Mike Pompeo Goes With The Westboro Baptist Church Defense

As we wrote earlier this week, CIA director and secretary of state nominee Mike Pompeo has a troubling record of partnership with two of the country’s most influential anti-Muslim activists, ACT for America founder Brigitte Gabriel and Center for Security Policy president Frank Gaffney.

In his confirmation hearing today, Sen. Cory Booker asked Pompeo about his interactions with the two, and Pompeo predictably sidestepped the question, saying of Gaffney, “I was on his show some” (it was more than 20 times) and of Gabriel, “I’ve spoken to a number of groups.”

While Pompeo could not provide an example of his ever confronting Gabriel or Gaffney over their hateful rhetoric, he had come prepared with one example of his readiness to speak truth to extremists.

“Senator, if I might,” he said, “I have called out—we had a terrible fellow in Kansas named Fred Phelps, and I called him out.”

Phelps, who died in 2014, was the leader of the notorious Westboro Baptist Church, a small ministry in Topeka that gained national infamy for protesting everything from gay pride parades to military funerals with messages like “God hates fags” and “God hates America.”

Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church were almost universally hated, and condemning them takes about as much political courage as condemning Jeffrey Dahmer. Yet the Westboro Baptist Church defense has become a common go-to line for conservatives who want to prove that they will condemn extremist haters, even as they maintain relationships with more standard-issue bigots.

It’s great that Pompeo spoke out against Fred Phelps. It would have been weird if he didn’t. But that doesn’t let him off the hook for aiding the efforts of people like Gabriel and Gaffney.