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'An insult to Muslims': Rights group denounces Trump's pick for top Pentagon post

Anthony Tata has assumed on a 'temporary basis' the position of undersecretary of defence for policy at the Pentagon
US President Donald Trump appointed Tata despite the Senate's abrupt cancellation of his nomination hearing (AFP/File photo)
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A leading Muslim rights group has called for the dismissal of a senior Pentagon official who reportedly has a history of making and promoting anti-Muslim comments on social media. 

The Senate Armed Services Committee abruptly cancelled a hearing on Anthony Tata's nomination to be undersecretary of defence for policy at the Pentagon on Thursday, after senators and civil rights groups raised serious questions about his past record of anti-Muslim and anti-Black comments.

On Sunday, however, US President Donald Trump installed Tata into the position on a temporary basis without congressional approval. 

Senator Jack Reed, the Senate Armed Services Committee's top Democrat, criticised the appointment, calling it "an insult to our troops, professionals at the Pentagon, the Senate, and the American people". 

"If President Trump's goal is to hollow out, politicise and undermine the Pentagon the way he has the State Department and intelligence community, then mission accomplished. This is an offensive, destabilising move," he said. 

Adam Smith, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, also slammed the decision, accusing Trump of evading congressional scrutiny.

'Anthony Tata must resign. A position of leadership for him is an insult… He risks turning the Pentagon into a nest of dangerous conspiracy theories and partisan witch hunts'

- Scott Simpson, Muslim Advocates 

"If an appointee cannot gain the support of the Senate, as is clearly the case with Tata, then the president should not put that person into an identical temporary role," Smith said in a statement. 

Tata has been widely criticised for his past comments, including remarks directed at former President Barack Obama - whom he accused of secretly being Muslim and a "terrorist leader". 

Rights groups had strongly opposed his nomination, with a coalition of more than 50 civil rights, faith, education and labour groups coming out in June against "his long record of bigotry". 

In terms of anti-Muslim rhetoric, Tata, a retired army brigadier general, had also said that Islam was the "most oppressive violent religion" he knows of, and has written books invoking "Islamic gang rape" of white women, the groups noted.

Tata has repeatedly attacked Black public figures with racial and religious epithets, such as calling Congresswoman Maxine Waters a "race-baiting racist" for her defence of Rodney King, who was severely beaten by police in 1991, sparking massive nationwide protests. 

As Wake County superintendent, Tata pushed for schools to be resegregated, with rights groups during his tenure accusing him of discrimination against Latino and disabled students. 

"Anthony Tata must resign," Muslim Advocates' Public Advocacy Director Scott Simpson said in a news release on Monday. "A position of leadership for him is an insult to Muslims, to Black people, to Latinos, to the military and to us all. He risks turning the Pentagon into a nest of dangerous conspiracy theories and partisan witch hunts.

"He should have no place in government, whether as 'the official performing the duties of the deputy undersecretary of defence for policy' or in any other position," Simpson continued. "No less than the credibility and safety of the military and the nation are at stake." 

Trump's string of anti-Muslim hires

The Trump administration has on several occasions hired or attempted to hire officials who have made wildly anti-Muslim statements in the past. 

In May, Mark Kevin Lloyd was appointed as USAID's religious freedom adviser, despite having a history of making and promoting anti-Muslim comments on social media. 

Lloyd in two different tweets, made weeks apart in 2016, called Islam "a barbaric cult" and said that the religion was "violent in its doctrine and practice". 

He also shared a meme on Facebook suggesting that people should be forced to eat bacon before being allowed to buy guns and said "those who understand Islam for what it is are gearing up for the fight".

Despite outrage by rights groups, Lloyd has kept his position at the agency. 

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Kayleigh McEnany, who became Trump's latest press secretary in April, also has a history of defending anti-Muslim rhetoric. 

In 2014, McEnany sat on a Fox Business panel next to Gavin McInnes, the co-founder of the white nationalist group Proud Boys, appearing to support his claims that Muslims are "totally irrational" and genetically inferior because of "inbreeding". 

"Obama endlessly preaches tolerance of Islam but never mentions this - 'Genocide: Christian Population in Iraq Drops 80% in a Decade'," she wrote on Twitter in 2016, not mentioning that the Iraqi Christian population had dwindled largely due to sectarian violence and civil unrest ushered in by former President George W Bush's 2003 invasion of Iraq.

"US foreign policy has done a lot of good for the Muslim people. I think Bush liberated 15 million Muslims from the hands of dictators," she said in 2014.

At the time, Robert McCaw, the Council on American-Islamic Relations' (CAIR) government affairs director, told Middle East Eye that Trump's vetting process turns "a blind eye when it comes to bigotry, particularly anti-Muslim hatred". 

"Anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant hatred is not a disqualifier to serve in the Trump administration. In fact, it represents its twisted values," he said.