Shrill, hateful crusades

Every once in a while, reporters discover some religious group that has been around for a long time, but they feel the need to profile it all over again because of some newer political connections. This time, the New York Times has re-uncovered the American Family Association, thanks to its involvement in Texas Governor Rick Perry’s upcoming prayer event.

Instead of telling us something new, unfortunately, the Times makes all sorts of sweeping claims with loaded language. In LeBlancian style, it’s time to do an edit with bolded phrases to highlight the reporter’s choice of words. For instance, watch for the incredible number of scare quotes.

To its admirers on the religious right, the American Family Association is a stalwart leader in a last-ditch fight to save America’s Christian culture and the values of traditional families.

Is it really a stalwart leader? Says who? How do the numbers of its audience compare to those of organizations like Focus on the Family, Family Research Council, the Southern Baptist Convention’s policy arm and other similar groups?

To its liberal critics, it is a shrill, even hateful voice of intolerance, out to censor the arts, declare Muslims unfit for public office and deny equality to gay men and lesbians because they engage in sinful “aberrant sexual behavior.”

It’s hard to know what to do with this paragraph above. Can you imagine the same kind of language used from the critics of People for the American Way (since it is quoted in the piece)? Also, I’m going to go out on a limb and suggest that even non-liberal critics might pause at some of AFA’s activism. If the reporter did some calling around, he might find that AFA is a little more divisive among even some evangelicals.

…the American Family Association’s pronouncements have flowed forth daily from its sleek offices here in the Deep South.

But now it is doing more than preaching to the choir. This summer, the association has thrust itself into presidential politics by paying for and organizing a day of prayer to save “a nation in crisis” that Gov. Rick Perry of Texas is convening this Saturday.

Is this the first time the organization has been involved in presidential politics?

In speeches and books, Mr. Wildmon has voiced a sense of siege that is widely shared among evangelicals, one he first expressed 34 years ago as sex and violence crept into television.

Some examples for “widely shared,” please?

But the association has sharpened its edge over the years, moving from its well-known crusades for public “decency” to harshly opposing what it calls an anti-Christian “homosexual agenda”…

Funny, didn’t the reporter get the memo that evangelicals aren’t using the word “crusade” so much anymore?

… the group’s reputation for inflammatory statements rose after the hiring two years ago of Bryan Fischer, a former pastor from Idaho, as the director of “issues analysis” and the host of a daily two-hour afternoon show. Mr. Fischer, 60, silver-haired and a talk-radio natural, has become a public face of the group.

I wonder if the reporter asked Wildmon why Fischer’s posts always end with the following line: “(Unless otherwise noted, the opinions expressed are the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the views of the American Family Association or American Family Radio.)” Is he really the public face, or is that what the reporter infers?

Perhaps most notably, Mr. Fischer trumpets the disputed theory that Adolph Hitler was a homosexual and that the Nazi Party was largely created by “homosexual thugs” — evidence, he says, of the inherent pathologies of homosexuality.

Again, going out on a limb, I’m going to say that I have never heard this theory espoused by any Christian leader other than Fischer, so it’s probably more than just “disputed.”

Peter Montgomery, a senior fellow at People for the American Way, a liberal group, says of the American Family Association’s radio network: “Clearly a lot of Republican politicians want to reach the people who are listening to the American Family Association. Many Republican candidates see no shame in lending credibility to the extremism and bigotry on its radio shows.”

Honestly, why even bother including this quote, using the guilt by association angle that only benefits the person quoted. Surely there is someone more objective who can talk about the AFA’s role in politics?

Though liberal critics call it a hate group, the association and Mr. Wildmon are widely revered in conservative circles.

Who calls it a hate group? Why not quote someone who “reveres” the association?

Again, we’re talking about an organization that has been around for decades, but this particular reporter probably just disocvered it and decided to profile it all over again. The same reporter has recently profiled David Barton, single pastors, homosexuality on Christian campuses, Christians who get involved in Greek life, groups or ideas that have actually been around for quite a while, but he’s apparently just learning about it now. Perhaps the reporter could find fresher, newer angles that don’t come straight out of the 1970s.

