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Horowitz had become an early champion of the outraged right, showing a keen ability to spot minor flares in the culture wars and then shower them with the appropriate dose of gasoline. He developed a grab bag of liberal targets that would soon make up the hit lists of better-known conservatives, including Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck. The Freedom Center's annual Restoration Weekend, a white-meat gathering of right-wing notables, featured such prominent speakers as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Horowitz became a regular on the lecture circuit and Fox News.
His message was designed to incite. Take his 2006 book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, which sought to out the instructors infecting the nation's youth with anti-American notions. His logic might have been unhinged—The Boston Globe called it a "one-sided screed" that simply targeted "professors who hold political views different than [Horowitz's] own"—but that wasn't really the point. Like most on both the left and right fringes, Horowitz's primary goal was starting fires, hoping they'd burn bright enough to make the news.
Republican sugar daddies took notice. Benefactors like Richard Mellon Scaife, publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, wrote checks to the Freedom Center. So did the Bradley Foundation, which also backed well-known conservative institutions such as the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. In 2010, Politico reported that Horowitz had taken home an average of $461,000 in salary and benefits in each of the previous three years.
Yet the polemicist's profession is a crowded one. It's difficult to break through the noise when your competition has its own syndicated radio shows and prime time news slots. So Horowitz found a reliable niche by standing bullish on Israel.
In 2007, he began providing conservative college students with starter kits to hold their own Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. Horowitz would parachute onto campuses across the country and promote documentary screenings and appearances by Freedom Center speakers. He showed students how to conduct sit-ins at women's studies departments to protest feminism's silence on Islam's oppression of women. According to the center's website, the festivities have been held at 114 schools.
He followed up by purchasing an ad in The New York Times proclaiming, "The Palestinians' Case Against Israel Is Based on a Genocidal Lie." Another ad likened boycotts of Israeli products to the first step toward Nazism. He even began to argue that the White House had been infiltrated by extremists, in a Freedom Center publication titled "The Muslim Brotherhood in the Obama Administration."
His work could easily be dismissed as braying theatrics, '60s radicalism re-engineered for the conservative sensibility. "The way that he approaches all of this is very much still in the strategies and rhetoric of the Berkeley left," says Eli Clifton, a writer for the Center for American Progress who profiled Horowitz as part of a report on groups involved in spreading Islamophobia. "It's very much the same hardware. They've just changed the software."
But sometimes Horowitz's standard operating procedure yields a surprising result. Sometimes—as in the case of Florida State—he's actually right.
Somewhere in a CIA bunker, algorithms spit red-flagged names linked to jihad. More than a few Muslim Student Association alumni are among them. They include everyone from bit players in bungled terror plots to those who have left enduring fingerprints on recent history. These are the names that Horowitz plasters throughout his ads in college newspapers.
Born in America to Yemeni parents, Anwar al-Awlaki served as president of the MSA at Colorado State in the late '80s. Although he reportedly walked a moderate line in Fort Collins, the post-9/11 al-Awlaki would become one of the most popular clerics in the Muslim world. His jihadist rallying cries beamed via Internet from Yemen, sprinkled with references to "Joe Sixpack" and other bits of Americana, became must-see screeds for the young and violent. He swapped e-mails with Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist who turned his gun on fellow servicemen at Fort Hood in 2009, leaving 13 dead. Officials also believe al-Awlaki was the puppeteer behind Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who failed to ignite an underwear bomb on a flight to Detroit in 2009. Al-Awlaki became the first U.S. citizen to rank on the CIA's kill list. A drone strike in Yemen took him out last year.
Omar Hammami, crowned the "Jihadist Next Door" by The New York Times, grew up feeling ostracized as a Muslim in a small town in the Bible Belt. He was president of the MSA at the University of South Alabama before dropping out in 2002. After heading overseas and rechristening himself Abu Mansoor al-Amriki, Hammami became the media face for Al Shabaab, a Somali insurgency group now affiliated with Al Qaeda. Besides appearing in recruitment videos, al-Amriki recorded rap songs with a jihadist message. He recently earned a spot on the FBI's most-wanted list.
Ali Asad Chandia was a third-grade teacher at a Muslim school in College Park, Maryland, when the feds booted in his door in 2003. The Pakistan native was eventually handed a 15-year sentence for providing support to Lashkar-e-Taiba, a Muslim extremist group focused on liberating Kashmir from India. The organization is responsible for numerous attacks on military and civilian targets, including the attacks across Mumbai in 2008, when 164 people were massacred. Chandia shuttled group members from the airport when they visited America and let them use his home computer to order Kevlar vests, night-vision goggles, and other supplies. His conviction was part of a roundup of the Virginia Jihad Network, also dubbed the "Paintball Cell" for the way it road-tested possible terror ops. Chandia was president of the Montgomery College MSA in the late '90s.