[Full disclosure: I write for the SPLC's blog, Hatewatch.]
When right-wingers got wind of the fact that the Southern Poverty Law Center had designated a number of Religious Right organizations who specialize in rhetorically bashing gays and lesbians as hate groups, they and their allies on the Right came more or less unglued.
Now, rather than face up to the substance of the accusations, they're choosing to demonize the SPLC and their critics. Par for the course for this crowd.
What was especially noteworthy about the SPLC report was that it zeroed in on the fundamental falsity of the material attacking people in the LGBT community that these so-called "Christian" organizations distribute maliciously and knowingly. That is, they are lying baldfacedly, and they frankly seem not to care. Evidently, that 9th Commandment about bearing false witness and all that is now a disposable rule.
Jeremy Hooper noted that the Family Research Council -- one of the largest of the groups named -- launched a counteroffensive called "Stop Hating/Start Debating," with a press release that begins thus:
The surest sign one is losing a debate is to resort to character assassination. The Southern Poverty Law Center, a liberal fundraising machine whose tactics have been condemned by observers across the political spectrum, is doing just that.
The hypocrisy, of course, is not just a laughable bug, but a definitive feature of these groups. Alvin McEwen at Pam's House Blend enumerates just how many ways the FRC's opening salvo is a farce.
Their political friends leapt into action too. Cliff Kincaid called the SPLC's hate-group designation a "racket" by conniving liberals. And Peter LaBarbera at Americans for Truth About Homosexuality -- also one of the designated groups -- complained that the SPLC never seems to pick on mean gay groups that fight back against the fundamentalist assault. Meanwhile, of course, he doubles down by claiming that all the lies against LGBT folks enumerated by the SPLC are in fact actually true. Uh-huh.
Perhaps the funniest attack came from Ed Meese at CNS News:
Former Attorney General Edwin Meese says it is “despicable” for the Southern Poverty Law Center to classify the Family Research Council and a dozen other top conservative organizations as “hate groups” similar to the Ku Klux Klan.
“I think it’s ridiculous,” Meese told CNSNews.com about the list published by the SPLC. “I know about seven or eight of those groups. I know the people very well. I know the groups very well, I’ve worked with them over the years, and I think it actually undermines the credibility of the Southern Poverty Law Center to make such a statement.”
Last week, the Southern Policy Law Center announced that it was going to classify the Family Research Council and 12 other organizations as “hate groups” because of their positions on homosexuality.
Among the groups being designated by the SPLC are the American Family Association, Concerned Women for America, the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission, Coral Ridge Ministries, Family Research Institute, Americans for Truth About Homosexuality, Illinois Family Institute, Liberty Counsel, MassResistance, National Organization for Marriage and the Traditional Values Coalition.
The SPLC said these organizations will be named to its "hate group" watch list.
But Meese said the Southern Poverty Law Center had cited no evidence whatsoever to show that the FRC or the other major pro-family conservative organizations were hate groups.
“I think it is attacking them for exercising their freedom of speech and their freedom of religion,” said Meese, who served as U.S. attorney general during the Reagan administration, and is currently the Ronald Reagan distinguished fellow in public policy and chairman of the Center for Legal and Judicial Studies at the Heritage Foundation.
“I know that none of these groups, in anyone’s wildest imagination, could be thought of as hate groups,” Meese told CNSNews.com.
“All of the groups that I know of--and that’s about half of them--take the traditional biblical views of homosexuality, which is not at all unusual," he said. "And I think it is despicable of an organization that purports to be a civil liberties organization to make those kinds of attacks.”
The CNS story then goes on to include similar whining from Maggie Gallagher of the National Organization for Marriage, whom similarly "said the announcement contains nothing that even hints at why the groups are being compared to the KKK."
Evidently, neither Meese nor Gallagher bothered to actually read the report. Because it lays out quite a bit of relevant information about these groups. For instance, here's the entry on the FRC:
*Family Research Council
Started as a small think tank in 1983, the Family Research Council (FRC) merged in 1988 with the much larger religious-right group Focus on the Family in 1988, and brought on Gary Bauer, former U.S. undersecretary of education under Ronald Reagan, as president. In 1992, the two groups legally separated to protect Focus on the Family’s tax-exempt status, although Focus founder James Dobson and two other Focus officials were placed on the FRC’s newly independent board. By that time, FRC had become a powerful group on its own.
