This Aug. 21, 2014, file photo shows Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., as he speaks during a news conference in North Little Rock, Ark.
Danny Johnston/AP

Cotton’s credulity creates campaign complications

Rep. Tom Cotton (R), his party’s nominee in Arkansas’ U.S. Senate race, rolled out a new argument last week. The far-right congressman told voters that Islamic State militants may come to North America, partner with Mexican drug cartels, plot terrorist strikes, and target their land-locked state in the middle of the country with no major population centers. Worse, Cotton apparently expects voters to believe his fanciful claim.
Glenn Kessler dug a little deeper, looking at the materials Team Cotton referenced as proof, including a piece from an unhinged conspiracy-theory website called WorldNetDaily.
The whole thing seems to have started with a highly speculative account on July 4 in WND, labeled an “exclusive” and titled: “New Border Risk: ISIS Ties to Mexican Drug Lords.”  (ISIS and ISIL are other names for Islamic State.) The article quoted Michael Maloof, who it described as a former “top Defense Department analyst” and “expert on the Middle East:”
…Maloof is not pointing to any hard evidence, just that he thinks that they “may be” doing this.
Who is Michael Maloof? He gained notoriety in the run-up to the 2003 invasion of Iraq as one of the key people involved in a DOD intelligence effort to demonstrate that Saddam Hussein had ties to al-Qaeda and was likely to provide weapons of mass destruction to terror groups…. Maloof was later stripped of his security clearance after unauthorized contacts with a Lebanese American businessman who was under federal investigation for gun-running.
As sourcing for a terrorism claim goes, it’s probably best not to put this in the “rock solid” category.
But therein lies the point: Tom Cotton, who’s been caught brazenly lying before, decided to take dubious conspiracy theories from strange websites at face value, then share the nonsense with the public.
Kessler added, “As a lawmaker, Cotton needs to be careful about making inflammatory statements based on such flimsy evidence.” That’s true, though I’m struck by how often that same sentiment comes up when looking at a wide variety of GOP lawmakers.
When Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-Calif.) falsely claimed Islamic State terrorists were captured at the border, his office pointed to a blog post from a right-wing legal group called Judicial Watch.
When Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) argued the U.S. may be transferring Libyan weapons to Turkey, the senator, who enjoys chatting with Glenn Beck regularly, was apparently basing his ideas on another WND conspiracy theory.
Members of Congress have repeated truly bizarre ideas from the fringe about the Boston Marathon bombing, the deadly 2012 attack in Benghazi, the imaginary IRS “scandal,” and a parade of related stories.
In each case, there are fact-checkers who issue warnings such as, “As lawmakers, they need to be careful about making inflammatory statements based on such flimsy evidence,” but for much of the right, it just doesn’t matter.
Maybe you have a relative or an old friend who sends around strange emails. Sometimes they’ll include ominous subject lines such as, “Why is no one talking about this?” The messages invariably include ridiculous allegations the sender saw on some weird website, leading you to delete the email and move on.
Now imagine your relative or old friend is suddenly in the United States Senate, helping shape federal policy for the nation.