EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated throughout.
On Thursday, hours after this story originally posted and moments before the Senate Armed Services Committee was set to hold a hearing on Anthony Tata, president Trump’s anti-Muslim nominee to be Under Secretary of Defense for Policy at the Pentagon, Senate Republicans cancelled the hearing. The White House also reportedly withdrew his nomination, though a formal withdrawal could take weeks.
This is rare good news because Tata’s record should disqualify him from being an intern at the Pentagon—let alone its third highest-ranking official. But it may not be a happy ending, as the Trump administration may still try to get him in through the back door.
On his personal social media accounts, Tata has freely and repeatedly posted the same kind of childish, bigoted insults and conspiracy theories that one would expect from a member of a QAnon or 4Chan forum — not a leader of America’s largest employer. He is consistent, though. Wherever he goes, hate follows.
On Twitter, Tata attacked an entire religion and insulted billions of people by saying that “Islam is the most oppressive violent religion that I know of.” He spread the false and harmful stereotype that Muslims are terrorists. He also called a Black congresswoman a “vicious race baiting racist” for defending Rodney King, a victim of police violence.
There are thousands of Muslims serving in the military and many more working at desk jobs, as translators abroad and in other vital capacities at the Pentagon. Furthermore, over 43 percent of active duty forces are people of color. Imagine how demoralizing and insulting it would feel to them to know that their third highest-ranking boss believes that their faith “fuels more terror in the modern day than any other religion or ideology” and invokes plantation slavery to troll a Black public figure.
Tata’s open hostility towards Muslims and Black people is also seen in his repeated embrace of the bigoted, debunked conspiracy theory that former President Barack Obama is secretly a Muslim. Tata has called Obama a “terrorist leader” and warned that he “normalized Islam for America.” Tata also posted an unhinged conspiracy theory that the Iran nuclear deal was proof that “Obama is a Muslim who got other countries involved via corporate greed to support a regime (Mullahs) that sponsors anti west hatred and violence using money US unfroze or gave.”
In a letter to the heads of the Senate Armed Forces Committee, Tata tried to minimize his comments, saying a “few misstatements on Twitter… are an aberration” from who he really is. This late, self-serving attempt to boil down his extensive controversies to a few errant social media posts shows his total lack of remorse and candor. The concern with Tata is not just his tweets, it is the hateful, deranged sentiments and ideologies he has repeatedly embraced, not just on social media, but also as a pundit and public official.
But it is not just his words that disqualify him from a role in government, it is also his contentious, failed record as a manager.
As superintendent of the Wake County, North Carolina school district, Tata spearheaded the effort to re-segregate the entire system. The North Carolina NAACP called Tata “a walking scandal” whose “racial insensitivity quickly became notorious.” He also was accused of discriminating against Latino families and students with disabilities by refusing to give Spanish-speaking students translated versions of special education materials. Tata’s divisive, ideological management style failed to keep the school buses running on time and turned students of color and their parents into opponents.
Looking at Tata’s various careers is like peeling the layers of an onion—whatever you look at, something objectionable becomes apparent. As a Fox News talking head, he peddled the conspiracy theory that Obama administration officials tried to overthrow and even assassinate President Trump. In one of his military thriller novels, he wrote ominously about “the rising tide of Islam in Europe” and young Muslim men who were “gang-raping white British women as part of their transition to manhood.”
Until his nomination stalled, it looked like Tata was poised to yet again fail upward, boosted once more by unscrupulous, right-wing activists. The office of the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy is extraordinarily important, one that helps shape our nation’s relationships with China, Russia and Afghanistan and influences policies on human rights, arms control and missile defense. It is jaw-dropping that the president wanted to give that responsibility to a man who told former CIA Director John Brennan on Twitter that he should die by “firing squad, public hanging, life sentence as prison b*tch, or just suck on your pistol.”
The shocking, last-minute cancellation of Tata’s Senate hearing put that plan on hold. However, Tata still could command a senior role in the Pentagon. Even before his nomination stalled, Trump administration officials had discussed a plan to bypass the Senate and install him in a different senior role at the Pentagon on an acting basis.
We’ve seen this happen before. Just last year, Trump nominated anti-Muslim bigot Ken Cuccenilli to lead U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. When his nomination ran into trouble in the Senate, the president skipped the Senate confirmation process entirely and appointed him as acting director. A similar scenario played out when Trump appointed noted bigot Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general.
Trump can use the same playbook again. An Anthony Tata-shaped loophole in the Federal Vacancies Reform Act allows Trump to simply install a person at an agency on an acting basis if the person has worked there before. Conveniently, Tata has already been working at the Pentagon as a senior adviser.
A position of leadership for Anthony Tata would be an insult to Muslims, to Black people, to Latinos, to the military and to us all. He risks turning the Pentagon into a nest of dangerous conspiracy theories and partisan witch hunts. He should have no place in government, whether as Under Secretary of Defense for Policy or in any other position. No less than the credibility and safety of the military and the nation are at stake.
Scott Simpson is the public advocacy director of Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization working in the courts, in the halls of power and in communities to halt bigotry in its tracks.