Robert Spencer was born in 1962 and is of Greek heritage. His grandparents came from what is present day Turkey. He received his M.A. in the field of early Christian studies, and is a self-proclaimed devout Catholic. According to one source, Spencer was a religion teacher at Aquinas High School in the Bronx where some of his former students remember him arguing for the Bible and against birth control. Students mentioned that he now has between 6-8 children.
Robert Spencer claims that his interest in Islam began with him learning about the roots of his family history in Turkey.
“[M]y family is from what is now Turkey and actually that is the beginning of my interest in the subject of Islam that my grandparents shortly after World War I were offered the choice of conversion to Islam or exile from the land where they had lived for many hundreds of years – that is my family had lived. They were – those chose exile and they came to the United States. They, despite their experiences which involved some violence and some of the – some killings of some of the family members, they were – they spoke in a uniformly positive fashion about life over there and made me become quite fascinated with it such that I took the first opportunity I could when I went to college to read the Koran and to begin studying Islamic theology and history.”
The bloody and confrontational circumstances surrounding the purported personal history of Spencer’s family provide a logical explanation for the animus towards Islam and Muslims in much of the polemical work that Spencer has produced since achieving a public profile through his David Horowitz funded website, JihadWatch. It also explains his hostility to Turkey, and the reason he would join a genocidal Facebook group that called for Turkey to be “ethnically cleansed” of Turkish Muslims.
JihadWatch, the website that is administered by Robert Spencer was founded in 2003. Since then Spencer has published thousands of articles and blog postings, has had numerous speaking engagements, (mostly at Conservative gatherings) and has laid claim to ten books on the “threat” of Islam.
Spencer’s attack against Islam can be broken down into two categories: polemical and activist:
Spencer’s polemical attack is based on his personal study of Islam since he has no formal training in Islamic studies. Spencer employs a number of arguments and tactics in his polemics: projecting the actions of an individual as an inherent trait of the entire group, taking the most extreme opinions and interpretations of Islam and asserting them as correct, normative and mainstream, conflating culture with religion, guilt by association, regurgitating Orientalist ideas, and weaponizing, revisiting and at times forging history to suit his arguments. He consistently forwards conspiracy theories about “Stealth Jihad,” “Eurabia,” genocide in Bosnia never occurring or being exaggerated, eminent “Islamization of America,” and the infiltration of Congress by “Muslim spy interns.”
Spencer’s activist attack against Islam and Muslims initially took the form of speaking at Conservative conferences, Churches and Synagogues, on college campuses for David Horowitz’s sponsored “Islamo-Fascism Week,” on Christian TV Networks such as Pat Robertson’s CBN, giving classes on Islam to the FBI, and engaging in debates with the likes of Dinesh D’souza who dubbed him an “Islamophobe.”
However, since the cementing of his friendship and alliances with Pamela Geller, European anti-Muslim activist Anders Gravers (leader of SIOE) and radical Dutch Euro-supremacist politician Geert Wilders, Robert Spencer has embarked on a course of institutionalizing and organizing against Islam and Muslims under the rubric of “fighting the Jihad.” He is now co-founder and leader in two new anti-Muslim organizations, Freedom Defense Initiative (FDI) and Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA).
The creation of these two groups by Spencer must be read in the larger context of a growing movement of anti-Muslim/Islam organizations across the country. They are part of what Homeland Security has dubbed the “rise in right-wing extremism” since the election of Barack Obama to the presidency. For Robert Spencer this all boils down to a “Crusade against Islam,” a religion that he views as the “chief rival” to Catholicism, that is “incomplete,” “misleading” “downright false,” and a “threat to the peace and well-being of the Western world.”