Donning a round Afghan pakol hat and a keffiyeh scarf, the bearded man speaks straight into the camera. “This is message for the American devils,” Fuad Wasul declares in thickly accented English. “The enemies of Islam always ask the mujahedeen, like me, ‘Why is that we’re make jihad?’…We’re make jihad for to prepare the final earth judgment day of Allah!”
The gun-slinging man is not a terrorist. His Arab accent is fake. And the person pretending to be him, Frank Wuco, is now in charge of implementing the president’s executive orders at the Department of Homeland Security.
Since January 21, Wuco has served as the White House senior adviser at DHS. His job is to make sure the White House is aware of and able to support “Secretary-level activities,” according to DHS. Since April, he has also led the department’s Executive Order Task Force, Mother Jones has learned from a DHS employee list obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.
Tyler Houlton, a DHS spokesman, confirmed Wuco’s role and called him a “valuable member of the DHS team.” Houlton said the task force was set up to ensure that the “myriad specified and implied tasks derived from the President’s 14 Executive Orders” issued so far are implemented quickly. Those orders have included bans on travelers from some majority-Muslim nations.
Prior to joining the administration, Wuco made a career of advising military officials and concerned citizens about the mindset of a violent jihadist. To do so, he often took on the persona of Wasul, giving speeches in which he explained why be believes extremism is consistent with the Koran. He has also spread his views about Islam through his own blogs, two Tampa Bay radio shows he hosted, and occasional appearances on conservative television stations. (Most of his blog posts are no longer on the sites but can be accessed through the Internet Archive.)
Along the way, Wuco has waded into other culture wars—charging the “race and disadvantage hawkers” at the NAACP with inventing hatred and arguing that allowing “admitted homosexuals” to join the military would pose problems in the shower room. Throughout, Wuco has said he is not Islamophobic, racist, or homophobic.
Wuco’s record contrasts with the no-nonsense style of Kirstjen Nielsen, Trump’s new nominee to run the department. In May, when John Kelly—now Trump’s chief of staff—ran DHS and Nielsen was his top aide, Politico reported that Wuco had clashed with Kelly and his staff. Whether Wuco is pushed out after Nielsen is confirmed by the Senate could be an early sign of whether she plans to reshape the department in her own, more pragmatic image.
After retiring from a 23-year career in naval intelligence in 2004, Wuco began advising US Central Command, which oversees military operations in the Middle East, on how Islamic militants see the world. While at CENTCOM, Wuco worked under Michael Flynn, who later became Trump’s national security adviser but was forced to resign in February after it came to light that he’d lied about his contacts with the Russian ambassador. In a 2016 radio interview, months after Flynn had written on Twitter that “Fear of Muslims is RATIONAL,” Wuco said his old boss was “extremely grounded.” Wuco has said that to advise the military, he put himself through a recruiting cycle “similar to what a jihadist would experience.” DHS did not respond to questions about what the recruiting cycle entailed and whether Flynn recommended him for a job at DHS.
More recently, Wuco has made a name for himself at the fringes of right-wing media. He has appeared on Fox News and Steve Bannon’s Breitbart to discuss terrorism, but he has mostly blogged on FrankWuco.com and hosted the Frank Wuco Radio Show for a Tampa Bay station. His guests have often been fellow critics of “radical Islam.” One of Wuco’s guests on his show was Robert Spencer, whom the Southern Poverty Law Center, a civil rights group that tracks bigotry, describes as “one of America’s most prolific and vociferous anti-Muslim propagandists.” Wuco called Spencer a “good friend” and one of the “bravest intellectuals” he knows.
While advising the military, Wuco created Wasul, the fictional terrorist whose “model behavior” led him to be released from US custody so that he could tour the United States to talk about jihad. Wuco has role-played Wasul for thousands of military officials and concerned citizens. One video shows Wuco wearing both an orange jumpsuit and mujahedeen regalia, while others show him dressed as a civilian.
Wuco, speaking as Wasul, also hosted a radio segment called “Ask the Jihadist.” Before each episode, listeners were advised not to call the authorities on Wasul. Nevertheless, the first caller on one episode, identified as Ms. Anna, had to be cut off after she threatened to buy a gun, presumably to shoot Wasul. On another episode, Wasul berated a Muslim caller for not adhering to his extreme views. After Wasul stopped talking, Wuco would often pretend he had been in another studio listening to Wasul’s remarks, which made him want to land a bullet “right between” Wasul’s eyes.
A video of Frank Wuco playing Fuad Wasul. Credit: Larry Willette/Vimeo
At DHS, Politico reported in May, Wuco started out as one of the “chaperones” installed by the White House to keep an eye on Cabinet departments. Some Cabinet secretaries were reportedly annoyed by this meddling. A source close to Kelly told Politico that Wuco “knows nothing about” DHS’s mission and “serves little purpose or value.” The source added that “dysfunction with personnel keeps these types of folks there.”