Headed since 2003 by former Louisiana State Rep. Tony Perkins, the FRC has been a font of anti-gay propaganda throughout its history. It relies on the work of Robert Knight, who also worked at Concerned Women for America but now is at Coral Ridge Ministries (see above for both), along with that of FRC senior research fellows Tim Dailey (hired in 1999) and Peter Sprigg (2001). Both Dailey and Sprigg have pushed false accusations linking gay men to pedophilia: Sprigg has written that most men who engage in same-sex child molestation “identify themselves as homosexual or bisexual,” and Dailey and Sprigg devoted an entire chapter of their 2004 book Getting It Straight to similar material. The men claimed that “homosexuals are overrepresented in child sex offenses” and similarly asserted that “homosexuals are attracted in inordinate numbers to boys.”
That’s the least of it. In a 1999 publication (Homosexual Activists Work to Normalize Sex With Boys) that has since disappeared from its website, the FRC claimed that “one of the primary goals of the homosexual rights movement is to abolish all age of consent laws and to eventually recognize pedophiles as the ‘prophets’ of a new sexual order,” according to unrefuted research by AMERICAblog. The same publication argued that “homosexual activists publicly disassociate themselves from pedophiles as part of a public relations strategy.” FRC offered no evidence for these remarkable assertions, and has never publicly retracted the allegations. (The American Psychological Association, among others, has concluded that “homosexual men are not more likely to sexually abuse children than heterosexual men are.”)
In fact, in a Nov. 30, 2010, debate on MSNBC’s “Hardball with Chris Matthews” between Perkins and the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Mark Potok, Perkins defended FRC’s association of gay men with pedophilia, saying: “If you look at the American College of Pediatricians, they say the research is overwhelming that homosexuality poses a danger to children. So Mark is wrong. He needs to go back and do his own research.” In fact, the college, despite its hifalutin name, is a tiny, explicitly religious-right breakaway group from the American Academy of Pediatrics, the 60,000-member association of the profession. Publications of the American College of Pediatricians, which has some 200 members, have been roundly attacked by leading scientific authorities who say they are baseless and accuse the college of distorting and misrepresenting their work.
Elsewhere, according to AMERICAblog, Knight, while working at the FRC, claimed that “[t]here is a strong current of pedophilia in the homosexual subculture. … [T]hey want to promote a promiscuous society.” AMERICAblog also reported that then-FRC official Yvette Cantu, in an interview published on Americans for Truth About Homosexuality’s website, said, “If they [gays and lesbians] had children, what would happen when they were too busy having their sex parties?”
More recently, in March 2008, Sprigg, responding to a question about uniting gay partners during the immigration process, said: “I would much prefer to export homosexuals from the United States than to import them.” He later apologized, but then went on, last February, to tell MSNBC host Chris Matthews, “I think there would be a place for criminal sanctions on homosexual behavior.” “So we should outlaw gay behavior?” Matthews asked. “Yes,” Sprigg replied. At around the same time, Sprigg claimed that allowing gay people to serve openly in the military would lead to an increase in gay-on-straight sexual assaults.
Perkins has his own unusual history. In 1996, while managing the U.S. Senate campaign of Republican State Rep. Louis “Woody” Jenkins of Louisiana, Perkins paid $82,500 to use the mailing list of former Klan chieftain David Duke. The campaign was fined $3,000 (reduced from $82,500) after Perkins and Jenkins filed false disclosure forms in a bid to hide the link to Duke. Five years later, on May 17, 2001, Perkins gave a speech to the Louisiana chapter of the Council of Conservative Citizens (CCC), a white supremacist group that has described black people as a “retrograde species of humanity.” Perkins claimed not to know the group’s ideology at the time, but it had been widely publicized in Louisiana and the nation. In 1999, after Republican House Speaker Trent Lott was embroiled in a national scandal over his ties to the group, GOP chairman Jim Nicholson urged Republicans to quit the CCC because of its “racist views.” That statement and the nationally publicized Lott controversy came two years before Perkins’ 2001 speech.
And here's the report's entry for Maggie Gallagher's outfit:
National Organization for Marriage
The National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which is dedicated to fighting same-sex marriage in state legislatures, was organized in 2007 by conservative syndicated columnist Maggie Gallagher and Princeton University politics professor Robert George. George is an influential Christian thinker who co-authored the 2009 “Manhattan Declaration,” a manifesto developed after a New York meeting of conservative church leaders that “promises resistance to the point of civil disobedience against any legislation that might implicate their churches or charities in abortion, embryo-destructive research or same sex marriage.”
NOM’s first public campaign was in 2008, supporting California’s Proposition 8, which sought to invalidate same-sex marriage in that state. It was widely mocked, including in a parody by satirist Stephen Colbert, for the “Gathering Storm” video ad it produced at the time. Set to somber music and a dark and stormy background, the ad had actors expressing fears that gay activism would “take away” their rights, change their lifestyle, and force homosexuality on their kids.