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  • Spencerian

    Sarah’s excerpts clearly show the article with a very poor journalistic format, full of weasel wording and a clear bias using language that vilifies one group and all but praises the other. What are they not teaching in journalism classes or requiring in so-called news reports nowandays shows all too well here.

  • J. Lahondere

    I’d just like to comment on one part of the story, and that was the “disputed theory” that Adolph Hitler was a homosexual. This was a confusing thing for the author to include, wasn’t it? I’ve never heard of such a theory, and it’s a good example of how the word “theory” has kind of lost all meaning, even in journalism. Instead of “trumpeting” this theory, could he not have “trumpeted” a “personal belief” or a “hypothesis” that Hitler was gay?

    Even as I write this comment, I think I understand better why I dislike the “theory” label used in this way. It elevates this belief to an all-out theory, and then it gives the theory more credence by making it appear as though there are vast amounts of people (religious ones, at that) who subscribe to it. Lame.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I know nothing negative about the influence of homosexuality on history is supposed to ever be mentioned or seriously researched in the media. But, whether the NY Times likes it or not, more than just an Idaho pastor has made the connection between homosexuality and the Nazis.
    For example, a noted German historian, Dr. Lothar Machtan, associate professor of Modern And Current History at Bremen University–and author of the acclaimed book, “Bismarck’s Death, And Germany’s Tears” has written a thoroughly researched (almost 100 pages of notes and bibliography-including ignored archival records) history of the Hitler–homosexual connection titled “The Hidden Hitler.” It was published here in 2001 by Basic Books-a mainstream publisher. Of course, the media here has pretended this academic book doesn’t exist–pretending that only back country, right-wing preachers would believe or talk about such a connection as existed through, for just one example, early Hitler promoters in politics such as the notorious Ernst Rohm who became head of Hitler’s SA.

  • Norman

    How much of what the Times does is straight-news reporting, anymore? This reporter is their domestic correspondent, and, looking through his archive, most of his stories have an ideological edge and are best characterized as analysis, advocacy, or anthropological studies of the strange goobers of middle America and their declasse beliefs. This archive shows a very distorted view of America. It’s telling what they have assigned to one of their top reporters:

    Is the Times even really a newspaper anymore? It’s more of an opinion journal, or a hyper-literate form of tabloid with its emphasis on front-page editorials and advocacy journalism.

  • MJBubba

    Well, I will place a long comment here because I suspect that GetReligion has very few regular listeners of Bryan Fisher. I am a strong social conservative, and I started listening in early 2010, shortly after a nearby AFA network affiliate boosted their signal. Bryan Fisher broadcasts for ten hours per week, and I average listening to about a half-hour per week, so that I probably hear a representative sample. I have only heard the Hitler-Nazi-homosexual connection referenced three times or so, with Fisher’s explanation only given on one of those occasions. (I first became aware of this idea when the Southern Poverty Law Center named AFA a hate group.) I also hear Tim Wildmon’s show, to a lesser extent because of the time of day it airs. AFA has been pushing the upcoming Rick Perry “Response” prayer meeting, and also promoting a boycott of Home Depot, so those remarks are on target.
    Earlier in the week I heard Fisher say he had been interviewed by the New York Times, and said he thought that the reporter spent enough time to get an accurate feel for what AFA is about, and he believed the reporter was actually listening to what he had to say. At the time Fisher had not yet seen the article.
    “…the American Family Association’s pronouncements have flowed forth daily from its sleek offices here in the Deep South.”
    That struck me; it sounds like the reporter needed one of those Visas that require extra vaccinations in order to book a trip to Tupelo.

    Some legal groups have accused Mr. Perry of breaching the separation of church and state by holding the rally, even though the governor’s aides say no tax dollars are being used. A federal judge in Houston last week dismissed a lawsuit brought by a group of atheists against Mr. Perry’s participation.