Before Wuco joined the Trump administration, his writings described what he saw as the impending war between the West and Islam. A post on the website for his radio show Need to Know! claimed that while Muslims were “perfectly happy to subjugate and humiliate non-Muslim members of their societies,” Muslims in the West were more likely to create enclaves governed by Shariah law. After establishing those bases, they would seek to take over the world. (Wuco appears to have been the author of the unsigned posts on the blog, but DHS did not respond to requests to confirm that. Posts on FrankWuco.com included his name.)
Before that attempted takeover began, Wuco believed Sunni and Shiite Muslims would enter a battle of world historical proportions. In 2012, he wrote that as tragic as the looming Islamic war “may sound and look on our television screens as the human suffering mounts, it is inevitable.” He also thought the war was in the United States’ best interest. Once the factions exhausted their “treasure, energy, and blood,” the United States could defeat the winner. After at least 30 Taliban fighters were killed while attacking a US Army base in 2010, Wuco’s site labeled the news a “WARGASM!”
In the battle with the West, Wuco suggested, terrorism would be consistent with Islamic scripture. After a plot to kill the Pope was foiled in 2010, his website cited two suras, or chapters, from the Koran to explain the plotters’ motivation. In the aftermath of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando last year, Wuco told Breitbart there was “nothing radical” about the shooter. “He is a Muslim who is following the strictures of Islam and its guidance and prescriptions for violence and warfare against unbelievers,” he said.
Wuco recommended, in one of the posts still left on his site, that young people traveling to Europe, New York, or Los Angeles avoid any places with large groups of people. “Uncle Frank’s” other safety rules included sticking to areas with armed law enforcement officials, immediately asking hotel staff for threat advisories, and abstaining from excessive drinking. Remember, Wuco warned, “an Islamist could care less” about your lefty political views, “THEY STILL WANT TO KILL YOU.”
When a terrorist plot was uncovered in 2010, his site cheekily pointed out that the bearded suspect was “not Amish.” Another apparent attempt at humor: a caption below a photo of Anwar al-Awlaki, a US citizen and extremist cleric who was killed by a US drone strike in Yemen, that read, “Is that a jambiya [Arabic for dagger] between your legs, or are you just excited at the thought of pickin’ up ho’s … ?”
His writings on other topics were similarly inflammatory. When Mitt Romney drew accusations of racism for saying NAACP members should vote for Barack Obama if they wanted “more free stuff,” Wuco responded on his website, “The NAACP, the Black Congressional Caucus, Eric Holder, The New Black Panthers all need racism. And, where they absolutely cannot find it, they will invent it and contrive it.” Citing progress on race relations, Wuco added that he found it “shameful” that the Congressional Black Caucus still existed. “I bristle at their arrogance every time I see them walk out of a vote in unison with Nancy Pelosi,” he wrote. Wuco wrapped up the post by saying his mom had no tolerance for the “N-word” and quit a job in protest of how a black coworker was being treated. “She raised me,” he wrote. “I am not a racist.” Wuco similarly claimed that his opposition to letting openly gay people serve in the military was not rooted in homophobia. He wrote that it was “not paranoia” for straight people to be uncomfortable with undressing or showering in front of people who might be attracted to them.
In July, George Selim, the leader of DHS’s anti-extremism efforts and a conservative Republican who had worked for the Bush administration, resigned.* Since leaving, Selim has made clear that he was not forced out. Still, he told The Atlantic, “There were clearly political appointees in this administration who didn’t see the value of community partnerships with American Muslims.” Eric Rosand, a former State Department official who worked with Selim on an interagency project to combat extremism, says Selim fought for as long as he could before DHS became “too toxic.”
There are signs that DHS has become more aligned with Wuco’s views. In February, Reuters reported that the Trump administration wanted to rename DHS’s “Countering Violent Extremism” program, which focuses on all forms of radicalism, to something along the lines of “Countering Islamic Extremism.” The name change hasn’t happened, but the new emphasis on battling Islamic extremism is clear. In June, DHS rescinded a grant for fighting white nationalism, along with nearly $400,000 in funding for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a nonprofit that seeks to create more “humanizing” portrayals of Muslims.
If part of Wuco’s job is assessing security threats in implementing Trump’s latest travel ban, his past analyses suggest how he might go about that. In 2011, after a right-wing terrorist killed 77 people in Norway, Wuco said on his radio show that he initially assumed the shooter was Muslim. He said he was “disgusted” by the Muslim American groups pointing out that Islam played no role. They should be grieving, he said before breaking into fake tears to mock their response to being falsely accused.
The next year, Wuco took to his blog shortly after a dozen people were killed at a midnight screening of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, Colorado. “The shooter has not yet been identified,” Wuco wrote. “Several suspicions come to mind; all of them so obvious that I will avoid the rush to lay them out there. There will be little pride to find in stating the obvious possibilities.” He added that the situation was “eerily similar” to Brad Thor’s novel Full Black, which features a Muslim terrorist who blows up a crowded movie theater.
In the real world, the shooter was already in police custody. His name was James Eagan Holmes. He was not Muslim. Two days later, Wuco discussed the tragedy at the beginning of his show and then moved on. He said he didn’t want to politicize the attack.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misstated George Selim’s religion. He is Catholic.