The group, whose president is now former executive director Brian Brown, has become considerably more sophisticated since then, emphasizing its respect for homosexuals. “Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose,” NOM says on its website, “[but] they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.”
For a time, NOM’s name was used by a bus driver named Louis Marinelli, who drove a van for NOM’s “Summer for Marriage Tour” this year. Marinelli called himself a “NOM strategist” and sent out electronic messages under the NOM logo that repeated falsehoods about homosexuals being pedophiles and gay men having extremely short lifespans. In homemade videos posted on his own YouTube page, he said same-sex marriage would lead to “prostitution, pedophilia and polygamy.” But this July, NOM said it was not associated with Marinelli.
Maybe Maggie Gallagher and Ed Meese don't understand that the chief way the Ku Klux Klan operates these days, a la David Duke, is to claim disingenuously that it is only "standing up for white culture" while doing so by expending most of its energy demonizing and attempting to disenfranchise anyone who is not white. Similarly, these anti-gay hate groups claim that they're only standing up for Christianity, but they do so by demonizing and attempting to disenfranchise anyone who is gay. That alone is why your fundamentalist friends are considered to have organized hate groups.
Likewise, we heard from Matt Barber of Liberty Counsel -- the guy who described gay relationships thus: "one man violently cramming his penis into another man’s lower intestine and calling it ‘love’ " -- in the Moonie Times, arguing that the SPLC was attacking these groups because it is a liberal outfit dedicated to promoting the gay agenda. And besides, he says, if you think about it, they're trying to make gay-bashers out to be Nazis:
Of course, the tired goal of this silly meme is to associate in the public mind's eye mainstream conservative social values with racism, white supremacy and neo-Nazism. The ironic result, however, is that, as typically occurs with such ad hominem and hyperbolic attacks, the attacker ends up marginalizing himself and galvanizing his intended target (I'm rubber, you're glue and all that).
Hence, beyond a self-aggrandizing liberal echo chamber, the SPLC - and by extension the greater "progressive" movement - has become largely, as it stews in its own radicalism, just another punch line.
It's often said that the first to call the other a Nazi has lost the argument.
Congratulations, conservative America: They're calling you a Nazi. Carry on.
This is pretty ironic, when you think about it: as Warren Throckmorton points out, the canard that gays are Nazis is in fact one of the common myths bandied about by fundamentalist gay-bashers.
As Throckmorton -- himself a dedicated Christian advocate, but not a hater -- explains, the people on this list should be working to repair their badly damaged reputations as Christians that the hate-group designation represents, rather than simply doubling down by insisting that their lies are true and telling even MORE lies:
The groups which now populate the SPLC list specialize in ad hominem and hyperbolic attacks. Claims that gays die 20+ years early, that they are child abusers, that they are inherently diseased, and responsible for the Holocaust are the kinds of ad hominem and hyperbolic attacks which lead thoughful people, liberal and conservative, to question the credibility of those making the claims.
Christian groups should care about nuance and bearing honest witness. They should avoid misleading stereotypes and strive for accuracy in fact claims. When they don’t, they hurt the church and the good work that others are doing. Being designated a hate group is a serious matter and one which should cause reflection about the charges and not reckless defensiveness.
This is not the only serious Christian response I've seen. A woman named Kathy Baldock, who writes a Christian blog called Canyon Walker Connections, wrote a devastating post examining the Religious Right's lies about gays and lesbians:
I listened to Tony Perkins, President of FRC, on Fox and Friends as he responded to the dishonor announced last week on being place on the SPLC’s Hate Groups list. I talked to my computer screen and boiled at his smiling, what-me? attitude. No, Mr. Perkins, FRC is not on the list because you are a conservative group. Your actions have placed you there. No, Mr. Perkins, the left is not trying to shut down the debate or take away your freedom of religion. GLBT people are fighting for what the mascot-version-God aside you says they deserve—equality. Religious straight conservatives (and I am one) will still be able to get married, have children, serve in the military and attend houses of worship of their choice. No one wants to strip us of any of those rights; they just want the same rights, not special rights, not more rights, not gay rights—the same rights. Mr. Perkins, you drag God into your battle as an accomplice and, to me, that is even more despicable than your messages. You use God as your validation, saying you are fighting to protect His Judeo-Christian values. You and FRC deserve to be called dangerous and hateful; you and FRC have earned it.
Indeed they have. And they're doing nothing to escape the condemnation that follows.