articles with headlines like “Hoist it high and proud: The Confederate flag proclaims a glorious heritage,” “Birth control makes women unattractive and crazy” and Horowitz’s “Bill Kristol: Republican spoiler, renegade Jew.” Bannon hardly shied away from his site’s connections to the white nationalist Alt-Right, publishing an infamous article defending the Alt-Right’s leaders and himself giving credit to Alt-Right bigots for what he called the “populist, nationalist” movement behind Trump.
None of this appears to have troubled Sessions, who has given many radio and print interviews to Breitbart, including appearing numerous times on Bannon’s Sirius XM program, and whose Senate office forged such a close relationship to Breitbart that the two offices at one point held weekly happy hours.
Sessions took some of his most extreme anti-immigrant ideas to Bannon, including defending Trump’s proposed ban on Muslim immigration and arguing for severe restrictions on legal immigration.