Initially founded as the National Federation for Decency, the American Family Association (AFA) originally focused on what it considered indecent television programming and pornography. The AFA says it promotes “traditional moral values” in media. A large part of that work involves “combating the homosexual agenda” through various means, including publicizing companies that have pro-gay policies and organizing boycotts against them. The AFA has a variety of outlets to disseminate its message, including the American Family Radio Network, its online OneNewsNow and the monthly AFA Journal. In early 2011, the AFA claimed more than 2 million online supporters and 180,000 subscribers to its Journal.
In Its Own Words
“Conservative critics fear that schools adopting Obama’s name to replace Confederate generals opens the door to indoctrination up to the former president’s politically correct, anti-white social justice worldview, as well as ushering in his ultra-leftist agenda promoting abortion, LGBTQ ‘rights,’ immigration reform, climate change, gun control, pro-Palestinian/anti-Israeli perspective, and anti-‘Islamophobia’ campaigns.”
— Michael F. Haverluck writing at OneNewsNow, June 20, 2018.
“This [policy] means a man can simply say he ‘feels like a woman today’ and enter the women’s restroom … even if young girls and women are already in there. Target’s policy is exactly how sexual predators get access to their victims. And with Target publicly boasting that men can enter women’s bathrooms, where do you think predators are going to go?”
— Tim Wildmon, April 2016.
“Homosexuality is a poor and dangerous choice, and has been proven to lead to a litany of health hazards to not only the individuals but also society as a whole.”
— AFA Action Alert, July 20, 2012.
“[Islam] is, in fact, a religion of war, violence, intolerance, and physical persecution of non-Muslims.”
— Tim Wildmon, March 6, 2012.
“The homosexual movement is a progressive outgrowth of the sexual revolution of the past 40 years and will lead to the normalization of even more deviant behavior.”
—Don Wildmon, AFA website, 1999 (still posted as of 2011).
“Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.”
— Bryan Fischer, AFA director of issue analysis for government and public policy, 2010.
“If President Obama, Congressional Democrats, and homosexual activists get their wish, your son or daughter may be forced to share military showers and barracks with active and open homosexuals who may very well view them with sexual interest.”
— AFA press release, February 2010.
“Homosexuality is not only harmful to homosexuals themselves, but also to children and to society.”
— Stephen Bennett, AFA writer, 2004.
“As with smoking, homosexual behavior’s ‘second hand’ effects threaten public health. … Thus, individuals who choose to engage in homosexual behavior threaten not only their own lives, but the lives of the general population.”
— Gary Glenn, president of Michigan chapter of AFA, 2001.
“[T]he homosexual lifestyle is characterized by anonymous sexual encounters and celebration of sexual obsession and perversion unparalleled in any other social group.”
— Richard Howe, “Homosexuality in America,” AFA publication, 1994.
Founded in 1977 by Methodist minister Donald E. Wildmon as the National Federation for Decency, the American Family Association (AFA) worked in its early years to remove what it considered indecent programming from television. Its other major focus was battling pornography. In 1988, the group’s name was changed to the AFA because the organization’s concerns, Wildmon said in 2007, had expanded.
In 1985, Wildmon was appointed to former Attorney General Ed Meese’s Commission on Pornography by its director, Alan Sears, who later would become president of the Alliance Defense Fund, a Christian-based legal organization. Wildmon successfully orchestrated the removal of Playboy and Penthouse from some 17,000 convenience stores. Also in the 1980s, Wildmon started ramping up the AFA’s anti-LGBT propaganda and succeeded in getting some corporations to pull their ads from shows such as “Thirtysomething,” which had been added to Wildmon’s list of “Trash TV” because its plot included a gay romance.
Wildmon has never made a secret of his anti-LGBT views. One of his statements on the AFA’s website reads, “I never dreamed I would see the day when sodomy would be called normal, and those who held to traditional values based on Christian teaching would be called bigots.” According to the AFA, the primary goal of the “homosexual movement” is to “abolish the traditional, Judeo-Christian view of human sexuality, marriage, and family.”
The AFA has been extremely vocal over the years in its opposition to LGBT rights, marriage equality and allowing gay men and lesbians to serve in the military. The group’s arguments are filled with claims that equate homosexuality with pedophilia and argue that there’s a “homosexual agenda” afoot that is set to bring about the downfall of American (and ultimately, Western) civilization. In one October 2004 article, the AFA Journal suggested that gay influences are leading to a “grotesque culture” that will include “quick encounters in the middle school boys’ restroom.”