    Couldn’t any of these groups be identified? Likewise, “liberal critics” are noted twice, but go unidentified except for the quote from the guy with the People for the American Way. And I completely agree that a much better article could have been written using the perspective of social conservatives who have disagreements with Fisher and with the AFA.
    From all my listening, I think I can say I think the AFA is careless. I do not mean to say they are wrong on the issues, though I think they make some political misjudgements. What I mean is that, since almost all their listeners are in complete agreement with them, they can get away with being sloppy. That problem seems to be getting better over time.
    I can say that I hear them relate culture war battles that I would otherwise only find in the blogosphere, so I find AFA radio to be a useful source of information that the mass media will not carry.

  • Norman

    “Domestic correspondent” must be a euphemism for the Scary Christian beat. The Times bangs this drum so insistently that I’m convinced our bien pensants are mired in a state of nebulous anxiety as the foundations of our world tremble around us; they need an other to unite against.

  • Joel

    Bryan Fischer, a former pastor from Idaho…

    Oh, that’s subtle. He’s from Idaho, and we know what those people are like. The school colors are white and white, and they gather for lynchings the way the rest of us watch high-school football games.

  • R.F. McDonald

    Deacon: “Of course, the media here has pretended this academic book doesn’t exist—pretending that only back country, right-wing preachers would believe or talk about such a connection as existed through, for just one example, early Hitler promoters in politics such as the notorious Ernst Rohm who became head of Hitler’s SA.”

    You mean the Rohm who was killed, along with perhaps hundreds of others, many sharing his sexual orientation, in 1934′s Knight of the Long Knives, with his (and their) homosexuality being one of the main charges against him?

    You’ve just managed to disprove the suggestion made by commenter #2 that the theory explaining Naziism by Hitler’s sexual orientation–or by the sexual orientation of Nazis–is marginal, BTW.

  • Ben

    The main proponent of this Nazis-were-gay theory is Scott Lively, who wrote a book “The Pink Swastika.”

    Mr. Lively was a former California director of the American Family Association. (See his bio.)

    Lively travels around to speak about these ideas. He went to Uganda in early 2009 and, upon return, bragged that he had dropped a “nuclear bomb against the gay agenda in Uganda.” Uganda then put forth draconian anti-gay legislation, which Lively said “disappointed” him due to its harshness. He also has traveled to Russia and delivered a false and inflammatory account of a killing of a gay man in Sacramento to a Watchmen on the Walls gathering where some audience members laughed and clapped. (Lively rebuked them.)

    * Excerpts of Lively’s course in Uganda.
    * Lively’s address in Russia.

  • Dan Crawford

    I would be interested in knowing the correspondent’s sexual orientation since he believes Wildmon’s greatest offense is opposition to the gay agenda. Even more, I would love to know what an editor does in a major newspaper. Check sources for crossword puzzle clues? Read press releases and decide which ones are to printed? Arrange appointments for lunch with “celebs”? A good editor might have substantially tidied up the Times article, but there are, it seems, very few good editors these days.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    R.F.— According to the historian, Dr. Machtan, once Hitler got to where he wanted to be in politics those who knew of his homosexual connections and were a threat to make them known had to be silenced. Rohm, along with some others, was killed after friction broke out between he and Hitler and Hitler became afraid of what Rohm could publicly do to him. Others of his homosexual cabal were not in positions where they, at the time, could be a credible threat. Get Dr. Machtan’s book and read it yourself to see how much evidence he provides. It seems quite a conclusive amount is provided–at least enough so it should be reasonably debated in the media and not just
    used to attack a minister.

  • http://!)! Passing By

    One gay writer is upfront about the gay-nazi connection.

    And yes, I know this author is in disgrace at the moment, but that doesn’t discount everything he wrote. :-)

  • R.F. McDonald

    Deacon, I’ve gone and read what parts of Machten’s book are available online. There are interesting anecdotes, but his thesis remains problematic. For instance, interpreting past behaviour that might seem coded as strongly gay now but weren’t then–opera attendance, say–doesn’t help Machten’s case, either. Machten’s dependence on third-hand anecdotes coming via people with relatively little credibility (Mend) or from people have lost the documentary evidence that they said exist, is also problematic. It’s worth noting Hitler expert Ron Rosenberg’s skepticism regarding Machtan’s argumentation ( in _Slate_.

