Ken Klukowski

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  • Anti-LGBTQ Junk Science And Fake News Are Poised To Harm the Future of LGBTQ Equality

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Pseudoscience and lies have long been the favorite tactics of anti-LGBTQ extremists, but now that the incoming U.S. president is highly influenced by hate groups, fake news purveyors, and far-right publications that peddle such misinformation, these smoke and mirror tactics are well-positioned to harm LGBTQ equality.

    Right-Wing Sites Regularly Peddle Anti-LGBTQ Junk Science

    For decades, junk science has been used to attack LGBTQ people as unhealthy and dangerous. Longtime LGBTQ advocate and journalist Claude Summers recently defined the purpose of anti-LGBTQ junk science as “not to persuade the scholarly community, which will immediately note its sloppy methodology,” but to “provide naïve readers some quasi-respectable justifications for their prejudices and to fuel social conservative political chatter.”

    After scientific consensus rejected the “sickness theories” of homosexuality in the 1970s, “anti-LGBT professionals retreated from mainstream scientific organizations and formed their own groups,” Summers explained. These fringe splinter groups, like the deceptively named American College of Pediatricians (ACPeds) -- an anti-LGBTQ hate group with about 500 members whose name is meant to be confused with the 60,000-member American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) -- funnel debunked “research” to anti-LGBTQ extremist organizations like the Family Research Council (FRC), also a designated hate group. FRC and its allies peddle this misinformation as widely as possible to be used as ammunition in the fight against equality.

    Right-wing outlets like Breitbart and The Daily Caller are the go-to platforms for anti-LGBTQ activists looking to push hateful lies and myths. Breitbart in particular regularly pushes pseudoscientific attacks on transgender people. Since March 2016, Breitbart authors have cited ACPeds to falsely claim that affirming transgender youths’ gender identity is a “form of child abuse” in at least 19 different articles. The talking point originated from an American College of Pediatricians “report,” which was quickly touted in other right-wing outlets like The Blaze and The Daily Caller. As The Daily Beast’s Samantha Allen highlighted, right-wing journalists published ACPed’s “child abuse” claim “without contrasting their primary source with the AAP.”

    This type of anti-LGBTQ pseudoscience isn’t confined to right-wing web outlets. On Fox News, “Medical A Team” member Dr. Keith Ablow frequently pushes harmful anti-transgender misinformation. In April, Ablow speculated wildly about medical care for transgender youth, and proposed his own harmful “treatments,” akin to conversion therapy, that go against scientific evidence and professional standards from mainstream medical associations.

    Even mainstream outlets like The Associated Press and NPR have allowed well-known purveyors of junk science to attack LGBTQ people.

    Fake News Reinforces Myths Pushed By Anti-LGBTQ Hate Groups

    The potential real-life impact of fake news was starting to become apparent several months before it took center stage in the 2016 election. In May, BuzzFeed spotlighted a slew of anti-transgender fake news stories that had gone viral. These fake news stories spiked largely in response to increased media coverage of so-called “bathroom bills” and North Carolina’s anti-LGBTQ law (HB 2). The measure broadly bans transgender people from using bathrooms that align with their gender identity in publicly run facilities and schools.

    Many of the fake stories BuzzFeed profiled -- like an “article” about a transgender women getting caught taking pictures of underage girls at Target -- stem from the anti-LGBTQ “bathroom predator” myth, which purports that sexual predators will pretend to be transgender in order to exploit nondiscrimination laws and sneak into women’s restrooms. Fake news preys on long-standing misconceptions and stereotypes and exploits them to confirm unsubstantiated fears. BuzzFeed interviewed the owner of several fake news sites, who said the stories are a way to make “easy money” by capitalizing off of “the political polarization and anti-LGBT stance at the heart of HB 2.”

    In the past, anti-LGBTQ hate groups were the ones spreading fake “bathroom predator” stories -- and outlets like Fox News fell for it. But now, the sheer profitability of clickbait fake news means that even if hate groups aren’t peddling these stories themselves, fake news is helping to buttress anti-LGBTQ talking points by relying on misconceptions and controversy for their content. A recent BuzzFeed News survey found that fake news headlines “fool American adults about 75% of the time” --meaning that all of these fabricated stories and fact-free science could have a real-life impact on public opinion about LGBTQ people.

    Mara Keisling, executive director of the National Center for Transgender Equality, voiced her concern that these lies -- one of which ended with a vigilante shooting a transgender woman -- could fuel anti-transgender violence. Whether because of these fake news stories or not, 2016 has been the deadliest year on record for transgender people.