For years, until 2010, the AFA had a section on its website that supposedly exposed “The Homosexual Agenda.” There, a reader could find articles and other AFA publications that claimed LGBT people were trying to force the acceptance of homosexuality on children through sex education programs in schools; condemned companies like Disney for supporting LGBT rights and programming; and, also until 2010, featured a particularly noxious booklet the AFA had published in 1994. That booklet, Homosexuality in America: Exposing the Myths, included the bogus research of thoroughly discredited psychologist Paul Cameron as a source. One of the publication’s authors, Richard Howe, used Cameron’s “research” to claim that LGBT people don’t live as long as heterosexuals, that they’re more promiscuous and that the “disgusting details of the homosexual lifestyle explain why so many diseases are present in the homosexual community.” Another claim was that “prominent homosexual leaders and publications have voiced support for pedophilia, incest, sadomasochism, and even bestiality.”
In 1998, in what would become a scandal for the group, the AFA signed on to a huge television and newspaper “ex-gay” campaign called “Truth in Love,” a project that advocated an idea popular in religious-right circles: that LGBT people can be “cured” so that they become heterosexual. A man named Michael Johnston was the star of the campaign. In one television ad shot with his mother present, Johnston discussed “leaving homosexuality” and was open about his HIV-positive status. Previously, Johnston had worked with Jerry Falwell as an ex-gay leader and done a “Truth in Love” commercial for Coral Ridge Ministries. He had also started his own ex-gay ministry, Kerusso, in 1989. Johnston was extremely active on the ex-gay circuit, and was the founder of “Coming out of Homosexuality Day” (which coincides with National Coming Out Day).
In 2000, Johnston’s story was made available as a film by the AFA, titled “It’s Not Gay.” In the film, he is joined by other ex-gay activists who load the film with unsupported statistics, like “80% of homosexual men have a sexually transmitted disease.” One of the other ex-gay activists in the film, Richard Cohen, has been discredited for his “healing touch” therapy, in which grown men are cradled and held like babies to get used to “appropriate male touch” and to “re-create the father-son bond.” A broken father-son bond, Cohen claims, can “cause” homosexuality. In other “therapy” sessions, Cohen has clients beat pillows with tennis racquets while blaming their mothers for making them gay.
Three years later, in 2003, news outlets reported that Johnston, while traveling around the country decrying “the homosexual lifestyle,” was hosting orgies, taking drugs and having unprotected sex with other men without disclosing his HIV status. In the publicity and accusations that ensued, Johnston shut down his ministry and sought refuge at a live-in facility with Pure Life Ministries in Dry Ridge, Kentucky. As of 2011, Johnston was listed as Pure Life’s director of donor and media relations. He states in his bio that in 2002 he “was living a completely double life” and is “now walking in true freedom.”
The AFA, meanwhile, admitted that Johnston had “relapsed.” In early 2007, Wayne Besen of ex-gay watchdog group Truth Wins Out filed complaints with two attorneys general against the AFA and another anti-gay group, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, for promoting and selling “It’s Not Gay,” which Besen called “deceptive.” The AFA addressed Besen’s complaints in an article in its March 2007 AFA Journal. Buddy Smith, then an AFA executive assistant, claimed that the AFA had stopped selling “It’s Not Gay” as a result of the scandal. But in 2005, the AFA started selling the DVD again, after meeting with Johnston at Pure Life. Smith stated that the AFA felt confident then “that Michael had been fully restored and was walking in victory.” The DVD is still available on the AFA’s website, without any mention of the scandal. It is described as “a fair and balanced approach to this challenging subject.”
The AFA’s fundraising appeals are known for their shrillness. One mailer from the early 2000s read: “For the sake of our children and society, we must OPPOSE the spread of homosexual activity! Just as we must oppose murder, stealing, and adultery!” It continued: “Since homosexuals cannot reproduce, the only way for them to ‘breed’ is to RECRUIT! And who are their targets for recruitment? Children!” In other appeals, the AFA has used a standard propaganda ploy against LGBT individuals: They’re a danger to children.
In the summer of 2010, the AFA announced a boycott of Home Depot stores because Home Depot allegedly supports the “homosexual agenda.” The AFA said that the home repair chain was “deliberately exposing children to lascivious displays of sexual conduct by homosexuals” through its support of pride parades.
The AFA has had very active state chapters, many of which have served as training grounds for anti-gay activists like Scott Lively, founder of the anti-gay hate group Abiding Truth Ministries. Lively, a former director of the AFA’s California chapter, claimed in his discredited 1995 co-authored book The Pink Swastika that Germany’s Nazi Party was full of gay men who were primarily responsible for the Holocaust. In 2007, Lively co-founded the virulent anti-gay group Watchmen on the Walls, which is particularly popular in Eastern European countries and among some Eastern European immigrants to the United States.
Gary Glenn, current president of the AFA’s Michigan chapter, maintains a “Homosexual Agenda” link on the AFA-MI website. He has called anti-bullying legislation a way to indoctrinate children — and, by extension, American society — with “the homosexual agenda” (a common claim used by the anti-gay right). He has claimed that gay soldiers would cause disease in the military’s ranks through “battlefield blood transfusions” and that gay soldiers are responsible for high rates of sexual assault in the military.
