Americans for Victory over Terrorism (AVOT) was founded shortly after the 9/11 attacks by a number of conservatives led by former Education Secretary William Bennett to press for an aggressive "war on terror." By 2005, AVOT had merged with the Claremont Institute, a rightist policy center based in Claremont, California, that has hosted a number of high-profile neoconservative figures and acolytes of the political theorist Leo Strauss.
As of 2010, AVOT's mission statement on the Claremont Institute website read, "AVOT is dedicated to victory in the War on Terrorism. Through the shaping of public opinion, the encouragement of a foreign policy based on the founding principles of America, increased research about Islam and Islamism, and a steadfast commitment to attacking those who would blame America first, AVOT will work toward victory in this first great war of the 21st century."
AVOT senior advisers as of 2010 included William Bennett, President Ronald Reagan's education secretary and long-time rightist activist who has led a number of pressure groups, including the now-defunct Empower America; Lawrence Kadish, a real estate investor who was the founding chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition and supporter of several neoconservative groups, including the Hudson Institute and the Center for Security Policy; Brian T. Kennedy, president of the Claremont Institute; Seth Liebsohn, a Claremont fellow and founder of a local chapter of the Federalist Society at Northeastern University; and Thomas Karako, a Claremont senior fellow and visiting professor at Kenyon College.
While AVOT continued to exist in name as of 2010, it seemed to have largely ceased operations. Its web page, hosted on the Claremont website, was being used mainly to promote publications of like-minded colleagues based at other organizations and media outlets like the neoconservative flagship the Weekly Standard. AVOT has promoted publications by Sen. John McCain, Daniel Pipes, Liz Cheney, David Horowitz, Bernard Lewis, Benjamin Netanyahu, Steven Emerson, and Samuel Huntington. Many of these publications promote the notion that the United States is in an existential conflict with Islam and press a view of Middle East peace largely in line with that of Israel's rightwing Likud Party.
When AVOT was initially launched in 2002, its stated purposed was "to defend America's war on terrorism against those who would weaken the nation's resolve and erode our commitment to end the international menace of terrorism." The group fervently supported President George W. Bush's pro-war policies, in particular "where [that support was] needed most—college campuses, seminar rooms, editorial pages, and other media outlets." AVOT's early advisers included such figures as former CIA director James Woolsey, Reagan-era attorney general William Barr, former envoy to Iraq L. Paul Bremer, and Frank Gaffney.
During its inaugural press conference, AVOT leaders announced that as part of the effort to combat the internal "threat" posed by opponents of the war on terror, they had compiled a list of statements by professors, legislators, and writers that the group deemed objectionable—an effort that mirrored an earlier initiative to monitor war opponents by the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, a group founded by Lynne Cheney, spouse of Vice President Dick Cheney, and Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Among those mentioned on the AVOT list were Lewis Lapham, the longtime editor of Harper's Magazine, former President Jimmy Carter, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), and novelist John Edgar Wideman.
Frank Gaffney, the head of the hawkish Center for Security Policy and an AVOT founder, said at the inaugural press conference: "[We must] pay special attention to friends like Saudi Arabia and Egypt whose ongoing use of media are creating problems for our allies." Any criticism of the administration's conduct of the war, he added, could be "interpreted in such a way as to hurt national resolve … [and] embolden the enemy."
According to journalist Jim Lobe, AVOT was initially "funded primarily by Lawrence Kadish, chairman of the Republican Jewish Coalition and a top donor to the Republican Party. Kadish, a real estate investor in New York and Florida, was cited by Mother Jones magazine as one of the country's top individual donors, having given $532,000 to the GOP."
Although its senior advisers and its home have changed over the years, AVOT's Statement of Principles, which is posted on the Claremont website, has remained the same:
"1. America is confronted with an enemy no less dangerous and no less determined than the twin menaces of fascism and communism we faced in the 20th century. And as we were victorious over them, so we must prevail in this, the first war of the 21st century. AVOT will, as its first task, remind citizens of the paramount importance of this effort.
"2. The radical Islamists who attacked us did so because of our democratic ideals, our belief in, and practice of, liberty and equality. AVOT will take to task those who blame America first and who do not understand-or who are unwilling to defend-our fundamental principles.
"3. America's foreign policy should be guided by those same principles upon which America itself was founded. AVOT will call for a foreign policy that emphasizes democracy and human rights.
"4. In this war, our closest and most trusted allies must be our fellow democracies. AVOT will advocate steadfast support for our friends and oppose policies that place short-term 'allies' above them.
"5. By President Bush's declaration to Congress, America is at war with states that harbor terrorists or sponsor terrorism-in all its guises. AVOT will inform Americans about nations that pose a threat to us or that help those that threaten us.
"6. Because of the threat posed by radical Islamists and others, Americans will have to rethink many of their preconceptions about fighting terrorism. AVOT will defend policies that preserve civil liberties without sacrificing common sense and our common defense.
"7. The best defense is a good offense, and America must have a military capacity that enables us to defend ourselves while rooting out terrorists. AVOT will support an increased budget for the Department of Defense, research and deployment of a missile defense system, and an even more capable military.
"8. Improving our gathering and effective utilization of intelligence is a necessity. AVOT will support responsible efforts by our nation's intelligence and law enforcement agencies to collect and utilize more-and more pertinent-information and to facilitate interagency communication.
"9. A necessary front in this war is the battle for international public opinion. AVOT will support radio, television, and other mass media patterned on Radio Free Europe to show how America has stood up for Muslims and other persecuted peoples throughout the years and to explain the virtues of democracy.
"10. Finally, we must understand our enemies better. AVOT will encourage scholarly research into various aspects of Islamic theology, history, and culture. AVOT will hold such scholarship to a serious and rigorous standard."