    The Trump Administration Is Stocked With Purveyors Of Right-Wing Media’s Anti-LGBTQ Myths And Pseudoscience

    While pseudoscience and lies have long been staple tools of anti-LGBTQ extremist organization, the two tactics are now more likely than ever to be employed to justify anti-LGBTQ policies, given the incoming Trump administration. FRC -- the hate group with years of experience peddling anti-LGBTQ junk science -- has a growing influence on Trump’s transition team.

    FRC president Tony Perkins played a pivotal role in Trump’s campaign and helped shape the Republican Party platform. During the Republican National Convention, he was successful in adding support for “ex-gay” conversion therapy, a discredited, harmful practice that falsely claims to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity, and has been denounced by every major medical organization. Since the election, some of Perkins’ FRC affiliates have won spots in Trump’s transition team. Wired’s Emma Ellis spotlighted the hate group’s growing influence on the Trump administration, which includes the following members affiliated with FRC:

    In addition to FRC’s influence on the administration, Breitbart’s brand of anti-LGBTQ pseudoscience has a champion in Stephen Bannon, Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor. Bannon led Breitbart from 2012 through August of this year, when he became the chief executive of Trump’s campaign. In addition to peddling anti-gay junk science, under Bannon’s leadership the site made a “noticeable shift toward embracing ideas on the extremist fringe of the conservative right. Racist ideas. Anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant ideas -- all key tenets making up an emerging racist ideology known as the ‘Alt-Right,’” according to the Southern Poverty Law Center.

    Trump’s nominees for cabinet positions also have a history of pushing harmful myths about LGBTQ people. Combined with FRC and Breitbart, individual anti-LGBTQ extremists are well-poised to gin up junk science attacks and use them to influence policy making throughout the Trump administration. LGBTQ advocates and journalists have already documented some of their fears about the potential consequences of the resurgence of anti-LGBTQ pseudoscience, including:

    • a comeback of “ex-gay” conversion therapy programs;
    • revocation of the Obama administration’s recommendation to treat transgender students in accordance with their gender identity;
    • repeal of the Affordable Care Act and its health care protections for LGBTQ people; and
    • passage of the so-called “First Amendment Defense Act,” federal “religious freedom” legislation that would permit discrimination against LGBTQ people.

    Junk science can be easily debunked, as long as reporters are armed with the facts. Journalists should be prepared to counter the false narratives behind the coming attacks on LGBTQ equality.

  • An Anti-LGBTQ Hate Group Is Wielding Growing Power On Trump's Transition Team

    Blog ››› ››› RACHEL PERCELAY

    Wired spotlighted the growing influence of the anti-LGBTQ hate group Family Research Council (FRC) on President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team. The publication wrote that FRC is now “as well positioned as ever” to propagate its brand of regressive anti-LGBTQ pseudoscience through “lower level government officials” who have the power to “overrule scientific advisory committees.”

    FRC has been designated as an anti-LGBTQ “hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center since 2010 due to FRC’s “distortion of known facts to demonize gay men as child molesters and similar false claims.” Despite initial reservations about Trump’s candidacy, FRC president Tony Perkins quickly embraced and endorsed him as a “teachable” candidate after he secured his party’s presidential nomination. Their relationship gave Perkins an opportunity to “shape” Trump into a nominee who embodies the former’s anti-LGBTQ extremism and to garner support from evangelicals for Trump.

    Wired’s Emma Ellis revealed just how much Perkins has taken advantage of that opportunity in a November 30 article about Trump’s transition team members who are affiliated with the hate group. They include:

    • Ken Blackwell, Trump’s domestic policy chair as well as an FRC senior fellow;
    • former FRC Vice President Kay Coles James, who co-leads the transition team in management and budget affairs;
    • Ed Meese, who has written for FRC and is co-leading the team in management and budget affairs; and
    •  Ken Klukowski, the transition team’s “constitutional rights” leader, Breitbart editor, and the former director of FRC’s center for religious liberty.

    Ellis’s profile also noted that many of Trump’s “cabinet appointees and soon-to-be staffers” have spoken at FRC’s annual conference, the Values Voter Summit, as did Trump.

    Despite FRC’s reputation for peddling misinformation and extremism, the group’s members “are treated as reasonable by many in Congress,” Ellis wrote. This is largely due to FRC’s success in what an English professor who studies homophobic language referred to as “‘cultivating a scientific identity,’” and in pushing an ideology that Ellis wrote “comes packaged in a way that looks like real science but is really just cherrypicked data stitched together to serve its agenda.”

