In January 1999, a Muslim cleric, Sheik Hisham Kabbani, said at a State Department event that "the ideology of extremism has been spread to 80 percent of the American Muslim population." He also claimed that Muslim leaders were sending charitable donations from their congregations to terrorist organizations in the Middle East. Other Muslim groups condemned the statements, and Kabbani later clarified, explaining that he meant that although the majority of American Muslims are moderate, the extremists had gained leadership positions at 80 percent of the country's mosques.
That idea -- apparently rooted in no substantive research -- has since taken hold among even mainstream conservatives. In 2004, for example, Rep. Peter King (R-NY) told Sean Hannity that "80 to 85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists." He added that although the "average Muslim is loyal" to the U.S., "they don't come forward, they don't tell the police."
Over the years, little things -- like the defiant cabbies in Minnesota -- sustained this belief among some conservatives. But the true "smoking gun" came to light in 2007.
That year, the Holy Land Foundation stood trial in Dallas. The foundation, a Muslim charity, was charged with and eventually convicted of supporting terrorism by sending money to Hamas. Prosecutors accused its leaders not of directly funding suicide bombers or other violence, but rather of supporting terrorism by helping Hamas spread its ideology through its more humanitarian endeavors.
It was during the trial "that much of the documentation of the stealth jihad initiative and agenda came to light," according to Spencer. One document was a 1991 strategy paper written by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. The memo told followers they "must understand that their work in America is a kind of grand jihad in eliminating and destroying the Western civilization from within."
Many, including Spencer, believe that most Muslim groups and mosques in the U.S. subscribe to the same ideals as the Muslim Brotherhood -- the ideals outlined in the 1991 memo.
"They're not gonna carry a card," says M. Zudhi Jasser, a Muslim physician who stars in the fear-mongering movies "Third Jihad" and Gingrich's "America At Risk". "It's an ideology."
And so this document from 1991 has become the main source of "proof" that most American Muslims wish to bring down America from within using Islamic law.
Radical Muslims and their sympathizers, so this line of thinking goes, are trying to give deference to sharia in American courts, such as the recent case of a New Jersey judge who sided with a Moroccan man who had raped his wife, citing the man's religious beliefs. The ruling was overturned on appeal.
The anti-Islamic critics also contend that Muslims are waging "Islamist lawfare" by suing American critics of Islam for libel in foreign courts. They also believe that there is something nefarious about Muslims convincing financial institutions to offer interest-free financial products that comply with sharia rules against paying interest.
"There's also a host of other aspects of Shariah that are now beginning to be adopted or accommodated in our country. We think far from being frivolous or innocuous or innocent, these represent a form of, what I think [is] best described as stealth Jihad," Gaffney said in 2008, after a veteran sued the Treasury for bailing out AIG because the company had recently begun offering Sharia-compliant insurance.
The rhetoric started seeping into the mainstream from the fringes in 2008, as people began accusing then-Sen. Obama of being a secret Muslim and the Clarion Fund, which focuses on the "growing threat of Radical Islam," sent 28 million copies of its DVD, "Obsession," to swing state voters.
Gingrich has, likewise, seized on these Sharia fears (as have less famous politicians in Oklahoma). At the Values Voter Summit last weekend, he called for the U.S. government to ban Sharia law.
"We should have a federal law that says sharia law cannot be recognized by any court in the United States," Gingrich said to a standing ovation. "No judge will remain in office that tried to use sharia law."