In some ways, Frank J. Gaffney has achieved the American Dream. After decades of foreign policy work, he is on the brink of being a key player in the White House. I just wonder what his grandfather, who was targeted by anti-Catholic bigots, would say about some of Frank Gaffney’s more, um, paranoid opinions.
Born in Pittsburgh, Gaffney served in the Reagan administration as deputy assistant secretary of defense for nuclear forces and arms control. He had a falling out with Reagan officials, believing they should not pursue any kind of agreement on nuclear arms with the Soviet Union.
Gaffney then, in the late 1980s, established the Center for Security Policy think tank. To put it nicely, he became influential in right wing circles.
But with the end of the Cold War, Gaffney’s hard-core anti-Communism fell out of favor. He found a new calling in the War on Terror.
To put it nicely, he is influential among those who think Muslims pose a profound existential threat to America.
These days, Gaffney was back in the news. Though he was an adviser to Ted Cruz during the GOP primaries, Gaffney now apparently has Donald Trump’s ear.
As The New York Times noted last week, “For advice on building Mr. Trump’s national security team, his inner circle has been relying on three hawkish current and former American officials.” These are Representative Devin Nunes of California, former congressman Peter Hoekstra and Gaffney.
As the Times put it, “Mr. Gaffney has long advanced baseless conspiracy theories, including that President Obama might be a closet Muslim. The Southern Poverty Law Center described him as ‘one of America’s most notorious Islamophobes.’”
In other words, some folks feel Gaffney dabbles in religious bigotry and persecution.
This all comes amidst talk that Trump and his supporters may back some kind of national registry for Muslims, citing the deplorable Japanese internment camps of World War II as precedent.
I know, I know. What do you expect from the bleeding heart clowns at the Times and the SPLC. In Trump’s America those are practically compliments.
But there is an exquisite irony in all this. Exactly 90 years ago, Frank Gaffney’s grandfather, Joseph, was a power broker in Philadelphia, in the administration of Mayor W. Freeland Kendrick.
In 1926, a cultural war broke out in the City of Brotherly Love. It seems those two renowned Irish American pugilists Jack Dempsey and Gene Tunney were slated to stage a title fight in Philly in September 1926.
At the time -- much to the chagrin of many Protestants who’d lived in Philly for generations -- city officials were pondering loosening some of the city’s “blue laws,” which, among other things, forced many businesses and other facilities to close on Sundays.
All of this unfolded as Philadelphia -- and the nation -- were feeling very patriotic because it was the 150th anniversary of America’s founding, a central event in Philadelphia history.
Believe it or not, this laid the groundwork for a bitter religious battle, as author Bruce J. Evensen noted in his book When Dempsey Fought Tunney.
Many Protestants saw boxing’s bloodlust and the loosening of the blue laws as a symbol of creeping immigrant influence.
“The fear was nourished by Ku Klux Klan members who passed out literature at the close of protest rallies demanding ‘America for Americans,’” Evensen writes.
When Kendrick banned the Klan from a function to which the Catholic Knights of Columbus were invited, some charged that “Jews and Catholics were gaining control of American institutions,” according to Evensen.
One minister even earned two minutes of wild applause when he charged that “there is not a single outstanding Protestant” in Kendrick’s administration, and that Kendrick himself was a puppet of a Catholic in his inner circle -- none other than Joseph Gaffney, Frank Gaffney’s grandfather.
So, the Gaffney clan goes from religiously persecuted to religiously persecuting. It’s the American Dream, right?