U.S. Rep. Duncan Hunter, the Alpine Republican fighting charges of misusing campaign funds, appeared to suggest in a speech to a women’s group that his election opponent is a “radical Muslim” and part of an attempt by Islamists to infiltrate the federal government.
“He changed his name from Ammar Yasser Najjar to Ammar Campa-Najjar so he sounds Hispanic,” Hunter said Monday night, according to audio of the event recorded by Ken Stone of the Times of San Diego.
“He just changed it again; he added a Joseph in there,” Hunter can be heard saying on the audio recording. “So his signs could actually say Joseph Campa or, or something. That is how hard, by the way, that the radical Muslims are trying to infiltrate the U.S. government. You had more Islamists run for office this year at the federal level than ever before in U.S. history.”
Hunter made comments about his Democratic challenger, a 29-year-old Palestinian Mexican American who worked in the Obama White House and Labor Department, during a speech Monday at an Intermountain Republican Women Federated meeting at a winery in the San Diego County community of Ramona.
“These are the desperate ravings of a congressman who believes he is above the law and has lost his grip on reality,” Nick Singer, Campa-Najjar’s director of communications, said in a statement. “Ammar is a Christian, worked at a church as a janitor and in youth ministry. He also was thoroughly vetted and given security clearance for his positions at the White House and administration.”
Hunter campaign spokesman Mike Harrison said the candidate was not calling Campa-Najjar a Muslim.
“He never made the claim that his opponent is Muslim. That’s for his opponent to answer,” Harrison said Wednesday. “What we have heard is he’s claimed to be a Christian, and again, that’s for Ammar’s campaign to discuss.”
In his speech, Hunter also brought up the fact that Campa-Najjar’s grandfather was a mastermind of the terrorist attack at the 1972 Munich Olympics that killed 11 Israelis. The grandfather was killed by Israeli commandos in 1973.
“What is a fact is our opponent has changed his name; that’s not in dispute. He does have family ties to terrorists; that’s not in dispute,” Harrison said. “Mr. Hunter was not saying he’s a Muslim.”
An ad released this week by Hunter’s campaign claims Campa-Najjar is a “security risk.” Drawing from a segment produced by the conservative San Diego-based One America News Network, the ominously toned ad accuses Campa-Najjar of trying “to infiltrate Congress” and says without evidence that he is supported by Muslim groups as part of an “orchestrated plan.”
The race for the solidly Republican 50th Congressional District, which includes much of east and north inland San Diego County and stretches into Riverside County, has been thrown into disarray by a campaign finance scandal. Hunter, a five-term incumbent whose father represented the district before him, was indicted alongside his wife by a federal grand jury on charges that they misused $250,000 in campaign money to fund a lavish lifestyle.
They have pleaded not guilty.
That gave an opening for Campa-Najjar, who is making his first run for office. He has said he was raised by his Mexican American single mother after his Palestinian father left the family. Campa-Najjar has condemned his grandfather’s actions.
Campa-Najjar’s birth name was Ammar Yasser Najjar, but he has gone by the surname Campa-Najjar, which includes his mother’s name, since he worked in the Obama administration, according to his campaign. He officially changed his name in June to Ammar Joseph Campa-Najjar, Singer said, adding that he chose the name Joseph just “because he liked it.”
California Democratic Party Chairman Eric C. Bauman on Wednesday decried what he called “Islamophobic-baiting comments” by Hunter.
Sept. 27, 1 p.m.: This article has been updated details about an ad released by Rep. Duncan Hunter’s campaign.
This story was originally published Sept. 26 at 5:55 p.m.