In 2009, the AFA hired Bryan Fischer, the former executive director of the AFA-affiliated Idaho Values Alliance, as its director of issue analysis for government and public policy and as a radio host. Taking a page from Lively’s book, Fischer claimed on his radio show in May 2010 that Hitler chose homosexual soldiers as his elite officers because they were far more brutal and savage than heterosexual soldiers. In defense of that show, Fischer wrote that “homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews.” He also called for criminalizing gay sex in a February 2010 blog post — because doing so would ensure that “controversies” over “gays in the military” and “gay indoctrination in the schools” would end. He has also advocated forcing gay people into ex-gay therapy, which supposedly can “cure” their condition, because homosexuality should be treated in the same way as intravenous drug use. “Both,” he told radio host Alan Colmes, “are equally dangerous and risky to human health.” By August 2010, the AFA had appended a disclaimer to Fischer’s posts, stating that his opinions are his own.
That didn’t stop Fischer’s outrageous postings. In early 2011, Fischer called for an end to Muslim recruits in the U.S. military and an end to Muslim immigration to the U.S. At around the same time, he claimed that Native Americans remained mired in poverty because they refused to accept Christianity. The outcry over that blog post was so great that the AFA actually took it down. A week later, Fischer published a blog item stating that Native Americans should have followed Pocahontas’ lead, because she had accepted “the superior culture” of the new arrivals to the New World.
Two months after the AFA removed Fischer’s post about Native Americans, he lambasted welfare programs, singling out African Americans for criticism by stating:
Welfare has destroyed the African-American family by telling young black women that husbands and fathers are unnecessary and obsolete. Welfare has subsidized illegitimacy by offering financial rewards to women who have more children out of wedlock. We have incentivized fornication rather than marriage, and it’s no wonder we are now awash in the disastrous social consequences of people who rut like rabbits.
Once again, the AFA stepped in, but this time Fischer’s post was merely reworded, so that the last sentence of that paragraph now reads, “And it’s no wonder we are now awash in the disastrous social consequences of those who engage in random and reckless promiscuity whether they are Caucasian, Hispanic, or African-American.”
In September 2012, however, Fischer said of African American supporters of the Democratic Party: “They’re like drug-addled addicts and the Democrat Party has gotten them addicted to welfare benefits. That apparently is the only reason they continue to support this party.” And in August 2012, he claimed that if Obama were re-elected, the Department of Homeland Security was ready to use its ammunition against American citizens. He further warned that “you’re going to hear some serious talk about secession in any number of places around America.”
Currently, the AFA is under the direction of Tim Wildmon, the son of Don Wildmon, who stepped down in 2010 after 33 years, citing health problems. Tim Wildmon continues the group’s long tradition of anti-gay propagandizing and activism. Wildmon criticized Obama for including gay fathers in his 2010 Father’s Day proclamation, stating in a press release that it was the first time in history a president had used the day to “promote a radical homosexual agenda” and that he was putting the “twisted sexual desires of adults” ahead of children.
Earlier in 2012, Wildmon had notorious anti-gay pastor Patrick Wooden, along with the FRC’s Tony Perkins, on the AFA’s “Today’s Issues” segment on their American Family Radio (AFR). Both Perkins and Wildmon expressed admiration for Wooden, who is perhaps best known for claiming that gay men have to wear diapers or “butt plugs” because they lose control of their bowels. He has also called homosexuality “deviant,” “immoral” and “anti-human.”
Buster Wilson, the general manager of AFR and host of the program “AFA Today,” suggested in 2012 that God might have sent Hurricane Isaac as punishment for a New Orleans LGBT festival and also tried to link the repeal of DADT to increased suicides, alcoholism, sexual assaults and violence in the military. Wilson, a conspiracy theorist and member of the antigovernment “Patriot” group Oath Keepers, has also floated the idea that the Department of Homeland Security is buying millions of rounds of ammunition and possibly planning war against American civilians.
In September 2013, the AFA announced it was ending its aforementioned boycott of Home Depot, stating: “We’re satisfied that the company has withdrawn its major financial contributions to gay activist groups and their activities. … We certainly do expect The Home Depot to deny that they have turned back their contributions to gay activist groups, but AFA has monitored the company — and actions speak louder than words.”
But a spokesman for Home Depot told ThinkProgress quite the opposite, stating, “We haven’t made any changes to our policies for inclusion and respect of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation. We have not directed our associates to discontinue participation in Pride or other community events, and have no intention of doing so.”