    Media outlets a have largely ignored Trump’s selections for his transition team, instead mostly focusing on his cabinet picks, whom they’ve dissected in long articles exploring their professional histories and affiliations and speculating on their potential impact on policy. But Ellis noted that the “lower level political hires the transition team has the authority to make-- the undersecretaries, the assistant undersecretaries--have the power to overrule scientific advisory committees” -- and they could do so with FRC’s brand of anti-LGBTQ pseudoscience.

    From the November 30 Wired article:

    The Family Research Council isn’t content to oppose homosexuality on religious grounds; instead, it uses pseudoscience to give its homophobia a flimsy veneer of objectivity. And it could wind up shaping the incoming president’s policies.

    “They’ve been highly sophisticated in cultivating a scientific identity, which makes them powerful,” says David Peterson, an English professor who studies homophobic language at the University of Nebraska, Omaha. (The FRC and Trump transition team did not respond to requests for comment.)

    [...]

    The group has been making political moves since the early 1980s. Since then, it’s grown to become the most successful progeny of an effort among social conservatives to move the basis of their policy recommendations away from Scripture and toward sociology. Not that legitimate sociology is where the FRC has arrived. Rather, the group is to homophobia what the National Policy Institute is to the alt-right—a bland, respectable-sounding, quasi-academic front for a hateful, regressive ideology. It comes packaged in a way that looks like real science but is really just cherrypicked data stitched together to serve its agenda.

    [...]

    Nevertheless, FRC members perspectives are treated as reasonable by many in Congress. And now it appears they’ll enjoy similar esteem from the Trump administration. In part, that success owes itself to the group’s public relations effort to appear of respectable. Their website is well designed and hides some of the FRC’s most outré work. Perkins seems like a pleasant enough fellow on television.

    With current and former FRC staff all over the Trump transition team, the group seems as well positioned as ever to propagate its ideology. Perhaps most importantly—and least conspicuously—it may find a way to accomplish its goals through lower level government officials who buy into the FRC’s beliefs. “The headlines are about who is the secretary of this or that, but they deal with broad policy,” says David Himmelstein, a professor of public health policy at the CUNY School of Public Health at Hunter College. But the lower level political hires the transition team has the authority to make—the undersecretaries, the assistant undersecretaries—have the power to overrule scientific advisory committees, Himmelstein says, and have done so even under the relatively pro-science Obama administration. Such actions by a presidential administration can also provide political cover for more radical policy shifts at the state level.

  • Breitbart.com Touts Legal Effort To Halt Marriage Equality In California

    Blog ››› ››› LUKE BRINKER

    Breitbart.com promoted a series of falsehoods about the legality of Proposition 8 in order to champion the efforts of San Diego County Clerk Ernest J. Dronenburg, Jr., who unsuccessfully sought to have the California Supreme Court issue a stay on the issuing of same-sex marriage licenses in his county.

    In a July 23 column, Breitbart.com legal affairs analyst Ken Klukowski lambasted the judicial overruling of California's Proposition 8 and argued that Dronenburg "is under no court order" to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Klukowski's analysis of the Prop 8 case and his assertion that Dronenburg has the authority to block same-sex marriages are fundamentally misguided.

    First, Klukowski vehemently denounced Vaughn Walker, the U.S. District Court judge who found Prop 8 unconstitutional in 2010. According to Klukowski, Walker's legal reasoning was both flawed and deeply antagonistic toward religious Americans:

    The first clear item is that his opinion is simply terrible. He made official judicial findings of fact that religious beliefs defining marriage as one man and one woman are irrational, and driven by either superstitious ignorance or hateful bigotry. It is emphatically not the province of the federal courts to make such pronouncements regarding the peaceful faith of over 200 million Americans.

  • Issa Report Again Debunks Right-Wing Media's Fast And Furious Conspiracy Theory

    Blog ››› ››› ADAM SHAH

    Breitbart.com blogger Ken Klukowski has joined the ranks of right-wing figures hyping the bogus conspiracy theory that the ATF's botched Operation Fast and Furious was actually a secret Obama administration plot to undermine the Second Amendment rather than an operation to bring down Mexican drug cartels. However, the lead Republican investigating the Fast and Furious operation, House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), has repeatedly released reports that have debunked this theory.

    Klukowski wrote that "the NRA has been pushing for information regarding who knew what in the administration, and any related political objectives being pursued by Team Obama." Klukowski also quoted NRA chief lobbyist Christopher Cox as saying that "[a]ccording to their internal emails, it was all to advance their gun-control agenda."

