10/2011

The Propagandists

Executive Summary

 

The American Family Association (AFA) is one of most powerful religious-right groups in the nation, with a $20 million budget, a network of 200 radio stations and two Internet tele-vision channels. Its spokespersons have appeared on all major networks and cable news channels, and in leading print and radio media. It is also one of the leading purveyors of lies about LGBT people and homosexuality.

The AFA has come under fire repeatedly over the years since it was founded in 1977 by the Rev. Donald Wildmon, who was sharply criticized in the 1980s for suggesting that obscene content on television and in the movies is largely due to the media being con-trolled by Jews. It once demanded that an openly gay Arizona congressman be barred from speaking at the Republican National Convention and suggested that he be arrested under a state law criminalizing sod-omy. It regularly attacked corporations like Disney, which it described as a “two-faced” company that “welcomed hordes of homosexuals to celebrate their sexual perversions.”

But in the last three years, since hiring a radical Idaho preacher named Bryan Fischer as its director of issue analysis, the AFA has gone even further. Since moving to Mississippi to join the group, Fischer has declared that “homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler ... the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews” — a complete falsehood, as any historian knows. He has suggested that gay sex be recriminalized. He has rou-tinely claimed that gay men molest children at rates far higher than those of heterosexual men — another falsehood, as all the relevant professional scientific associations have long agreed. Fischer has said that President Obama “nurtures a hatred for the white man” and suggested that welfare incentivizes black “people who rut like rabbits.” He has said that non-Christian religions “have no First Amendment right to the free exercise of religion,” claimed that the “sexual immo-rality of Native Americans” was part of what made them “morally disqualified from sovereign control of American soil,” and suggested that the best way to deal with promiscuity would be to kill the promiscuous.

Words like these have consequences. While the AFA would certainly deny it, it seems obvious that its regular demonizing of members of the LGBT community as child molesters and the like creates an atmosphere where violence is all but inevitable. And that violence is dramatic. A study by the Southern Poverty Law Center found, based on an analysis of 14 years of FBI hate crime data, that LGBT people were by far the American minority most victimized by such crimes. They were more than twice as likely to be attacked in a violent hate crime as Jews or black people, and four times as likely as Muslims. And that doesn’t take into account the anti-gay bullying that has resulted in so many recent teen suicides.

Based on the foregoing and other evidence, the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) last year began listing the AFA as a hate group. The listing, as was said at the time, was based on the group’s use of known falsehoods to attack and demonize members of the LGBT community — not, as some have gratuitously claimed, because the organization is Christian, or because it opposes same-sex marriage, or because it believes that the Bible describes homosexual prac-tice as a sin.

Many thoughtful Christian commentators have said as much. Warren Throckmorton, a respected professor and past president of the American Mental Health Counselors Association, wrote last year that the AFA and other “newly labeled hate groups” were seeking to “avoid addressing the issues the SPLC raised, instead preferring to attack the credibil-ity of the SPLC.” Reviewing an SPLC list of myths propagated by anti-gay religious-right groups, he said many are “provably false” and “rooted in igno-rance.” The criticisms, Throckmorton concluded, are “legitimate and have damaged the credibility of the groups on the list. Going forward, I hope Christians don’t rally around these groups but rather call them to accountability.”

We hope public figures will do the same.