Horowitz had become an early champion of the outraged right, showing a keen ability for spotting minor flares in the culture wars and showering them with the appropriate dose of gasoline. His was a grab bag of evil-liberal targets that soon would make up the hit lists of better-known conservatives like Ann Coulter and Glenn Beck.
The Freedom Center's annual Restoration Weekend, a white-meat gathering of right-wing notables, featured such prominent speakers as Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum. Horowitz became a regular on the lecture circuit and Fox News.
His message was designed to incite. Take his 2006 book, The Professors: The 101 Most Dangerous Academics in America, which sought to out the instructors polluting the nation's youth with un-American bias. His logic wasn't built from the finest mortar; the Boston Globe called it a "one-sided screed" that simply targeted "professors who hold political views different than [Horowitz's] own."
But that wasn't really the point. Like most on both the left and right fringes, Horowitz's primary goal was starting fires, hoping they'd burn bright enough to reach the news cycle, where the propaganda points are earned.
Republican sugar daddies took notice.
Benefactors like Richard Mellon Scaife, publisher of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, wrote checks to Freedom Center coffers. So did the Bradley Foundation, which also backed well-known conservative institutions such as the Cato Institute and the Heritage Foundation. In 2010, Politico reported that Horowitz personally took home a total of $461,000 in salary and benefits during the previous three years.
Yet the polemicist's profession is a crowded one. It's difficult to break through the noise when your competition has its own syndicated radio shows and prime-time news slots. So Horowitz found a reliable niche by standing bullish on Israel.
In 2007, he began providing conservative college students with starter kits to hold their own Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week. Horowitz would parachute onto campuses across the country, promoting documentary screenings and appearances by Freedom Center speakers. He showed students how to conduct sit-ins at Women's Studies departments to protest feminism's silence on Islam's oppression of women. According to the center's website, the festivities have been held at 114 schools.
He followed up by purchasing an ad in the New York Times proclaiming "The Palestinians' Case Against Israel Is Based on a Genocidal Lie." Another ad likened boycotts of Israeli products to the first step toward Nazism. He even began to argue that the White House had been infiltrated by extremists, in a Freedom Center publication titled "The Muslim Brotherhood in the Obama Administration."
His work could easily be dismissed as braying theatrics, '60s radicalism re-engineered for the conservative sensibility. "The way that he approaches all of this is very much still in the strategies and rhetoric of the Berkeley left," says Eli Clifton, a writer for the Center for American Progress who profiled Horowitz as part of a report on groups involved in spreading Islamophobia. "It's very much the same hardware. They've just changed the software."
But sometimes Horowitz does more than burnish a nugget of truth into a rockslide of indignation. Sometimes — as in the case of Florida State — he's actually right.
Somewhere in a CIA bunker, algorithms spit red-flagged names linked to jihad. More than a few Muslim Student Association alumni are among them. They include everyone from bit players in bungled terror plots to those who've left sizable fingerprints in recent history. These are the names that Horowitz plasters throughout his ads in college newspapers.
Born in America to Yemeni parents, Anwar al-Awlaki served as president of the MSA at Colorado State in the late '80s. Though he reportedly walked a moderate line in Fort Collins, the post-9/11 Awlaki would become one of the most popular clerics in the Muslim world.
His jihadist rallying cries beamed via Internet from Yemen, sprinkled with references to "Joe Sixpack" and other bits of Americana, became must-see screeds for the young and violent. He swapped e-mails with Nidal Malik Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist who turned his gun on fellow servicemen at Fort Hood in 2009, leaving 13 dead. Officials also believe al-Awlaki was the puppeteer behind Umar Farouk Abdulmutalla, the would-be terrorist who failed to ignite an underwear bomb on a flight to Detroit in 2009.
Al-Awlaki became the first U.S. citizen to rank on the CIA's kill list. A drone strike in Yemen took him out last year.
Omar Hammami, crowned the "Jihadist Next Door" by the New York Times, grew up feeling ostracized as a Muslim in a small town in the Bible Belt. He was president of the MSA at the University of South Alabama before dropping out in 2002.