Brigitte Gabriel is an anti-Islamic author and activist. Described by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a member of the "anti-Muslim inner circle" and by the Center for American Progress as a "leading light of the Islamophobia network," Gabriel has made a post-9/11 career out of roundly denouncing Islam, decrying "political correctness," and promoting the concept of an clash of civilizations between the Muslim world and the West. She is the founder and leader of the right-wing advocacy group ACT! for America, serves on the board of the Intelligence Summit, and is a former contributing editor for Family Security Matters. She is the author of the bestsellers Because They Hate (2006) and They Must Be Stopped (2008).
The New York Times has described Gabriel as "one of the most visible personalities on a circuit of self-appointed terrorism detectors who warn that Muslims pose an enormous danger within United States borders. In a 2011 article about Gabriel, the Times reported that she promotes "a portrait of Islam so thoroughly bent on destruction and domination that it is unrecognizable to those who study or practice the religion." According to Gabriel, "Jihad has been declared on Christians, Jews, non-Muslims, and secularists worldwide by Islamic extremists ... simply because we are infidels according to their belief." She has insisted that "Islam is not compatible with Western civilization" and that a practicing Muslim "cannot be a loyal citizen of the United States."
Parroting conspiracies pushed by Frank Gaffney and the far-right Center for Security Policy, Gabriel has claimed that "Tens of thousands of Islamic militants now reside in America, operating in sleeper cells, attending our colleges and universities, even infiltrating our government"—including, she claims, "at the C.I.A., at the F.B.I., at the Pentagon, at the State Department." She has claimed that "Hamas has cells in over 40 states in the United States" and that members of the extremist group ISIS "are coming through the Mexican border" into the United States.
Born Hanah Kahwagi Tudor to a Maronite Christian family in Lebanon, Gabriel traces her hardline views on Islam to her upbringing during Lebanon's 15-year civil war. "The war was a chaotic stew in which ever-shifting alliances of clan-based militias made up of Christian, Shiite, Sunni, Palestinian and Druse made war on one other, often with the backing of other countries," noted the New York Times in its 2011 profile of Gabriel. "But in the rendering Ms. Gabriel shares with her American audiences, it was black and white. As her father explained to her, 'The Muslims bombed us because we are Christians. They want us dead because they hate us.' (The refrain became the title of her first book.)"
Gabriel's version of her upbringing has played a key role in her appeals to right-wing activists in the United States. "I was ten years old when my home exploded around me, burying me under the rubble and leaving me to drink my blood to survive, as the perpetrators shouted, 'Allah Akbar!'" Gabriel claimed in a 2010 address to the Intelligence Summit in Washington, D.C. "My only crime was that I was a Christian living in a Christian town. At 10 years old, I learned the meaning of the word 'infidel.' I had a crash course in survival. Not in the Girl Scouts, but in a bomb shelter where I lived for seven years in pitch darkness, freezing cold, drinking stale water and eating grass to live. At the age of 13, I dressed in my burial clothes going to bed at night, waiting to be slaughtered. By the age of 20, I had buried most of my friends–killed by Muslims. We were not Americans living in New York or Britons in London. We were Arab Christians living in Lebanon."
Some critics have questioned aspects of Gabriel's story. For instance, she has claimed that her family was attacked by Hezbollah in the 1970s, despite the fact that the group was not actually formed until after the Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon in the 1980s. One Lebanese critic alleged that Gabriel's account of her upbringing was "overdone" and described her use of the story in her activism as a "con act."
In Lebanon, Gabriel launched a career in television, serving as a news anchor for an Israeli-funded TV channel linked to the Southern Lebanon Army, a Lebanese militia that fought alongside the Israeli Defense Forces and several Christian militias in Lebanon's civil war. She later moved to Israel, where she worked for a station owned by U.S. evangelist Pat Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network. Regarding her views on Israel, Gabriel later told a convention of Christians United for Israel that the difference "between Israel and the Arabic world is quite simply the difference between civilization and barbarism."
Gabriel married an American co-worker she met while working in Israel and relocated to the United States in 1989. "I lost Lebanon, my country of birth, to radical Islam," she has written of the supposed impetus for her U.S. activism. "I do not want to lose my adopted country America."
In October 2003 she founded ACT!, which describes itself as "the only grassroots organization dedicated to national security and terrorism" and purports to have "over 875 chapters across the country and 279,000 members." According to Gabriel's Times profile, the group has "succeeded in popularizing the notion that American Muslims are just biding their time until they gain the power to revoke the Constitution and impose Shariah law in the United States." Much of ACT!'s work consists of pushing so-called "anti-sharia" laws in state legislatures, fighting school curricula it deems too sympathetic to Muslims, and distributing anti-Islamic literature and talking points. The group has also attempted to set up campus chapters to counter the purported influence of Muslim student groups, a campaign that came on the heels of a failed effort to get the University of California at Los Angeles to ban its Muslim Student Association.
ACT!'s website says that the organization is nonpartisan and non-sectarian. Yet the Times notes that "the organization draws on three rather religious and partisan streams in American politics: evangelical Christian conservatives, hard-line defenders of Israel (both Jews and Christians), and Tea Party Republicans." The paper noted that at least one local chapter had "recently featured a guest speaker on 'How to minister to Muslims,' and 'Conversion success stories,'" though Mike Rodgers—ACT! for America's executive director and one-time architect of the Christian Coalition—said that the group "does not encourage such activities."
Gabriel's pro-Israel, anti-Islamic politics and personal history have made her a popular figure on the right-wing speaker circuit and in conservative media outlets.
Gabriel gained particular notoriety after a 2014 appearance on a Heritage Foundation panel on the Benghazi attacks, where she was part of what one critic called "a veritable Dream Team of Islamophobes, birthers, and conspiracy nuts." At one point, in an incident reported by the Washington Post's Dana Milbank, a young Muslim American woman named Saba Ahmed challenged the panel on the sweeping generalizations its members had made about Muslims. Gabriel "pounced," according to Milbank: "She said '180 million to 300 million' Muslims are 'dedicated to the destruction of Western civilization.' She told Ahmed that the 'peaceful majority were irrelevant' in the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and she drew a Hitler comparison: 'Most Germans were peaceful, yet the Nazis drove the agenda and as a result, 60 million died.' 'Are you an American?' Gabriel demanded of Ahmed, after accusing her of taking 'the limelight' and before informing her that her 'political correctness' belongs 'in the garbage.'"
Although she was widely criticized for bullying the student, Gabriel nonetheless bragged about the incident in an ACT! fundraising appeal, which accused Ahmed of being tied both to terrorists and the "radical Occupy" movement.