Colbeck under fire for Muslim conspiracy claims

Jonathan Oosting
Detroit News Lansing Bureau

Lansing — Republican governor candidate Pat Colbeck is standing by his unproven claim that Democratic hopeful Abdul El-Sayed’s family has ties to the Muslim Brotherhood despite accusations of anti-Muslim bias and disavowals from his own party.

Buzzfeed News first reported on Colbeck’s comments Tuesday night, highlighting video of a presentation he told The Detroit News was made this month during a “see something, say something” forum with retired Homeland Security Officer Philip Haney.

The second-term state senator from Canton Township alleged a “civilization jihad” plot by Muslims to “change our system of government” in America by implementing Sharia law. The effort includes obtaining “positions of influence,” he said, noting Hamtramck now has the first Muslim-majority City Council in the country.

“But we also have somebody I will also likely be running against in the general election, Dr. Abdul El-Sayed, whose parents apparently have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood back in Egypt,” Colbeck said in one clip. “This is scary stuff.”

El-Sayed is the son of Egyptian immigrants who grew up in Metro Detroit and was primarily raised by his father and stepmother, a white woman from rural Gratiot County. The former Detroit health director and Shelby Township Democrat is a practicing Muslim who has stressed the importance of the separation of church and state.

“Of course, I knew that in choosing to run for governor as an unapologetic, proud Muslim and American, I was going to contend with the ugly face of white supremacy that Donald Trump and his friends have sanctioned,” El-Sayed said Wednesday in a statement. “But I know that every day I serve this state and this country by holding us to our ideals and our constitution which empower and inspire me to serve every single person in our state, regardless of my ethnicity, color, or faith.”

Dawud Walid, executive director of the Michigan Chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called Colbeck’s claims “nonsense” and accused him of “stirring up further xenophobic and racist sentiments that already exist.” He called on the Michigan Republican Party to “denounce” Colbeck’s comments.

Michigan GOP spokeswoman Sarah Anderson said she had not read reports about Colbeck’s claims, “but if they are correct as to what Sen. Colbeck said, the party isn’t interested in peddling any conspiracy theories and anything he said was not on behalf of the party.”

“We categorically condemn any sort of hate speech, regardless of the source,” Anderson said.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic organization that has fought against secular law, is often used as a “boogeyman to make all Muslims look suspect,” Walid said, calling arguments the group is going to overtake America is a “scare tactic.”

“Mr. El-Sayed has openly supported legalized recreational marijuana as well as LGBTQ rights,” Walid said. “These aren’t things that extremist Muslims would necessarily support or part of the Muslim Brotherhood agenda. … What I’m trying to do is point out the ridiculous nature of the claims that are being made by Mr. Colbeck.”

Colbeck said Wednesday his earlier comments were accurate and told The News his presentation was based on an “explanatory memo” discovered in 2004 that purportedly outlines the Muslim Brotherhood’s strategic objectives in America.

“If there’s anything inaccurate in anything I said in any of those tapes, I’d be glad to go off and issue a retraction,” the senator said.

Asked to support his claim that El-Sayed’s parents have ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, Colbeck said the Democrat’s father-in-law sits on the board of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, whose parent organization was identified by the Federal Bureau of Investigation as an “unindicted co-conspirator” in a Texas terrorism case.

Colbeck also noted El-Sayed was a member of the Muslim Students’ Association at the University of Michigan, alleging the student group is a “friend” of the Muslim Brotherhood.

“I’m not going to say he’s part of the jihadi or anything, but he’s been in those organizations that have followed such beliefs,” Colbeck said.

The Muslim student association at UM, where El-Sayed also played lacrosse, says online it “strives to please God through serving the campus community” by creating an inclusive, welcoming atmosphere.

Walid disputed Colbeck’s claims about CAIR, saying “unindicted” means “unable to indict” and suggesting the term means “nothing.”

“CAIR is a legally operating nonprofit that has a long history of dealing with civil rights issues in America,” he said. “We’re an American-based organization, and we don’t have any ties — official or unofficial — with any organization abroad.”

The Detroit News also asked Colbeck’s GOP primary rivals about his comments but did not receive any immediate response from Lt. Gov. Brian Calley or obstetrician Jim Hines. Attorney General Bill Schuette “took an oath to defend the Constitution and enforce the laws of the State of Michigan and he believes that all people must be treated with dignity and respect,” a spokesman said.

El-Sayed is competing for the Democratic nomination with former Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer and Ann Arbor entrepreneur Shri Thanedar.

“Patrick Colbeck is a pathetic, bigoted fool,” Michigan Democratic Party Chairman Brandon Dillon said late Tuesday. “Michigan is blessed to have a thriving Muslim community, and my party is glad that Dr. El-Sayed is a Democrat.”

Colbeck has repeatedly touted the endorsement of Sean Hannity, but the Fox News conservative talk show host told Buzzfeed he is no longer backing the gubernatorial hopeful, who had appeared on his radio show to discuss health care policy.

“I do not know Colbeck personally, nor have I ever met him face-to-face, and I certainly don’t stand by the comments he made during his recent presentation, much less support his views,” Hannity said. “While nothing was ever formalized, he no longer has my endorsement.”

Colbeck said Wednesday that critics are trying to “silence” him from telling people about the Muslim Brotherhood memo, “and I will not be silenced on this issue.”

A state Senate staffer sent The News a third-party analysis of the memo, which was reportedly seized during a 2004 federal raid of the Holy Land Foundation offices in Texas.

Colbeck dismissed El-Sayed’s public comments that conflict with his conspiracy claims, citing his own experience in politics.

“I have people that say that they’re conservative on their campaign plank, but that doesn’t mean that they are,” Colbeck said.

El-Sayed said he’s been inspired by the public response to his campaign.

“Michiganders are not asking how I pray, but what I pray for — and what I care about,” he said. “And that is building a just, equitable Michigan where we have good jobs that pay a living wage, universal health care, clean water and great public schools.”