Horowitz defends the atmosphere at his events by throwing up his hands and pointing to the MSA. "I don't go to campuses inciting people," he says. "I go to speak. I can't have a civil conversation. I have to go with bodyguards, and that's because of the Muslim Student Associations. Their behavior is what's important, not their sophistry in avoiding my questions."
But for someone who devotes a good chunk of his calendar to making students go code-red, Horowitz probably realizes they're an easy — and perhaps the only — mark for his caliber of agitation.
As Henry Kissinger once said, "University politics are vicious precisely because the stakes are so small." But they're very good for landing you an appearance on Fox News.
The charged atmosphere — and the readiness of the far right to cheer him on — allows Horowitz to spin theories with little structural integrity.
One of his favorite conspiracies: that all U.S. Muslim organizations are tied to the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian group with a history of jihad and anti-Semitism that has become Egypt's leading political force. His evidence is woven from the thinnest wool.
The Holy Land Foundation was once the largest Islamic charity in America — until it was caught violating U.S. law by funneling $12 million to Hamas. Five members of the foundation were handed life sentences in 2009 for the crime.
As part of that investigation, the feds found a memo at Holy Land's suburban Dallas headquarters. It was written in 1991 by a Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas member named Mohamed Akram. The text lays out a comical plot to institute religious Sharia law across America by using "our organizations and the organizations of our friends," MSAs included.
Never mind that in a largely Christian nation, there's zero chance that Sharia law will ever come to rule the land, given its Dark Ages approach to basic rights. Horowitz nonetheless insists that Muslim Student Associations take their marching orders from the memo.
"I see it as a recruitment organization," he says. "Its purpose is first to isolate the Muslim students, to create a Muslim center so they're not going to assimilate into Western values. I know this from my youth in Communist front associations. The idea is you create a group that gathers all the Muslim kids, and then you identify the ones who become leaders. Those are the ones who get positions of power in the organization, and those are the ones who go on to do other Muslim Brotherhood tasks."
Yet there's little evidence that the memo was ever put into play outside of the overactive imagination of its author.
"It's one memo that they found that some crazy guy had written that was never in any way accepted by anyone or implemented anywhere, even by the Muslim Brotherhood," says Haris Tarin, director of the Washington, D.C., office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. "The idea of American Muslims on college campuses who've never been to places like Egypt having some affinity to the Muslim Brotherhood is absurd."
Still, Sharia law has become a bogeyman for even seemingly sensible conservatives. Two years ago, Oklahoma passed a constitutional amendment — with 70 percent of the vote — banning its use in state courts. For Horowitz, it's a topic that reliably kicks up dust at colleges.
Last January, the Ohio State University student paper ran the same "Where Are They Now?" ad that appeared at Florida State. The Lantern's staff was pummeled with e-mails and calls from students. Horowitz chimed in from the sidelines, clearly enjoying the furor.
Freedom Center ads are almost a yearly rite at UCLA, where the Daily Bruin regularly receives alternating waves of attacks and counterattacks. One side clamors for a muzzle, the other wants Horowitz to have his say.
"At MSA, we've met with the communications department and made it clear we don't want David Horowitz's ad published," says Haidar Anwar, a UCLA student who serves as president of MSA West, an umbrella group. "We've brought it up to the dean of students as well. But after we met with them, David Horowitz published another ad."
If your business involves pissing people off, it's important to have steady reports of success from the battlefront. Each new episode of tumult adds a fresh coat of paint to your image as an effective instigator. That's what funders want to see.
From 2001 to 2009, groups like Horowitz's received $42 million in donations — mostly from large conservative charities, according to the Center for American Progress. All that money provides incentive to sharpen one's attacks.