    “Consider the case of Mimi Reiter, for instance, a woman Hitler courted in the mid-’20s. Machtan quotes only part of her story, which was printed in the German magazine Stern in 1959. She was a shop girl in Hitler’s Obersalzberg retreat, and Machtan gives credence to the existence of a relationship but quotes only from the beginning of her description of it. From the time, on a woodsy picnic, when Hitler “Hugged me real tight around the neck. He kissed me. He didn’t know what to do.”

    Machtan jeers: “How could he have known, in default of any physical desire to guide him?”—which assumes what it is supposed to prove. But what’s most disingenuous is Machtan’s selective quotation. He surely knows that later on in the Stern interview, Mimi Reiter claimed that on a subsequent occasion, she and Hitler slept together, and “I let everything happen.” Who knows if there’s any truth in this or what bearing it might have (though Machtan is fairly insistent that Hitler never slept with women)? But if Machtan quotes the earlier part of Reiter’s account as evidence of homosexuality he should at least acknowledge the latter as contradictory.

    Who cares? Well, Machtan thinks we should care because the “Hidden Hitler” explains the Hitler of history: his anti-Semitism and his murderous ruthlessness against enemies. And even if we doubt Machtan’s belief in his theory’s geopolitical ramifications, it might be interesting to know more than we do about this world-shattering figure. That is, if we could. But in the absence of much conclusive evidence, Machtan goes too far when he claims that Hitler’s homosexuality is a “historical fact,” much less an historical explanation.”

    Other reviewers, like Kennedy at Gay Today (, and Kaiser at _The Advocate_ (, point out that while Machten has come up with large amounts of evidence suggesting Hitler’s relative disinterest in women, he hasn’t come up with any evidence suggesting that he was actually (to put it clinically) an active homosexual as opposed to an indifferent heterosexual more caught by politics than sex.

    And what is the relevance of Machten’s thesis to Fischer? Let’s agree that Hitler was deeply closeted for a moment. What did this mean? Nazi Germany was hardly a gay-friendly polity, within or without Germany; Rohm was brutally purged, gays and gay organizations at large were explicitly targeted from the beginning of the Nazi government, and the systematic abuse and murder of gays within the German prison and concentration camp systems has relatively few parallels. If he was gay–something that falls well short of the Scottish verdict of “not proven”–he did very few favours for gays! One might do better to say that in his career Hitler’s Roman Catholic origins led him to favour the Church,

    Why would Hitler’s alleged non-heterosexuality be of import, then? Well, if you believe that non-heterosexuality is morally wrong, and that practising non-heterosexuals are fundamentally morally perverse, explaining Naziism through a man like Hitler who–one might want to argue–was fundamentally “broken” in a very specific way that you and your followers would recognize as very important in your own experiences would be very tempting, even if the explanation wasn’t solid at all.

    And Passing By, Ernst Rohm’s sexual orientation has been well-known, and there were gay rumours about Jorg Haider that even I a non-German-speaking North America knew about a decade before his death. No one’s denying that; Johann Hari isn’t spilling secrets. People simply have problems with those who take ideas that, at best, need much more substantiation to be plausible speculations and present them as actual facts which can be used against whichever demographics they don’t like.

  • R.F. McDonald


    For the record, my straight male friends are concerned with gay rights and homophobia. You no more have to be gay to be concerned with gay civil rights than you have to be a woman to be concerned with women’s rights, etc.

  • Ray Ingles

    So, Sarah, in light of the above conversation, how should the “theory” that “that Adolph Hitler was a homosexual and that the Nazi Party was largely created by ‘homosexual thugs’” be described, if “disputed” won’t work?

    An example. Personally, it annoys me to see creationism or Intelligent Design called “theories” at all, since the term ‘theory’ in science has a clear definition that those notions fail to meet. On the other hand, their proponents claim they are ‘theories’.

    I dislike the ‘artificial balance’ that many reporters bring to controversies like these. Sometimes there really is clear (overwhelming) evidence on one side or the other. It’s clear that people exist who believe that homosexuality was a key contributor to Naziism. How should a reporter handle this?

    One possibility is to get a quote or two from noted historians, I suppose. What if space limitations mandate against that, though? How should it be referred to?

