U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner (R-CO) helped honor an Islamophobic former state lawmaker on Friday, at an event celebrating freedom of religion.
Gardner praised former Colorado state Senate President John Andrews (R) for teaching the public about limited government. He said nothing as the honoree launched a full-throated and defamatory attack on Islam and American Muslims.
The incident took place at the annual Western Conservative Summit in Denver. Despite its theme, “Defending Religious Freedom and America’s First Amendment,” the group presented a tribute video to Andrews, who now leads a tax-exempt, anti-Muslim organization. In the video, Gardner praised Andrews for his “leadership” and for teaching everyone in Colorado “about limited government” and that “government doesn’t need to be the end-all, be-all for the state or the country.”
Andrews then delivered an 18-minute diatribe, warning that freedom of religion should not apply to devout Muslims and warning that Marxism and Islam are America’s enemies.
His attacks began in a conciliatory tone. “I’m talking about the belief system called Islam. It’s true we all know Muslims who are likable neighbors or capable coworkers, deeply decent patriotic Americans who humbly love Allah. That’s not what I’m talking about,” he claimed. “I’m talking about this absolutist totalitarian world view and political doctrine that demands everyone – you and me included – ultimately submit or die.”
But moments later, Andrews made it clear that he did not believe devout Muslims could coexist or be good Americans. “I just know this: the simplistic approach of simply granting unconditional ‘freedom of religion’ to a religion that doesn’t believe in freedom – and never doubt me, Islam does not – that approach is civilizational suicide, friends,” he claimed.
While he said that he was not advocating for “a witch hunt or persecution or some kind of ban,” Andrews said that America’s current acceptance of faithful Muslims amounted to a “suicide pact.”
“Now some of you may disagree with me. That’s your prerogative in a free society,” he continued. “Some speakers this weekend will disagree with me. They may tell you that a good and faithful Muslim can also be a good and faithful American. I’m sorry but I just don’t see how. Not when one holds Sharia law supreme – the Quran, the command they think they’ve received from above to dominate the globe — and the other holds the Constitution supreme. Something has to give. America is in a war to the death, and I don’t think it’s going very well.”
Andrews then proclaimed that America “can only win that battle if we summon the courage to name our enemies: two of them. The name of one is Marx and the name of the other is Mohammed.”
Gardner himself then took the stage. Rather than condemn the remarks or even disagree with them, he launched into a speech defending rural America against “inaccurate and hateful descriptions” on television and social media, and accused the “radical left” of focusing only on “coastal and ivory tower elites” and embracing dangerous socialism.
Gardner’s office did not respond to a ThinkProgress inquiry about whether he disagrees with Andrews’ anti-Muslim remarks.
Others taking part in the two-day summit included Donald Trump Jr., Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson, and an array of conservative activists, and — in a gesture of outreach to the opposition — Gov. Jared Polis (D-CO).
The senator’s glowing praise for a vocal Islamophobic activist seems to contradict his own previous rhetoric. After an April 2017 bomb threat at a Boulder Jewish Community Center, Gardner opined that the nation “must all work together to stop anti-Semitism and any other act of intolerance against a religious group.” He submitted a 2015 amicus brief urging public funding for religious schools, claiming the state’s constitution “infringes the rights of Coloradans to the free exercise of their religious faith in choosing.”
And just last month, he co-sponsored a resolution commemorating the “30th Anniversary of Tiananmen Square Massacre,” urging China to support “individuals who continue to call for reforms in China to further the freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press, freedom to petition the government, and freedom of religion.”
Gardner’s silence in the face of bigotry was also on display on Monday evening. When asked about President Donald Trump’s hateful tweets demanding that four congresswomen of color go back to their “home” countries — three of the lawmakers are in fact American-born — Gardner dodged the topic, claiming that he was too busy focused on the Bureau of Land Management to have paid attention to the president’s racism.