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A lawmaker in Idaho introduces legislation to prevent traditional Islamic law from infiltrating U.S. courts.

This story also appeared in USA Today

In Florida, a legislator proposes striking at the foundations of terrorism with a bill bolstering victims’ ability to sue its supporters.

The lawmakers’ efforts are seemingly unrelated, their statehouses almost 2,000 miles apart.

But both get their ideas, and the actual text of their bills, from the same representative of the same right-wing think tank.

And when they introduce the bills, the same activist group dispatches supporters to press for passage.

Eric Redman of Idaho and Mike Hill of Florida are among dozens of legislators who have sponsored copycat bills written and pushed by a network of far-right think tanks and activists. 

Frank Gaffney speaks at the 2018 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.(Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)

The legislation was developed by the Center for Security Policy, which was founded by Frank Gaffney, a Reagan-era acting Assistant Secretary of Defense, who pushes conspiracy theories alleging radical Muslims have infiltrated the government. Once the copycat bills are introduced, local chapters of the Washington, D.C.-based ACT for America, which describes itself as the “NRA of national security,” encourage their supporters to show up at legislative hearings and flood lawmakers’ inboxes and phone lines in support of the bills. ACT’s founder, Brigitte Gabriel, has claimed that up to a quarter of all Muslims support the destruction of Western civilization.

ACT and the Center for Security Policy are at the center of a broader network that, for over a decade, has waged a successful campaign that’s reached every statehouse and led to the bills they’ve written and supported being introduced more than 70 times. Six states — Arkansas, Florida, Kansas, Louisiana, North Carolina and Tennessee — have passed both the anti-Islamic law and anti-terrorism measures.

The special interest groups and lawmakers who sponsor their bills say they’re protecting Americans from Islamic extremism and terrorism. But the bills have had little practical impact.

In the case of the bill targeting Islamic law, known as American Laws for American Courts, supporters point to only vague threats. The terrorism bill, known as Andy’s Law, has never been put to use.

Instead, say opposing legislators and civil rights activists, the copycat laws aren’t really about court integrity or terrorism.

“It is literally government-sanctioned Islamophobia,” said Robert McCaw, government relations director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation’s largest Muslim civil-rights watchdog. “The intended target is clear: American Muslims.”

“The intended target is clear: American Muslims.”

Robert McCaw, government relations director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations

The groups’ success highlights how special interests with lobbying power spread copycat bills — known as “model legislation” — state by state to further their agendas. Because disclosing the source of bill language isn’t required by most states, the process often occurs with little scrutiny. A legislator presents the bill as his or her own, while constituents and even other lawmakers don’t realize they have been targeted by a special -interest group.

Meanwhile, the special interests behind the copycat legislation use their success to solicit donations and recruit other lawmakers to sponsor their bills.