  • Ben

    Ray –

    Excellent question. I struggle with this at times. It’s not always a question of space but of time. Often there will be some historical, scientific, or other academic dispute where most scholars will line up on one side. The other side invariably says the Academy is biased and the majority has a political reason for arguing x,y,z are true. I don’t really have the years to go become an expert myself in the dispute. The best I can do is let each side have their say, identify the credentials of each speaker, and try to say which side has more of a following among experts. Too often I don’t live up to even this given time constraints, unfortunately. Sometimes I worry the minority viewpoint is too fringe or too silly to give it credence and I’ll wrestle about whether to put it in. Sometimes, like in the case of Lively, an author’s ideas are discredited considerably by his own actions and so I’ll focus more on the actions than whatever debate there is around Pink Swastika.

    It’s definitely a tricky business because the established consensus of scholars can sometimes get overturned or disrupted. That seems to perhaps have occurred (so hard to gauge!) with the Aryan Invasion Theory in Indian history — something that became a politically-contentious dispute a few years back with California history textbooks.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    I have the whole book. … It seems scholars and psych researchers in the past have been the biggest promoters of the Nazi-homosexual connection — not back-water Idaho ministers who get the blame as in today’s media and NY Times.

    One source was a OSS WWII report that the intrepid media apparently was not responsible for bringing to light. It was scholars who finally got the OSS report finally released in 1968. Among other things the report says that the belief that Hitler is homosexual developed from “the FACT there were so many homosexuals in the [Nazi] party and so many continue to occupy important positions.”

    My argument is not the issue itself, but the burying of the issue and the near slandering of any people — like the Idaho minister) — who mention it even while there are scholars and researchers who have come to conclusions some modern politically correct people and activists in the media hate.

  • R.F. McDonald

    … My most recent Google for the keywords bryan fischer homosexual turns up an article referring to Fischer calling homosexuality a “Deathstyle” at the top of the page. Googling about Fischer’s part statements re: Nazis and homosexuality leads one to a post ( where he implies that letting gays in the military will lead inevitably to the growth of Naziism.

    “Homosexuality gave us Adolph Hitler, and homosexuals in the military gave us the Brown Shirts, the Nazi war machine and six million dead Jews. Gays in the military is an experiment that has been tried and found disastrously and tragically wanting. Maybe it’s time for Congress to learn a lesson from history.”

    Fischer goes on to present a picture that can only be called interesting, suggesting that gays actually determined Nazi policies towards the churches and were en enthusiastic death camp guards, incidentally saying that a far above average number of homosexuals are pedophile, etc. And the conclusion?

    “As has been famously said, those who do not study history are condemned to repeat it. Nazi Germany became the horror that it was because it rejected both Christianity and its clear teaching about human sexuality. These are mistakes no sane culture should ever make again.”

    Fischer uses a marginal historical theory–an interesting one, but ill-sourced–by a legitimate historian, and uses its legitimacy in combination with Lively’ rather less creditable book (note that the above post mentions Machtan in text but Lively only in a footnote), to justify his arguments that people of the homosexual persuasion are not only sexually corrupt but morally corrupt, too, on account of their sexual orientation. How can it be more clear?

  • Julia

    One might do better to say that in his career Hitler’s Roman Catholic origins led him to favour the Church,

    Hitler killed quite few priests and nuns. How did he favor the Catholic Church? Just asking.

  • tmatt

    OK, folks, back to the journalism issues.

    Take your personal arguments elsewhere.

  • dalea

    When the SPLC identified the various organizations as ‘hate groups’, the GL press covered the action in detail. But I do not recall seeing coverage anywhere else. Perhaps a round-up of mainstream media articles on the subject would make a good GR topic. Was there any msm reporting on the subject? And how did Christian media treat this? Would be interesting to know.

  • dalea

    Found two pages at SPLC that explain how the determine who is and is not a hate group:

    It would be interesting to see how the press covered these press releases.

  • JOY

    Why are the atheists so scared of a prayer rally? Is it the same reason that satan and his hosts tremble when they see God’s people on their knees?