    But in a May 3 memorandum and accompanying report attempting to lay the groundwork for a contempt citation against Attorney General Eric Holder, Issa said that the Fast and Furious operation to allow straw purchasers to buy and transfer guns without being arrested was conceived because law enforcement officials "hoped the weapons, after they were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico, could be traced and linked to cartel operatives including possible high-level financiers, suppliers, and possibly even king-pins."

    From Issa's memorandum:

    Fast and Furious Conceived

    The ATF Phoenix Field Division began Operation Fast and Furious in the fall of 2009 after suspicious weapons purchases led agents to the discovery of an apparent Phoenix-based arms trafficking syndicate. Having been encouraged to devise grander strategies to stop the transfers of weapons to Mexican drug cartels, the Phoenix based agents devised a strategy that went beyond simple arrests or weapons confiscations. They would allow the U.S.-based associates of a Mexican drug cartel to continue acquiring firearms uninterrupted. In doing so, they hoped the weapons, after they were recovered at crime scenes in Mexico, could be traced and linked to cartel operatives including possible high-level financiers, suppliers, and possibly even king-pins.

    The operation sought to achieve its lofty goals by focusing on the ringleader of the weapons smuggling syndicate they had identified: Manuel Celis-Acosta. Celis-Acosta was using a then-unknown number of straw-purchasers, including Jamie Avila, to purchase weapons.

    At no point in the 17-page memo or accompanying 44-page draft contempt citation against Holder did Issa assert that the program may have had a different, more nefarious purpose.

  • Wash. Times' columnist relied on falsehood to claim Kagan opposes gun rights

    Blog ››› ››› ADAM SHAH

    Conservative media have relied on distortions to paint Elena Kagan as an opponent of the constitutional right to keep and bear arms. Now, Constitutional Accountability Center's Doug Kendall has pointed out a particularly disingenuous attack on Kagan in this area. Last week, Townhall.com columnist Ken Klukowski and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell claimed on BigGovernment.com that Elena Kagan showed that she opposes gun rights by deciding not to file a brief in a case challenging Chicago's gun control laws. In fact, as Kendall has demonstrated, Kagan followed normal Solicitor General practice in the case, and Blackwell's and Klukowski's purported evidence to the contrary is based on a falsehood.

    Blackwell and Klukowski claimed to have evidence that Kagan opposes "Americans' Second Amendment right to own a gun." They cited Kagan's decision as Solicitor General not to file a brief in McDonald v. City of Chicago, a case dealing with the question of whether the Second Amendment individual right to keep and bear arms enunciated in District of Columbia v. Heller applies to the states through the "incorporation" doctrine, under which certain protections of the Bill of Rights apply to the states.

    The argument is nonsensical on its face: Kagan didn't file a brief in the case. Therefore, she didn't take a position on whether the Second Amendment applied to the state. Therefore, one can't determine her views on the Second Amendment on the basis of what she did in that case. Not to mention that one can't infer personal legal opinions from Kagan's actions as Solicitor General in any event.

    But Kendall has uncovered an even more fundamental dishonesty in their work. Blackwell and Klukowski insist that it is normal practice for the Solicitor General's office to file briefs in incorporation doctrine cases and cite the fact that, in 1969, the Solicitor General filed a brief in Benton v. Maryland -- a case dealing, in part, with whether the Double Jeopardy Clause of the Fifth Amendment applies to the states. Blackwell and Klukowski wrote:

    If someone asserts that the solicitor general shouldn't file a brief because it's a state issue as to whether the Second Amendment is "incorporated" to the states through the Fourteenth Amendment (which is the issue in McDonald) the record speaks to the contrary. The last time the Supreme Court "incorporated" a right from the Bill of Rights to the states, in the 1969 case Benton v. Maryland, the solicitor general filed a brief, and then (just like Heller in 2008) was given time in oral argument time to express the government's views in front of the Court.

    In fact, as Kendall notes, the Solicitor General's brief in Benton v. Maryland did not even mention the incorporation issue. Rather, the SG's brief dealt solely with another issue in the case: the issue of whether the federal courts should continue to apply the "concurrent sentence doctrine" to avoid hearing certain appeals in criminal cases. The SG's brief in Benton does not even mention the Double Jeopardy Clause or the incorporation doctrine. In addition, it was filed at the invitation of the Supreme Court. According to the majority opinion by Justice Thurgood Marshall: "The Solicitor General was invited to file a brief expressing the views of the United States and to participate in oral argument."