AFA president Tim Wildmon, in an April 2014 fundraising email, used fear-mongering tactics to gin up donations, stating that common careers of the self-employed were being threatened by homosexuals. “Many Christians choose self-employed careers because they want to be able to run their business according to the dictates of their faith and conscience,” Wildmon wrote. “That list is quickly shrinking as homosexuals pro-actively seek opportunities to wreck the personal business and career of any Christian who declines to support the gay lifestyle.” The professions Wildmon said “Christians may no longer hold in America” were photographer, baker, florist, broadcaster, counselor, innkeeper and teacher.
The AFA was compelled to backtrack on racist, anti-LGBT, antisemitic and anti-Muslim remarks made by Fischer on its platform over the years, after the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) urged members of the Republican National Committee to boycott an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel in early 2015. SPLC president Richard Cohen noted in letters sent to RNC offices nationwide, “Given the AFA’s public statements — including the false contention that gay men were responsible for the Holocaust, an idea undoubtedly offensive to Israelis — political leaders should not lend the prestige of their office to this event or to this organization.”
The AFA’s general counsel, Patrick Vaughn, responded with a letter seeking to distance the organization from some of Fischer’s most hateful comments, and said Fischer was relieved of his duties as a spokesperson and “director of issue analysis.” Fischer continued to host his daily radio program on AFA’s American Family Radio (AFR) and write blog posts for AFA’s website, which he still does.
Another AFR radio host, Sandy Rios, who also serves as AFA’s director of governmental affairs, has indulged in anti-Muslim rhetoric alongside defaming LGBT people. In 2013, she said on-air that “Muslim Americans do not have First Amendment rights,” and described Islam as “a complete and total system that demands usurpation of whatever the local authority is, it demands to dominate it, it demands to conquer, to kill or convert.” In early 2015, she attacked U.S. Rep. Andre Carson (D-Ind.), saying he should be banned from his post on the House Intelligence Committee because he’s a Muslim. Rios also used her platform to regularly perpetuate the myth that President Barack Obama was a Muslim. In 2014, she stated on her radio show that she wanted a ban on LGBT people in the military reinstated because, according to Rios, they’re “disordered.” She went on to lament former Surgeon General Jocelyn Elders, who chaired a study that called for the lifting of the ban on transgender troops, and claimed that Elders was “now urging for trannies to be allowed in the military.”
Rios’s anti-Muslim sentiment was echoed in a January 2018 article by Bill Bumpas on AFA’s OneNewsNow digital news outlet, in an article titled “As Muslim population grows, Christians must rise.” Bumpas stated:
According to the leader of a major network of pastors in the United States, the growing Muslim population in America should be a major concern for Christians. American Pastors Network President Sam Rohrer contends that Christians in America should be concerned about any ideology and political system that is completely opposed to the concept of the God in the Bible and constitutional law.
Predictably, when the U.S. Supreme Court made its June 26, 2015, decision legalizing same-sex marriage, the AFA was outraged, calling the court “a tool of tyranny,” and saying the ruling would “imperil religious liberty in America, as individuals of faith who uphold time-honored marriage and choose not to advocate for same-sex unions will now be viewed as extremists.”
AFA blogger and radio host Fischer tweeted, “From a moral standpoint, 6/26 is now our 9/11,” and urged governors to defy the court and “refuse to issue sodomy-based licenses in their states.”
In 2016, the AFA announced its currently ongoing boycott of Target stores, after the retailer restated that its customers and employees could use the restrooms that correspond with their gender identity. The AFA used the widely debunked “bathroom predator myth” to criticize Target’s support for transgender people, and has continued to criticize its “politically correct but potentially dangerous policy.”
Other targets of the AFA’s calls to action and boycotts include PayPal, which canceled plans for a major operations center in North Carolina following the signing of HB 2, the so-called “bathroom bill” (later repealed and replaced) mandating that transgender people use bathrooms consonant with their biological sex, and Dove, which was attacked by AFA subsidiary One Million Moms after airing an advertisement featuring a transgender woman as one of the parents of a child. When Walgreens instituted trans-inclusive restroom policies similar to Target’s, the AFA went after the drugstore as well.
AFA also supports President Trump’s efforts to ban trans people from serving in the military, posting a statement on its website in July 2017 that stated, in part, “AFA applauds President Trump for his courageous decision to end the usage of our military for social engineering and political correctness.” The policy has been challenged in court, and thus far has been ruled against. Trump tried a retooled ban in early March, but in August, a U.S. district judge ruled that the administration could not enforce a ban and the judge refused to lift an injunction that she had issued against the original ban.
At the Values Voter Summit in September 2018, Rios appeared onstage to express her disbelief that America went from realizing how much it needed God on Sept. 11, 2001, to legalizing same-sex marriage, a “fist of defiance” in God’s face. “So we went from 9/11, when things were maybe a little more normal and we lost so much ground in such a fast time,” Rios said. “It was just within that 12 years that that momentary national awakening to the need for an Almighty God turned into a nationwide fist of defiance in his face.”